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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The State of the Red Sox

A memoir to what could have been and how the 2012 Red Sox are the crack-baby everyone thought was going to be okay

“I wish you would step back from that ledge my friend, You could cut ties with all the lies,That you’ve been living in, And if you do not want to see me again, I would understand” – Third Eye Blind knew the 2012 Red Sox way before we did

I’m a Resident Advisor at a small school north of Boston. It’s my job to know everyone in my own little wedge of our community. However, in about a month’s time, you can know just about everyone on campus and what they did last weekend. It’s an incredible community that I personally love and rely on, that holds every member accountable for their actions, that loves every member unequivocally, and, every so often, that gets a bit boring.

How could it not? Living in the northeast, the hustle and bustle of everyday life even outside of the city is normal. You get used to seeing the same faces during your routine, but you also know you’ll see a million new ones on a daily basis. It’s just how it works. But here, it’s never new. In just a few short weeks’ time, even new first year students get the drill and have figured out the routine. You know who you’ll see, when and where you’ll see them, and how to avoid them if you want to. You know you can avoid them today, but not forever; Any “out” you find is simply temporary. Every so often, you need a shake up, a fresh brew of faces compared to the stale, getting-cold-cup-of-coffee you drink every day (And to my friends and colleagues at school – I’m not calling you stale or cold, it’s just my analogy, roll with me here) (And to everyone else, the fact that I just had to say that somewhat proves my point, does it not?), which is why I love September. Every year, a fresh start rolls through. A whole new batch of first year students marches onto campus wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, rarin’ to go. As an Orientation Leader and Co-Senior Resident Advisor of an area that houses approximately 400 emotionally supercharged first years, right now I’m drinking a pretty damn good cup of metaphorical coffee.

During move-in this year, I jumped around from room to room, talking to parents, welcoming students, assuring everyone that I would take care of them, we’d have a blast, and simply that everything was going to be fine. One of my new residents in particular stood out though. This new student is from Chicago and was wearing a Chicago White Sox jersey with Kevin Youkilis’ name and number on the back. Suddenly, in the midst of me telling everyone it was going to be okay, I thought to myself “maybe it’s not”.

Of course, I was no longer thinking about my residents, but instantly trapped in an endless spiral of Red Sox-related panic. I had masked my emotions, guarding them from would-be naysayers all season long. But suddenly my worst fears and suspicions came crashing down: Not only did the team I loved abidingly suck, they were going to suck for a long time because of the snakes running the organization, the incompetent arrogance in their (in)ability to run the franchise, and the growing apathy of the overpaid, trapped, miserable athletes in the clubhouse.

A few months ago, I came up with a fairly accurate analogy of my emotions towards the Red Sox that I’m fairly certain I’ve beaten and continued to beat long after everyone got the point: The Red Sox were like my children.

I found baseball in 2003 as an 11 year old and instantly fell in love. The Red Sox could do no wrong in my book. I hated the Yankees for reasons I didn’t nearly understand yet, but I hated them relentlessly nonetheless. I was the proud new parent of a bouncing baby boy and no one could wipe the smile off of my face. In 2004 when Keith Foulke tossed the ball to Doug Meintkiewicz for the final out in the clinching game of the World Series, it was probably the greatest moment of my entire life . It was like my baby’s first steps, or their first day of school, or their first A+, or whatever other cliche you’d like to insert here. As the years passed, I grew prouder and prouder of the team I was raising. They won again in 2007 and I thought to myself  “Hey, you’re doing this right. Good work”. Because, you know, being a fan means everything to your team’s success, right?

After their string of successes, they fell down. It was to be expected, and a great learning opportunity. Although some of them hurt (2008 ALCS Game 7, I’m talking to you), we pushed forward. At least that’s what I thought was going to happen. Then 2009 happened, kicked us in the face and other places where the sun doesn’t shine (thanks, Papelbon)  and put things into perspective. Things were changing and not going to be the same anymore. Suddenly my bouncing baby boy who brought home A plus pluses was a teenager. As a parent, I had to act. I started to get everyone around me excited and became more engrossed in the fact my kid was a teenager than who he was as a person. The Sox brass pushed the sellout streak on us, marketed the Red Sox on bricks, named a sports company after our beloved ball park, later supported one of Boston’s biggest enemies (LeBron James), became part owners of a racing company (Roush-Fenway Racing) and bought a soccer team (Liverpool) all under that same sports company’s rule, and somewhere along the lines became everything we as Red Sox fans once hated: the New York Yankees. We outspent our competitors to overpay big names that put casual butts in seats. Other teams sat back and chuckled and said “Good, let them have him” (see: Crawford, Carl and Lackey, John). I was pushing extracurricular activities on my kid that he didn’t even remotely enjoy or deem necessary, just to try to keep him from harm or trouble. He was getting bored, apathetic, and, worst of all, resentful. My son started missing classes and disrupting the ones he went to. The Red Sox were missing the playoffs in 2010 and sending letters from the owners saying “we know something is wrong, but it’s going to be okay”. Then September 2011 happened. The Ultimate Collapse. For the first time, and probably not the last, my son came home in a cop car. “He should face charges”, the officer said, “but we know you. You’ve raised him well. He’s a good kid. We’ll give him one more chance”. Had I raised him well though?

