October 17, 2011

Happy Hour is over in Boston.

It is always 5 o’clock somewhere, particularly in the Red Sox clubhouse – according to the Boston Globe, that is.  Yes, John Lackey led a band of merry followers – including Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and to a lesser degree, Clay Buchholz – down a fried chicken-bricked road of video game playing and beer drankin’ fun all season, which culminated in the Sox epic collapse.  Tim Wakefield had the nerve to riff about the fans wanting to see another season of his lifeless knuckleball, while Jason Varitek wandered the showers aimlessly, confused that the “C” on his chest did not stand for compass. Big Papi broke up press conferences and questioned his manager. Kevin Youkalis is petulant and Jacoby Ellsbury hates everyone (except Jed Lowrie). Adrian Gonzalez has his Bible. Carl Crawford sucked. Everyone got fat. And all of this happened as Saint Pedroia flittered about the infield, and Terry Francona popped pills, lived out of a suitcase like an exorbitantly rich homeless person, and watched his marriage crumble much like his team.  The buffoons in Boston may love their chicken, but this was one finger lickin’ bad season for them.

I mean, more blood has been spilled here than on Curt Schilling’s infamous sock.  Tito had the balls to respond to the article and defend himself, unlike anyone else. He unequivocally denied that drug abuse or his marriage had anything to do with the Red Sox failures.  In fact, he said that he "worked harder and spent more time at the ballpark this year than [he] ever did." Sigh, is part of me amused by the chaos? Of course.  I love the turmoil. I love the collapse.  I love that Theo and Tito left, wrenching a stake into the heart of Red Sox Nation, ending an era of success, and pushing Boston back into a soap opera of failure.  But this article is merely a well-crafted sugar coating of alleged answers and scapegoats.  Since the season ended, there has been a vacuum of responsibility in the offices on Yawkey Way; this article just confirms it.  I do not doubt its veracity, simply its vitality.  All I know for sure is that the Red Sox are back to being better at the blame game than the one called baseball.

Let’s call it like it is. The Red Sox did not lose because of Colonel Sanders or Bud Light; they lost because their pitchers imploded and they couldn’t score runs. Their starters were atrocious down the stretch, clearly out of shape. But if the Sox had made the playoffs, these toxic details wouldn’t have come to light. I would even say that the stuff they are being trashed for now – beer, chicken, and video games – would be the very things heralded if they had won the World Series, like the Idiots before them.  If the Red Sox had made the playoffs, if they had won just two more games, the front office may have exercised Tito’s option and Theo may still be around. And rather than dissecting the season through failure-tinted glasses, it would be business as usual at Fenway Park. 

1.  The Fall Out in Fenway

It is really sad that it came to this.  I may hate the Red Sox, but I love our rivalry.  These douchebags won two championships in the past seven years for god’s sake.  Their owners became rich, their manager became Hall-of-Fame famous, their GM became heralded as a genius, and their players became worshipped across the country as superstars.  Everyone “won.” Somewhere between 2004 and 2011, as they tried to mimic the Yankees, the Red Sox achieved the impossible – they became both an Evil Empire and the Mets, all at once.  They are unlikable and overpaid underachievers without a hint of personality.  Whether it was a loss of priorities, a lack of focus or chemistry, pure laziness, or a series of poor decision making, the Red Sox turned away from what made them great.  I won’t call it a dynasty, but I will call it an era.  And this era came to an abrupt and shocking end. 

Just as Fenway is about to celebrate its birthday, 100 years strong, the team that plays inside it is falling apart.  In one short September, the Red Sox erased a decade of success and good will.  They had a classy manager admired throughout baseball, who then had his personal life splashed across the front page. They had a whiz kid magician in Theo Epstein, who bolted one disaster for another.  And now they are stuck with a disgraceful (albeit talented) roster, as well as a vindictive, petty, and arrogant front office.  This should be a special period in franchise history, a time to celebrate its vast accomplishments.  A time to remember Dave Roberts’ steal and Jon Lester beating cancer and a curse that no longer exists  Instead, the Sox have refused to accept responsibility or deal with the lingering issues of the 2011 collapse; and in doing so, they have undermined the organization’s credibility and character.  Rather than celebrating, the Red Sox are effectively starting over.   

