The Team That Wasn’t

We all waited for the boys to hike up their skirts and play ball, but it never happened

Sitting here on October 1st with 3 games left in their abysmal 2012 campaign, the Red Sox don’t have much to cheer for. Looking on the calendar, we have just 27 more innings to play against the hated rival New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates, who haven’t had a winning record in 28 years, have more wins than we do. The worst Red Sox team of my lifetime previously finished 73-89 in 1992, but this team has them beat, clinching the worst record of my life with another defeat at the hands of the Orioles yesterday afternoon. Even if the Sox somehow sweep the stumbling Yanks, they’ll still only finish with a 72-90 record, potentially bringing up the rear in the American League East. The past few years have been easy to brush off: In 2009, injuries to Victor Martinez, Jason Varitek and Daisuke Matsuzaka, lack of pitching depth, a failed John Smoltz experience and a Jonathan Papelbon meltdown led to a first round playoff exit; In 2010, there wasn’t a single starter who didn’t land on the disabled list, and the Red Sox had almost 15 members of their Opening Day roster head to the DL over the course of the season, leading to the team just missing the playoffs; In 2011, well, they just choked and, frankly, it happens to the best of ’em. Just ask the 2004 Yankees.

However, after a season filled with almost no hope and almost $200 million dollars on payroll, it’s time to face reality. Not only are the Red Sox not in ‘Kansas’ (so to speak) anymore, they aren’t in the playoffs either. In fact, they aren’t anywhere close.

Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain

In the wake of the 2011 collapse that saw the Red Sox lose a 9 1/2 game lead in September and miss the playoffs, Terry Francona, the clubhouse favorite, fearless leader and arguably greatest manager  in the history of the Boston Red Sox, did what he did best: protect his players. Amid allegations that the team was a bunch of lazy slackers, including eating fried chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse before, during and after games, Francona stuck to his guns and shouldered the blame. Instead of letting his players take the fall, which he very well could have and they very much deserved, he blamed himself:

“It was my responsibility to not let what happened happen. So regardless of how ownership feels or regardless of how [general manager] Theo (Epstein) feels or how the fans feel, I had a responsibility to get something done and it didn’t get done.”

The leadership, management and ingenuity that had led the Red Sox to two World Series Championships was suddenly in

Red Sox fans have faith in Ben Cherington restoring the magic that once was, but many wonder if he’s even the man in control

shambles, as just a few weeks later Executive Vice President and General Manager Theo Epstein left the team as well. In an offseason full of turmoil and criticism for a lack of clubhouse chemistry, largely due to what Epstein hinted at as “business signings” (as opposed to baseball signings), the Red Sox went out and, after a long and grueling process, signed Bobby Valentine as their new manager, someone who fell right into the category of the popular, ratings-inducing clowns the team already had too many of. The one bright note was the promotion of Ben Cherington, groomed by Epstein himself, as the team’s new General Manager. However, numerous reports throughout the offseason and into this season have questioned whether Cherington or Red Sox President and CEO Larry Lucchino are calling the shots. Regardless of whose team this is, it hasn’t worked in the last calendar year on or off the field, leaving Red Sox fans wondering what life would be like if they only had a brain.
Fortunately towards the end of the season, while Larry Lucchino and the gang were wiling away the hours conferring with the flowers, Ben Cherington seemingly unraveled some of the riddles plaguing the Red Sox. In late August, the Red Sox pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade that sent some of Boston’s biggest blunders and clubhouse clowns away to La La Land with the Dodgers. While it was disheartening to see Adrian Gonzalez, the power-hitting lefty whose swing was tailor made for Fenway Park and defensive skills solidified him as the club’s main building block and first baseman for years to come, be traded, it had to happen. The happy-go-lucky Gonzalez from his introductory press conference was long gone and had been replaced by a slimy, snitching slacker. No longer could he be the face of the franchise for future generations to love. Tony Massarotti puts it into perspective quite nicely:

“The Red Sox won two World Series with Manny Ramirez. The New York Yankees won titles with Wade Boggs and even Alex Rodriguez.You can win with vain, selfish players in baseball; you just can’t win if they are your leaders. And so, could the Red Sox ultimately have won here with Gonzalez batting third? Some of us would like to think so. But the price of freedom is always high, and the Red Sox were in no position to be particular about escape routes.”

Ultimately though, it comes down not to what the Red Sox had and misused, but rather what they altogether lacked: heart. The team could never build off the small bits of momentum they occasionally found and, all due respect to Dustin Pedroia and Pedro Ciriaco, never really had a spark plug. Remember, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. For every big hit, there was an equal and opposite big out; for every 1-2-3 inning, there was a reliever who would give up 5 runs. It’s been the story of the season, and a sad one at that. Forget the wins –  it would warrant a parade if these Red Sox simply tried. Even Manny Ramirez, despite all of his defensive deficiencies, would always dive for close balls. The atmosphere in Boston has changed this season. Times are tough for Red Sox fans. Yes, Pittsburgh, I hear you. 28 years is a long time but, hey, your team tries. Sure, we’ve won in recent years and are always spoiled with the Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle wrapped with a big bow under the tree. But let’s be honest: this team makes us want to shoot our own eyes out. It’d be nice one time for this batch of Red Sox “just to register emotion, jealousy, devotion and really feel the part.” And it might be possible, too, if they only had some heart.

But it’s not too late. They have one last curtain call this week in the Big Apple. Sure, the Yanks have clinched a playoff berth, but they haven’t won the division. Not yet. In a year that was supposed to be great and honor the rich history of Fenway Park and the Boston Red Sox, everything has gone wrong. The Red Sox lost the face, heart and soul of the franchise when Johnny Pesky passed away in August. They lost the voice of the Red Sox when PA Announcer Carl Beane tragically died in a car crash in May. These things were taken away from them, but no one can take away their pride except themselves.

So, 2012 Red Sox, you have a choice.You can be the lazy, never-say-win team you’ve been since last September and roll over, die and roll out the red carpet for the Yanks. Or, you can be the never-say-die, hard-nosed dirt dogs I’ve grown up with, who went out there and kicked the crap out of the Damned Yankees for three straight games, pushing them into the wild card and giving Red Sox fans everywhere something to remember and hope for over these next long, cold, four and a half months.

The choice is yours. I’ll see you tonight.

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One comment on “The Team That Wasn’t

  1. James says:

    …aaaaaaand here comes the carpet.

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