Being a fan of the Red Sox in 2012 is like being the proud parent of a kid with so much promise who suddenly, as a teenager, turned to drugs. Sure, all the kids do it. That’s how they try to mask it. But it’s really not any better. I feel like the parent who is disappointed in my child and doesn’t know what more to do. Then I realized something: The Red Sox were never my baby. They were Tito and Theo’s, are now Ben and Bobby’s, and still are Larry and John’s. It isn’t my fault, and never was. I just loved them so much I thought it was. I’m just a diehard fan who thought being a fan could change everything. An innocent bystander on the outside looking in.

In a way, they were destined for their delve into drugs. Their parents are doing the hard stuff and have passed it on to their kid. We’d overlooked the challenge, thought they’d be different, could change.

And they still can. But not yet.

Their parents tried to shake things up, thinking maybe sending away who they perceived to be a troublesome friend (Kevin Youkilis) would help. They tried for a change of scenery and to do something drastic to mix up their kid’s life (The Dodgers Trade). So far, no good. Now it’s time to send them away, let someone else more capable use a fresh start to mend the issues our child has and that pain our every waking moment as innocent fanatic bystanders. There’s still hope somewhere down the line, right?

We can only hope.

Some fresh faces are needed right about now and, fortunately, the Patriots, Celtics and (God-willing) Bruins are right around the corner.

To the Red Sox,

I love you. I have since the moment we met, and I always will. But right now, this routine is getting a bit boring. I need a hot, new cup of coffee and a crisp, new set of faces. Know my out is only temporary and I’ll be keeping a careful, loving, watchful eye while we’re apart. I’ll see you in February. Good luck.

Meet The New Guys, Same As The Old Guys

The stars are aligning for the Sox with returns from CF Jacoby Ellsbury (top left), LF Carl Crawford (top center), 2B Dustin Pedroia (top right), 3B Will Middlebrooks (bottom left) and SP Clay Buchholz (bottom right)

As the July 31 Trade Deadline approaches and teams are scrambling to make deals to improve their chances of making the playoffs, the Red Sox are sitting on cloud nine. Most teams are sick over the thought that just one or two little pieces – a corner outfielder here, a starting pitcher there – could drastically, positively influence their (or their rival’s) pennant races and playoff hopes. The Sox, however, have been blessed with immunity to the problems around baseball. If any contender landed a superstar center fielder, a perennial All Star left fielder, an MVP-caliber second baseman, an up-and-coming third base slugger, and a pitcher who when healthy has number 1 starter stuff, they would be the “winners” at the deadline. Now imagine if, somehow, a team acquired all of these pieces. Well, somehow has become reality because that’s exactly what the Red Sox have gotten since the All Star break, with the return of five of their studs from the disabled list or injury.

Ellsbury ((11-31) .355 avg, 5 runs, 3 doubles, 7 games) and Crawford ((6-14), .429avg, .500 OBP, 6 runs, 3 sb, 4 games) in particular have been dynamic at the top of the lineup since their return, while the reliability of Middlebrooks (HR, 2B, 5 RBI in 7 games) and Pedroia (hit, run in 9th last night in first game back) in the middle of the lineup has provided a balance and stability to the Red Sox offensive attack. Combine that with strong performances from Clay Buchholz (14 SO, 0.77 WHIP in 2 starts) since the break, and the Red Sox now have a pitcher to help shoulder the load the offense is currently bearing.

Of course, Adrian Gonzalez has been rumored to be dealing with some secret injuries all season that have plagued his power numbers and batting average, but over the last 3 weeks he has been one of the best hitters in baseball:

“Gonzalez went 2-for-4 and has now hit safely in 23 of his last 24 games. Over that stretch, the first baseman is hitting .408 (40-for-98) with five doubles, three home runs, 19 RBI and 14 runs. Gonzalez has had two hits in the five games he’s played since the All-Star break…”

After last night’s terrific walk-off win for the Red Sox, manager Bobby Valentine said in his press conference: “That’s the most fun the guys had in a long time…It’s a great feeling.”

Sit back, relax and bring on the Blue Jays.