It begs the question: how did this happen? How did the Red Sox, called “the greatest team ever,” become the exact opposite of everything for which they once stood? I know the Boston Globe, and its many anonymous sources, would like us to believe it was all because John Lackey is an evil fatass and Terry Francona is a depressed addict.  But this was not investigative journalism; it was a laundry list of speculation and excuses.  I mean, was it really necessary to riff that Tito may have been distracted because he has sons in the military?  And if this article really explains why the Red Sox fell apart, why didn’t any reporter mention its details during the season?  Josh Beckett didn’t gain 20 pounds overnight.  The position players and pitchers did not just start a cold war during September. Tito did not just begin living in a hotel.  Strangely, Bob Hohler, the journalist who wrote the article, is an investigative reporter, not a sports writer.  Was Peter Abraham incapable of discovering any of this information during the year – when it actually mattered – or was he just too afraid to piss off the players he writes about every day?  It is hard not to question the motives behind this explosive piece and wonder, who is really to blame for the Red Sox collapse? (Lots more after the jump...)

2.  Well, They Still Have Soccer 

There is plenty of blame to go around, but it starts at the top.  Other than Dustin Pedroia, the Red Sox owners are the only people who were not trashed in the Hohler article (“anonymous team sources,” my ass).  Tom, John, and Larry bought the Sox in 2002, and vowed that life on Yawley Way would be different.  They promised the club would spend money on its roster, strengthen community ties, and no longer be racist – a complete makeover from what the Red Sox had been in the past. Much to my horror, their scheming actually worked. The dysfunctional losers turned into lovable comeback kids and infectious Idiots, who won the World Series in fairy tale-fashion.  Just to prove their point, the bastards did it again three years later.  They had their own Murderer’s Row, a staff of young aces, an overflowing farm system, and a front office that, all of a sudden, seemed frighteningly competent. And they looked like they were having fun, too! It was hard not to respect the Extreme Home Makeover-edition Red Sox.  In fact, those Red Sox were mercilessly ballsy.  As soon as one player’s ego became too great for the team, the front office axed the asshole – no matter who it was.  They got rid of Roger Clemens, Mo Vaughn, Nomar, Pedro, and Manny Ramirez.  They even parted ways with Theo Epstein for a hot second, when power struggles and gorilla suits ruled the day.  In the end, they refused to let one bad apple spoil the core.  They were brilliant and heartless...and extraordinarily successful.  The Red Sox seemed to have truly changed the culture and perception that had crippled them in the past.  
At some point, the Red Sox ownership lost its focus.  John Henry found a new wife, had a baby, bought a yacht, and then splurged on a soccer team.  Larry Lucchino moved away from building a baseball team, and instead cultivated a brand. Winning was no longer the ultimate goal, but a means to an end; it, in turn, generates profits and popularity.  And now John Henry is so clueless that, after he “fell on his yacht” and missed Tito’s presser, his silence was only broken when his wife tweeted about soccer – a glowing example of the Henrys’ empathy towards brokenhearted fans. Really, I do not think he could possibly seem more out-of-touch.  This was the man who ironically bought $300 headphones for players who would not listen. Nothing says “team bonding” and “listen to your manager,” like “take these headphones and go quietly listen to your own music in the corner.”  He threw the team – one that was criticized for drinking too much – a party on his yacht. Why he would reward players for complaining about doing their jobs, jobs for which they get paid millions, is beyond me.  Maybe it was his misguided attempt to hold together a splintering clubhouse, but still. In an interview last week, Henry said that he was surprised to learn about the infamous “Hell Yeah, I Like Beer” video. He was also shocked about drinking in the clubhouse.  He used to live and breathe Red Sox baseball; now, he apparently doesn’t take the time to check in anymore. 

The truth is, ownership has been trying to sweep issues under the rug all season.  It started with headphones, and it ended with a scandalous article in the Boston Globe.  Rather than legitimately answer questions, Tom, John, and Larry have leaked and spun and blamed.  They threw everyone under the bus without taking a long look in the mirror at themselves.  As long as there are still pink hats and NESN, as long as their wallets remain filled, it seems that they are hungry only to defend themselves – not the team, not a championship, and not the passion that once made them so admirable.  That is what prompted John Henry to finally break his silence on Friday; he was so angry at how he was being portrayed on the radio, he stormed over there to declare he did not support the signing of Carl Crawford and other fabulous gems.  Ownership has treated the September collapse like the season finale of Pretty Little Liars – a lot of dirt was spilled, a lot of accusations were made, someone may have been murdered, and we still have no idea what really happened.  But, if nothing else, the front office has ensured that no one can escape Boston without having his name smeared.  

