Thursday, August 30, 2012

Beating a Dead Horse

It's hard to know where to continue, because 2012 has been such an inglorious disappointment.

More than anything else, players, for the most part haven't stepped up and accepted responsibility for exactly how terrible they've performed.

Yes, a few players have performed above the call, David Ortiz when healthy, Cody Ross, and the unlikeliest trio, Pedro Ciriaco, Scott Posednik, and Junichi Tazawa.

What exactly do fans want? My list isn't expansive:

  • Thankfulness. Players play a child's game for ridiculous money and receive the adulation of young and old alike. Appreciate the game.
  • Passion. Play hard and have fun. Do the right thing at the right time, and stop with the knucklehead baserunning. 
  • Humility. Yes, we understand that many are called and few are chosen. 
  • Servanthood. Players don't get much time off during the season. I remember going through medical training in the Navy working 185 days in a row.  There was no 'off day' dealing with people's lives, and yes, the people who suffer the most are the families when people work hard. But many people struggle with two or three jobs to make ends meet. 
  • Unity. The Sox once had the reputation of '25 players, 25 cabs.' We're past that. It's '25 players, 25 limos'. Come on, give the fans a break. 
Is asking for professionalism so much? Maybe it is.  And players (and the Red Sox) do give back, and we don't see that. But it comes with the responsibility of being a Red Sox. If you don't want it, then better to play in obscurity somewhere else.  

Meanwhile back in reality, Scott Boras, master salesman, proclaims Jacoby Ellsbury a 'franchise player'. He sure was last season. This year's guy has been for about a week. I'm not mad at Boras, that's his job to promote his players...or Ellsbury, who's struggled with injuries and after a hot streak has a .700 OPS. Who's among his top similarity score? Lyman Bostock. I guess I missed him on that trip to Cooperstown. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Wheel of Misfortune

Local baseball fans have a long and passionate relationship with our baseball team. After wandering in the baseball desert for eighty-six years, the Red Sox delivered a pair of World Championships using pluck, pitching, and "Moneyball".

Somewhere, amidst ballpark restructuring, expanding the Fenway sports empire to include NASCAR and soccer, signing overvalued players to enormous contracts, and the death of player accountability, Red Sox Nation became a house divided. 

Even players like the redoubtable Dustin Pedroia chirped "that's not the way we do things around here." 

Well, in Parcellian fashion, "you are what you are." Post All-Star break the Red Sox are 17-23, eleventh in the AL, eight games behind Seattle during that time, and the Red Sox are closer to last place than the Wild Card. OPS, the Holy Grail of "Moneyball" has dropped to .733 during that time, the province of Minnesota and Kansas City. 

With concerts, Soccer at Fenway, Picnic in the Park, as well as other value-added events for the Red Sox Foundation, management seems to have taken its collective eyes off the ball and affixed them to the almighty dollar. Vanna White has become the centerpiece of the organization. 

Now, challenging the old adage "you can't replace the whole team, you replace the manager," they're embarking on doing that, exiling Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford and much of its debt obligation to SoCal for a raft of prospects. Whether Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury get their marching orders remains to be seen. 

Hard to know whether the team improves, but the enterprise value rose. 

Some of the players argue, it's become about a soap opera, not about baseball. We could talk abominable baserunning, mediocre defense (a.k.a. defensive miscues and errors in Fielding Bible parlance), lack of offensive patience, absence of clutch hitting, and so forth, but obviously prefer to talk chicken and beer. 

Fortunately, school starts soon and we can watch athletes who, win or lose, actually care. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pomp and Circumstance

Come in from that ledge. "It's only a game. Somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. The Sawx just won a championship in 2007." And so on.

Ten years in the Navy taught me the value of pomp and circumstance. There's the initial excitement of commissioning on the U.S.S. Constitution. The military has bands to play at graduations and retirement ceremonies, and multiple orders of important functions.

The Red Sox have adopted the same posture, raising it to an art form. Forget about Opening Day or championship rings, or Jason Varitek or Tim Wakefield day. The locals have Frozen Fenway, Futures at Fenway, concerts, Picnic in the Park and valuable charitable work like Run to Home Base and more and more.

Unfortunately, what got left behind, amidst the applause and the endless events is a miserable baseball team. The team quit on their "beloved" manager last September and part of the exorcism ultimately included the exile of Kevin Youkilis to Chicago. Nobody could foresee that his understudy, promising Will Middlebrooks had less proclivity to withstand hit by pitches than his mentor.

Erstwhile MVP Jacoby Ellsbury missed the lion's share of the season, and returned disguised as Rick Miller. Twenty million dollar player? Inflation may be upon us, but not that much. Prize acquisition Carl Crawford's played better, but not quite at the Tampa Bay Ray level yet. Another telephone number salary, Adrian Gonzalez has come on, after returning to the comfort of first base.

But the starting rotation, the Gem of Commotion, has fallen apart. Quality starts come from alleged aces Lester and Beckett about as often as full moons. Denying the obvious only excuses management for their inaction. Clay Buchholz returned to form after divorcing the Chicken and Beer club and after that the most valuable starters have been reality show guests Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales.

Fans are seeking some accountability. GM Ben Cherington says all the right things about his hardworking players, but it feels like more handwringing than anything else. Viscount Larry Lucchino, the Puppet Master comes out as often as Punxatawnee Phil. Do the Sox have another six weeks of season left?

But above all else, this Shakespearean tragedy belong to the stars, the answer to the question being playing better not getting better players.

John Wooden had a saying, "don't whine, don't complain, and don't make excuses." The Red Sox never heard of that.

The Red Sox used to be champions, but how hath the mighty fallen, such that the Jays, Rays, and Orioles, unassuming animals in the wild, regularly kick Red Sox butt.

The Nation needs a shakeup, but firing Bobby Valentine, more than anything else , capitulates to the players and diminishes their responsibility. But after all, most have an invisible Assante Samuel "get paid". They got theirs and the rest of us get caught holding the bag. Maybe management will throw a party to celebrate the season. More pomp, whatever the circumstance.