There is no dearth of logs being tossed onto the scorching funeral pyre of what was not so long ago The Greatest Baseball Team Ever. With plenty of those logs left over to be heaved into the maws of the outsized pot-belly stove that will heat up our rage during what will be a long and keenly experienced Hot Stove League. Fire it up, boys and girls, we’re heading into the first winter of our discontent since every last member of Red Sox Nation started grumbling online.
And what a grumble-rumble we’re having, as we still shake our heads over the ignominious and unprecedented fall from grace. This fall took them, over the month of September, from a sure thing for post-season play (kabillion to one odds that they weren’t going to make it up until the last pitch was thrown) to the epic fail that they unleashed upon us: the worst collapse in baseball since Abner Doubleday was a boy-o.
And this wasn’t a choke, mind you. It was more a matter of lackluster, lackadaisical, not really giving enough of a shit. Which is pretty amazing, given that you don’t get to be a professional athlete without having a fierce competitive streak. Maybe once you’ve signed that multi-year, Scott Borased, golden contract, and “they” can’t do anything about it other than eat it, a bit of that competitive fire dies down. (Pass the chicken wings, please.)
As it turns out, the pot-belly stove is an excellent image for this year’s Hot Stove League season, which we’re now in our virtual spring training for.
Pot-belly works so well because so many of our multi-million dollar pitchers decided that $15M per annum doesn’t buy quite what it used to. And what it doesn’t buy, apparently, is sitting in the dugout rooting your teammates on during a game when you’re not pitching. Baseball is boring, don’t you know. It’s much more fun hanging around the club house, sucking down cold ones, scarfing down fried chicken, playing some dumb-ass video game, and working on the pot-bellies that apparently eroded their overall fitness, stamina and ability to pitch when it was their day.
And then there are the team’s clueless owners/senior management who, until it was all revealed once the season was over and out, had nary an inkling that something was rotten out on Yawkey Way, and it wasn’t just the garbage pails full of gnawed on chicken bones. How inept was ownership? Here’s how: when Hurricane Irene was bearing down on New England, the team members were asked to OK canceling a Sunday game and playing a double-header on Friday. They – or some of them, at least – pitched a complete hissy fit. They were tired. They were achy. They were stressed.
Well, boo-feckin’-hoo: ain’t we all?
They were forced to play the game, and to make it all up to them, the owner bought them all $300 headphones, and invited them all out to a post-hurricane night o’ fun (long-necks and chicken wings, anyone?) on his yacht.
And of course, the latest is that the other “they” – the nefarious, backstabbing, finger-pointing owners – are rumored to have been trash talking manager Terry Francona. Not enough to just force him out of town – Francona quit the day after the season ended – they have to ply the press with all kinds of stuff about his personal life that is really none of our business.
Whether the owners are actually the ones responsible for the Trashing of Terry or not, the citizens of Red Sox Nation believe it to be so. And, sometimes, it’s not what’s true that matters; it’s what you believe to be true. (Here’s what I believe to be true: Terry Francona did a tremendous job with the Red Sox over the years, but his time had come. He is probably no longer the right horse for the course (coarse?) that the Red Sox have become. But, if I’m reading him correctly, he’s also a man of intelligence, dignity, decency,and good humor who in no way shape or form deserves to be treated shabbily.)
The owners, of course, also allowed Theo Epstein to leave the friendly confines of America’s Most Beloved Ballpark, for the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, which, it stands to reason, must be America’s Second Most Beloved Ballpark. For all the bad choices Theo made as GM – and there were some lulus, including the signing of John Lackey – he of the snarls, the beer swigging, the chicken chomping; he who it now seems may have been the bad companion that the nuns always warned us about (how else to account for little Johnny Lester turning into a bad guy?) - who’s confirmed as the worst Red Sox pitcher ever (statistically speaking), and is about to be declared, by popular acclamation, the most hated Red Sox player in team history.
Or so I’ve heard.
Anyway, it’s now apparent that whoever said there’s no I in TEAM wasn’t aware of the 2011 Red Sox.