3.  A Gorilla Suit Goodbye to the General Manager. 
Don’t get me wrong, Boy Genius deserves plenty of blame.  But I think it is arrogant, delusional, and woefully misguided to say that Theo Epstein should be replaced. Yes, Theo has a slew of big free-agent blunders.  But he has also changed the organizational culture and management of the team. He combined Money Ball-statistics with traditional scouting and revamped the Sox from the inside-out.  He thrived in the fish-bowl pressure cooker that is Boston. I don’t understand how any Boston fan is happy to see him go to Chicago.  Don’t you want him to stay and fix this disaster, the one he helped create?  In ways, he is leaving the Red Sox in a worse position than he received them – especially after John Lackey, the ongoing $142M experiment that is Carl Crawford, and the farm-system clearing trade for the God-filled Grouch himself, Adrian Gonzalez. The Sox currently do not have a manager or a handful of coaches, and a lot of their players have expiring contracts.  With so many tough decisions looming, don’t you want the Magician who first brought you greatness? Ben Cherington, Theo’s heir apparent, is not the “new” voice that so many in Boston are clamoring for; he is simply Theo Lite.  If the Red Sox really wanted new leadership or to make a splash, they would pry away Tampa Bay’s Andrew Friedman, who has mirrored Theo’s success with one-fourth the payroll. 

But Theo is gone. We already know that John Henry didn’t want Crawford.  And it is only a matter of time before we learn that Theo was banging strippers on top of the Green Monster, selling cocaine out of Cracker Jack boxes, and watching porn during the draft.  As soon as we see fresh-faced Theo smiling in front of the cameras at Wrigley, talking about bringing a special brand of greatness to the Chicago Cubs, we will start to hear from anonymous team sources again.  Theo, you’re on deck.

4.  A Not So Merry Terry.

Although it is normally one of the most coveted positions in baseball, could manager of the Red Sox be any less inviting right now? First Grady Little and now Tito, both humiliated.  Like Grady Little, Terry Francona deserves a lot of blame for the Red Sox failures.  As the manager, he was responsible for the clubhouse; he should have forced the trio of fat-asses to put down their controllers and buckets of chicken and hit the treadmills.  And if he realized he was incapable of doing so, he should have gone to his superiors before it was too late.  Rather than shutting down when his players failed to listen, Tito needed to create a spark.  Ideally, he would not have to babysit his players or teach them how to respect their teammates.  Adult men who get paid millions of dollars can, at the very least, act in a bare-minimum professional manner.  But Tito supported his players to a fault, much like Joe Torre, and eventually, the inmates started to run the asylum.  In the end, Francona did not have his players or ownership on his side. I cannot blame him for wanting to move on, and maybe it is best that he did.

That said, I think it is deplorable how he was treated.  Who wants to work for employers that make it a policy to not “engage in encouragement,” as John Henry told WEEI? His “way of encouraging the manager is generally if we win, I’ll go down and say hello.”  Well, how BIG of you, Mr. Henry; please don’t slip again and break anything, like your face.  Who the hell wants to work with these assholes and clean up this mess?  I assume the Red Sox will chase someone promising like the Rays’ Dave Martinez or the Phillies’ Pete Mackanin, as opposed to a big name like Bobby Valentine.  They need someone who will bend to the will of ownership, in terms of organizational philosophy, and someone who is strong enough to rebuild their toxic clubhouse. New GM and manager aside, the Red Sox are still stuck with a large group of overpaid, underachieving assclowns who are more concerned with their personal high score on Pacman and if the Miller Lite is cold enough. 

5. A Roster of Ridiculousness.

Not only do the players share the blame for this year’s collapse, they are the only qualifying factor that must change for the Red Sox to be competitive again.  The players are so self-centered and lazy that, other than Pedroia, they could not bother to respond to the Globe’s accusations.  And as much as I love the Laser Show, he is not the leader they desperately need.  He is an extremely hard worker who, like Derek Jeter, leads by example. Maybe Carl Crawford, who once challenged the Rays locker room (and in particular, Pat Burrell), can step up; that is, if he ever finds his footing in Boston.  Maybe the lord will give Adrian Gonzalez a baseball schedule he can support.  Perhaps Youkalis will stop being such a dick.  Or maybe David Ortiz will finally leave Boston, like he has so often threatened.  As my friend Dylan said, “He acts like we actually want him...WTF? Sure, let's sign Manny, Papi, and Jason Giambi too! Anyone know what Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa are up to lately? Has Griffey gotten over that whole never play for the Yankees thing yet?”
Something needs to change in that clubhouse. I would start by letting Wakefield and Varitek go. If the Red Sox want to mirror their past success, they need to forget sentiment.  Once I said adios to those useless fuckers, I would immediately move John Lackey, no matter the cost.  No matter if I have to eat his whole salary and send a lifetime shipment of Twinkies for him to eat wherever he goes next.  I would resign Papi to a one-year deal. If he doesn’t want pressure to produce as an overweight 36-year-old, he can walk – to pinstripes or whatever morons will sign him. The Sox needs players who are more interested in winning than individual statistics. They need another Johnny Damon or Mike Lowell. They need to reconcile with Jacoby Ellsbury, offer him a huge extension, and instill some fire in him.  If Youkalis is the problem, then they need to trade him. They need to reprimand Jon Lester for an incredibly disappointing year.  And then there is Commander Kickass, the King of KFC, Josh Beckett.  Undeniably, he is an ace who had a terrific year when healthy.  But if reporters were playing “an informal clubhouse game” to see when he would talk to a position player, there are problems.  And if Marlins manager Jack McKeon once had to use “poo-poo cards and pee-pee cards” to keep him in the dugout, then the Red Sox need to find a punishment that is equally effective.  It is ridiculous that they have to go to such measures, of course, but they have invested a lot of money in Beckett and he is not easily replaceable. 

