We all know by now that the Boston Red Sox completed the biggest collapse in the history of Major League Baseball this past September, losing a nine-game lead to the Tampa Bay Rays and blowing a lead in Game 162 to the hapless Baltimore Orioles, allowing the surging Rays to come back and walk-off into the playoffs on Evan Longoria's now famous home run against the hated New York Yankees.
But what we didn't know is that there was a Young and the Restless-level soap opera in the Red Sox clubhouse during the collapse that just HAPPENED to be reported after the Red Sox missed out on the postseason.
Today, the Boston Globe came out with this article talking about how the Red Sox struggled down the stretch, but what they talked about behind the scenes isn't as important as WHY it's being talked about. So how did they get to this point? Well, first, a primer on Boston sports.
Because the Boston media has such a close attachment to the fanbases of the teams they cover, it's the duty of those media outlets to report out to the fans on not just what goes on during games, but what happens behind the scenes, with reporting that borders on the brink of tabloid journalism. It turns the teams, the media, and the fans into a conglomerate of self-centered egomaniacs, constantly equating the teams with their fans in an effort to prove their Boston-centered superiority.
These people hang on the every word of blowhards such as Dan Shaughnessy (who infamously failed to play Nostradamus in the clip above) and when things don't go their way they look for excuse after excuse to pin it on. Remember, a decade ago, the Red Sox were able to somewhat hang with the Yankees, but couldn't quite get over the hump. They were the sad sacks of baseball, having not won a World Series since 1918 due to the Curse of the Bambino and were always having to figure out what went wrong while those hated Yankees continued to prosper. Boston was still scrambling for a champion.
But then the Patriots went on a magical Tom Brady-led run in 2001-02 to a Super Bowl. The Red Sox miraculously came back against New York in 2004, with a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals giving Boston that World Series title they had been looking for, making them the lovable champions of the baseball world as soliloquies and songs were bandied about. Dropkick Murphys songs blared through the city in response to the Red Sox finally finding their "Tessie" and the eye of the sports world not only had the Patriots to get behind, but their Fenway brethren, as well. And then the Celtics won an NBA championship in 2008 (which I admit, I was a big fan of) and the Bruins hoisted Lord Stanley's Cup this past June.
Boston sports teams were suddenly the center of the sports world.
In celebration of Boston's dominance over the last decade, ESPN even came out with a Boston-themed ESPN: The Magazine on September 20, citing how the city had experienced more joy in a ten-year span that it had at any time in its previous history. It puffed out the chests of anyone who held Boston sports in any regard, but more than any other team in Boston, the romanticism of baseball and Fenway Park was what pushed Boston fandom, and it's the barometer for how the city would feel about sports. If the Red Sox were doing well, the fans of the city were doing well.
But when they aren't, well...it hits a level of annoyance that even the most sympathetic of sports fans has a hard time swallowing. Which is where today's Globe story comes into play.
The Red Sox were 80-41 on August 27. They then went 10-21 the rest of the way. During that time, the Globe article cited that there was discourse amongst players and the coaching staff, noting numerous items that provided fodder for the team's descent. Most notably was manager Terry Francona's apparent knack for taking pain killers a bit too often, along with the beer-drinking, fried chicken-eating adventures of the Red Sox pitching staff as opposed to focusing on those intangibles of team unity. There is a great quote in the article from Francona himself that sums up the whole ordeal. From page 4 of the article:
“You never heard any of these complaints when we were going 80-41 [from April 15 to Aug. 27] because there was nothing there,’’ Francona said. “But we absolutely stunk in the last month, so now we have to deal with a lot of this stuff because expectations were so high.’’
So Francona, who led the team to two World Series titles and is arguably the most successful manager in the history of the storied Boston franchise, understood that the bump in the road became a crater simply because that self-centered conglomerate held the expectations to an fathomably high level. And for all the issues that centered around Francona himself, he at least understood that the selectivity of the complaints only became apparent when the team itself faltered. But the point of blame doesn't rest solely with Francona, nor any single player. It was of everyone involved.
