As I write this, my New York Yankees have just fallen short of their annual goal: a World Series championship. Even in this case, however, the season won’t be wholly lost. The Bronx Bombers were awarded a consolation prize at the end of the season: the failure of their eternal enemies, the Boston Red Sox, even to make the postseason.
Faithful reader, do you, like me, feel that “Cowboy Up” was the most annoying neologism of the past decade? Yes, I know it was first baseman Kevin Millar’s rallying cry to his 2003 Red Sox teammates to show some grit and determination. But the phrase was so meaningless, so idiotic.
But then again, what other baseball team--especially what other World Series championship team, as the 2004 Bosox became--could not only embrace the term “Idiots” to describe themselves, but even come up with the word?
For most of this past decade, Red Sox Nation was full of itself. Intellectuals had romanticized their prior 80-plus years without a championship as a kind of Sisyphean struggle, an existential mismatch against the curse of a baseball deity (The Bambino) rather than the natural result of decades of mismanagement and worse. (To its shame, Boston was not only the last major-league ball club to sign an African-American--Pumpsie Green in 1959, a dozen years after Jackie Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers--but then took another decade and a half before it finally embraced its first homegrown African-American star, Jim Rice.)
But winning championships in 2004 and 2007 made the faithful insufferable. A populace mad with glee that they’d finally broken “The Curse” became as demanding as the Notre Dame alumni when they couldn’t repeat the successes of the Rockne and Leahy eras.
Red Sox Nation received its first jolt in 2009, when the name of David Ortiz (pictured here) appeared on a list of those who had tested positive for performing enhancing drugs (PEDs)--a seismic event I noted in a post from the time, “Red Sox Nation on Mass Suicide Watch.” Back then, I warned of an “end of the innocence” for Fenway fans, but few believed me. (A few die-hards even hoped against all reason and logic that his former teammate, proven heavy PEDder Manny Ramirez, only started using the stuff when he left town.) Without someone turning Big Papi’s life upside down ransacking for past and current misdeeds, as Selena Roberts did with the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, the Bosox slugger's denial of PED use was taken at face value by the powers that be in major league baseball.
By spring training of this year, the Red Sox were regarded as a virtual lock for another American League pennant, if not a World Series title.
The latter claims were a bit rich. For all the sniping by Red Sox President Larry Lucchino about the Yankees' “evil empire," by the end of last year the team from Beantown had taken a page from the Bronx Bombers’ playbook by signing the most high-profile players for mega contracts. They had the third-highest payroll in major-league baseball, after the Phillies and, of course, the Yankees.
Perversely, Bosox fans wanted their team to be credited as underdogs even though it had been a very, very long time since they had been. All that stockpiling of talent and all that money were seductively whispering other things. The sports media listened to the sirens, and swooned.
Even in the closing week of this season, blissfully unaware of the train wreck then in full steam, Sports Illustrated, highlighting the new film adaptation of Michael Lewis’ bestseller Moneyball, with a cover story on its star, Brad Pitt, noted that A’s GM Billy Beane’s revolutionary thinking had been co-opted.
The perfect purloiners? “No team better defines the state of the art than the Red Sox,” helpfully explained writer Tom Verducci—the same on-air personality who, during the Yankee-Tiger series, did not pipe up about what had happened to the “state of the art” less than two weeks after his gushing article appeared on the newsstands.
As soon as I heard the news about the Red Sox losing the last, decisive game of the season—their 20th loss in the final 27 games of the season—I knew that I had to check out The Boston Globe to witness the reaction of the faithful.
A journalism legend held that in April 1982, 73-year-old Jessie Bancroft Cox, from the family that owned The Wall Street Journal and other Dow Jones publications, had snapped, "What the hell's the matter with my Red Sox?" (perhaps more bluntly stated than that) before collapsing from a heart attack at New York's 21 Club. If Ms. Cox had reacted that way early in the season, what would today's faithful do about a late-season collapse invariably described with adjectives such as “epic,” “record-setting” and “monumental”?
Once I powered up my Kindle and downloaded that day’s issue of Boston’s equivalent of “All the News That Fits, We Print,” I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I hadn’t witnessed so much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth since I read Dante’s Inferno in college.
I sensed that Red Sox Nation was taking their team’s inexplicable squandering of their lead with typical rationality when I read the following level-headed analysis by Globe columnist Bob Ryan of what ailed this season’s much-vaunted free-agent acquisition, Carl Crawford: “The idea that the real Carl Crawford, the one who arrived here as a tough-out, run-scoring triple machine who also played a Gold Glove left field, had been kidnapped by space invaders and replaced with a look-alike might be the only conceivable explanation for his unrelentingly wretched performance this season.”
It got worse. The team that was supposed to have had a pitching staff surpassed only by the Philadelphia Phillies had seen it exposed pitilessly. Even the minor-league system that GM Theo Epstein had bragged about to Verducci was so thin that the GM desperately investigated a deal for another pitcher on the brink of the sudden-death playoff between the Sox and the Rays that never came off.
The team that couldn’t be beat was now discovered to have been fatally flawed: not just out of condition, but fielding a bunch of laggards and crybabies. Reflecting the swing in opinion was Globe writer Nick Cafardo, who took Red Sox management to task for its “kid-gloves treatment” of injured pitcher Clay Buckholz, then dared to criticize the once near-certain MVP Adrian Gonzalez for jogging down to first base, and even the once-untouchable Big Papi for the same sin.
“The hunger has to return,” Cafardo summed up the situation, “but how do you do that with the current band of slugs on the team?”
In the wake of all this sturm und drung, the departure of manager Terry Francona became foreordained, even if absurd and unjust. The parting of the ways was described as mutual, but Epstein’s bloody fingerprints could be found all over the ugly final scene. Someone needed to take the fall for this unprecedented failure, and it wasn’t going to be the aging boy genius in the front office.
How sad this all is! After all the Red Sox have given the Yankees over the years--Babe Ruth, Red Ruffing and other pitchers of the Golden Age, Sparky Lyle--it’s a shame nothing has been done in return.
I say we rectify the situation, starting with the conditioning issue that has so many in Boston so hepped up. I have just the guy in mind for the Red Sox, someone who, in fact, worked four years ago for the Bombers.
Just think: maybe he can do for the Sox what he did for the Yankees.
Morning Decaf with a Big Surly Biker.
6 minutes ago