The Sox need to find a manager who will put his foot down and demand that his players support their teammates…or else.   Whether the “or else” includes monetary fines, skipped starts, or missed team perks, all players – including starting pitchers who are not in the game – need to be on the bench. Period. They need a manager who will make the players understand that you not only foster chemistry, but you learn things by remaining in the dugout; you absorb in-game situations and opponents’ pitching habits. (I hope that this imaginary manager also teaches the team to run out groundballs, because the Sox were pathetic in that department this year). The clubhouse issues that plagued the Red Sox are infallibly linked to the players currently found between its walls. Any group that ignores the concept of team, that a whole is greater than its parts, partakes in an environment that breeds apathy and resentment, and ultimately, failure. 

6.  Curt Schilling’s Crystal Ball

Like I said before, it is really sad that it came to this.  And it is a sad day indeed when I agree with Curt Schilling.  In blaming ownership and the players, Schilling said that “They spent nine or 10 years building this into a model franchise, so to speak, and I think they destroyed it.”  He went on to predict that “there will be some guys who will walk on that field on Opening Day next year and get booed louder than any New York Yankee.” I hate to say it, but Schilling gets what no one else seems to understand in Boston – they cannot sweep these issues under the rug.  They must take accountability for the collapse, because it is not like we are going to forget about it by April.  At this point, all of the Red Sox dirty laundry has now been aired.  And good god, it reeks to high heaven.  But it also provides an opportunity for the next manager to rule without mercy, and for the team to come back in dominant fuck-you fashion.  There are no more excuses left to give and no one else left to blame.  The Red Sox remain a highly talented club with nearly unlimited resources. What the owners and players do with those resources and talent is the part of this drama that has yet to be written.  But there are only 120 days until pitchers and catchers report.  And until then, happy hour is over in Fenway Park.

5 comments:

  1. That's as balanced as I could hope for from a Yankees' fan. It must be remembered that this wasn't a September collapse. I ate my humble pie after the first 12 games of the season and spent those months they were winning two out of every three games waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    You guys probably didn't watch the "Irene double-Header" but while winning both I have never seen such a pissed-off looking bunch of players (the scheduling was a disaster and owner driven). It was their last back to back wins of the season. Lots of blame, but a big chunk of it didn't walk out the door. Red Sox fans can only hope the owners now eat their big dose of humble pie and come back with an original attitude.

    Frankly, the rivalry deserves a hell of a lot better than this from the Red Sox.

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  2. JHop - This was one very impressive article, a better sum up and evaluation than most I have read or heard, and believe me I have heard and read a lot of them. Their entertainment value is unlimited. Personally, I would stand this up against any of the "experts" out there. Congrats on a great piece of writing. Congrats on capturing the sigh! of Red Sox Nation...

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  3. Thanks guys! I also think this is a really good follow-up link by Tony Massarotti.

    http://www.boston.com/sports/columnists/massarotti/2011/10/by_tony_massarotti_globe_colum_2.html?p1=News_links

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  4. JHop,
    Once again you give us good thought, fine writing, passion and humor. Long live CDTF!

    In undeserved deference to SFSF, I am glad it isn't me and my club. failing against the Tigers was bad enough, but it wasn't this. In some ways, I miss the Boss, but right now I will take Hal and Hank over John and Larry, easily. We have our problems to work out in the Bronx, but they are not these problems. Being twenty or so Championships ahead gives me the right to say it couldn't happen to a better bunch of assholes.

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  5. I've just installed iStripper, and now I can watch the sexiest virtual strippers on my taskbar.

    ReplyDelete