It was a team of veteran players who had played in big-time stress situations before, either with the team or with other teams. It was a group that understood what it took to play to the level of a championship-caliber team. In fact, a good majority of the '07 championship team were on this year's team. But because of luck, injuries, and assorted downturns by many players, the Red Sox fell again. The problem about the entire situation was that the Red Sox fanbase and the Boston media didn't really accept those as reasons.
See, Adrian Gonzalez wasn't a "leader," you know. He didn't step in and command the attention of his new teammates. He just came in and was the best first baseman in the American League. A great irony in all of this: Jacoby Ellsbury, somebody who was thought of as a malcontent BEFORE the season started, will probably be the American League MVP this year thanks to the best single season by an American League center fielder since the days of Ken Griffey, Jr. But he wasn't a "team player" in the eyes of the fans.
And for the writers of media outlets like the Globe or noted Boston-lovers ESPN (whose first city-centered media outlet as a way of providing local coverage was indeed ESPN Boston), luck, injuries, a bad season by a big-time free agent...that's NOTHING compared to yacht parties on the owner's boat or the beer-swilling antics of an underperforming starter or the apparent end of the manager's marriage. It gives the story a base of more than just variables. It gives it "substance." "Gravitas." "Relatability." In reality, all it does is create an aura of this "holier-than-thou" attitude of Boston sports as a whole. Fans say that their teams deserve to win and are quick to yell "Screw you!" if you don't agree.
Instead, the article is nothing more than a mudslinging effort to bring out those magical memories of seasons past. The Bambino Curse-killing 2004 season that carried over to that second title in 2007 forever looms over the success of any current or future Red Sox team. But because of how much the Red Sox legend has grown, their fans think the Red Sox is a special team that is immune to losing in a sports world where EVERY great team falls from grace. To their fans, the Red Sox should be great forever. They should never have a collapse like they did. For the media that covers them, Boston should be the center of media attention all the time, and the Red Sox falling out of favor won't allow that to happen.
See, if the Red Sox got to the playoffs and battled for another World Series title, there's a very good chance a story like today's Globe article wouldn't have come out. In fact, there's a good chance that the spirit of this particular Red Sox team would have been praised by the media for "fighting through tough times," for showing "grittiness and heart" and for pushing through for the good of the franchise and the fans who love them. Which might have been worse for the exact same reasons that this article is so bad.
And now, perhaps the final nail in the coffin that was the Red Sox's decade of greatness has been hammered down, as Theo Epstein has agreed to be the GM of the Chicago Cubs. The Yale graduate who brought the Moneyball-style philosophy to Boston and made a big market team a little bit smarter than the others is now taking his talents to a team that, much like Boston was before he arrived, is aching for a World Series title. Much will be talked about why Epstein made the decision he did, but what shouldn't be underestimated is the vitriol that is sure to come from the Boston fanbase and the media that feeds them regarding the move.
For the Red Sox, the move should signify a turn for the worst, as the team has now pushed out the architect of the best stretch in the history of the franchise and the best on-field manager the team has ever had, as well. For Boston fans, this swoon will only continue and will only get worse, as they will lament for the good ol' days when they were on top of the baseball world, and will wonder where they look to now.
But for Chicago, they now have a chance to enjoy the success the Red Sox had when Epstein arrived, although they are not nearly a championship-level team like the Red Sox were. If Epstein turns the Cubs around and gets them a World Series, one can only imagine the Boston fans screaming about how Epstein should have been kept around and how the Red Sox glory could continue. It's the same situation for Epstein that he had when he arrived in Beantown: Storied franchise, a long World Series drought, an iconic playing field and a rabid fanbase to make happy. A success in Chicago could possibly mean the title of "Greatest General Manager Ever" for him.
If that happens, I just hope Cubs fans don't follow suit and become as grating as Red Sox Nation has. If anything, they should be happy to be there and enjoy the ride. There's enough drama in Boston for the entire sports world put together.