I’ve worked with malingerers, goldbrickers, back-stabbers, credit-grabbers, snakes, snarks, and snipers – fortunately, a finite and contained number that, in most cases (but certainly not all), got their comeuppance (i.e., at the first opportunity, they went to the head of the lay off list). May it be so with this year’s Red Sox. May the true rotters get their comeuppance. (I’d say let them sit on the bench and ride the bus with the Lowell Spinners for a while, but why give them the chance to inflict their poison on the bright-eyed, ass-busting kids trying to make it to The Show.) May those who were just wooed astray by the rotters at least come to the self-realization that they conducted themselves like POS-es, and promise themselves (and us) that they won’t do it again.
I’ve also worked – directly and indirectly – under any number of leaping, screaming, flaming a-holes. Unfortunately, a far smaller proportion of them ever, ever, ever got their comeuppance. Which I suspect will be exactly what happens with principal owner John Henry et al.
Because, in truth, the only comeuppance that would likely matter to them would be hitting them in the pocketbook.
And that would mean that we – the citizens of the ingenious marketing construct that is Red Sox Nation – would have to pull some kind of Occupy Lansdowne Street maneuver. We’d have to stop buying tickets, stop subscribing to NESN, stop paying $7 for a cup of watered down hot chocolate as we sit freezing our butts off in the stands. Which is hard to do if, like me, you really and truly love watching baseball, and really and truly love seeing a game live at Fenway. (Embarrassing admission:I actually like singing “Sweet Caroline." But I’m no pink-hatter. I’ve been a fan for 50+ years, having seen my first live game in July 1960. Ted Williams hit a home run against the Indians. Terry Francona’s father, Tito, was in the outfield for Cleveland that night, as was, of all people, Jimmy Piersall.) I suppose I could forego that $7 hot chocolate…
Still, I’m hoping that this year, it’s easier to buy tickets than it has been since the magic year of 2004. I’m hoping I don’t have to spend 10 hours in the hell of the Virtual Waiting Room for the privilege of forking over $28 (plus $7.50 “convenience charge”) for bleacher tickets to see the Mariners. I’m hoping that there will be a nice, late spring day when I decide at the last moment that I want to go to a game, and I walk out to Fenway and buy my bleacher ticket at game time. So that I can watch some guys I really like – Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury et a few al. – play a game I thoroughly enjoy.
I’m hoping that everyone who attended games because it was the thing to do – all those pink-hatters – and who don’t know the difference between the infield fly rule and pulling the goalie, decide to stay home, leaving room for those of us who actually understand and like the game.
Next year is the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, and the owners – who are marketing geniuses, I’ll give them that – have been making a huge production out of it. All kinds of souvenirs, all kinds of hype. Until the September Collapse, and the follow-on revelations about abounding unsavory behavior, I had figured that it would be impossible to get tickets for any game next year. Now I’m thinking that ain’t going to be the case. (Ha. I say ha, ha.)
The Red Sox are also selling souvenir bricks to commemorate the park’s – excuse me, America’s Most Beloved Ballpark’s – 100th anniversary.
Your own personal message will be engraved onto a brick that will be placed inside Gate B or Gate C. You will also receive a complimentary replica of your brick with a custom case that you can proudly display in your home or office. (Red Sox Brick Sale Page. )
I like that “complimentary replica”. For $250, for the 4”x8”, and $475 for the 8”x8”, I’d hardly call the replica complimentary.
I’m thinking two things here:
One, the Red Sox will have to really put a filter on those personal messages. Sure, $250 is a lot to pay for a brick, but there are a lot of pissed off fans out there, and I’m sure at least a few of them want to get a message expressing their true and current feelings across. And, two, if Opening Day were tomorrow, security would have to pat everyone down to make sure they weren’t smuggling bricks into America’s Most Beloved Ballpark to hurl at a couple of choice members of what was once know as The Greatest Team Ever.
It’s sure hard to deal with the reality that a lot of guys got paid a lot of money for a lot of nothing. No one’s ticked off because they didn’t make the play-offs. If they’d been hustling, and it was just a matter of a couple of injuries and a bit of bad luck, people would be grousing but not, well, almost humiliated to have rooted for this team. It’s the seeming lack of caring, lack of hustle, lack of accountability on the part of a significant number of players. All of who made a significant amount of money.
Oh, blech, I’m sure come February, and pitchers and catchers convene in Florida, I’ll be back in the fold.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------Source for most of the bad-boy details in this post: Boston.com. But I’ve also read plenty of other articles, and lots of ranting and raving (much of it quite funny) over on the Sons of Sam Horn.