I know you don’t get a chance to take a break or something, but if you do, read all about Terry Francona’s return to Boston at Over the Monster.
I know you don’t get a chance to take a break or something, but if you do, read all about Terry Francona’s return to Boston at Over the Monster.
Monday’s Opening Day lineup should look something like this:
Jacoby Ellsbury’s a known unknown; he’s like watching a roulette wheel, in that it could end 38 different ways and we’ve thought of them all. The beauty of the contract year is that it’s a batter’s contract with his bat, every damn day, and Ellsbury, no doubt coaxed by Boras, has put himself into something of a tight position. The variable for which they didn’t account — and why would they? — was Jackie Bradley’s blitz toward Fenway, which puts Ellsbury in the Boston media crosshairs, a place from which there is only total and permanent escape.
I like the Shane Victorino signing. Shane Victorino is a baller. When people say “veteran leadership,” what they really mean is “going out and busting his ass every damn day.” It’s quantifiable: Productivity can be a volume business, and it can be easy to miss. Bill Simmons is pissed about the $39 million but really, so what? The Red Sox are in an extremely well-defined transition. If Shane Victorino isn’t a transitional player, I don’t know who is.
The father to Dustin Pedroia’s style has still not been located, and the search has been called off. The only difference between him and you, in its entirety, is that he decided at some point, “Fuck everyone, I’m gonna be the best player in baseball,” and then he basically went and did it by repeating that to himself every five seconds from age nine until whenever you’re reading this. It shouldn’t work, but it does, and let’s just be happy about it.
I’m bullish on Napoli. ESPN’s injury grim reaper Stephania Bell said that he feels totally fine after he adjusted to the news of his hip condition; I believe her. I’ll enjoy watching Will Middlebrooks this year, given the safe distance I kept from the nightly Human Centipede performance art shitshow that they ran out there in 2012, starring Pedro Ciriaco in the role of “Designated Hitter.” Saltalamacchia is too dull and too many letters to write about, given that I’m not gonna call a dude “Salty.”
I’m bullish on the Jonny Gomes/Daniel Nava platoon in the outfield, but that’s mostly because I’m bullish on Gomes in general. Gomes seems to think he got put into the platoon box so early in his career that he’s never gotten a fair chance to scramble out of it. He would say that, but in Fenway, it seems plausible enough, unless you figure the Red Sox looked this scenario in the eyes and decided to bring up Jackie Bradley to do an end run around it. That would figure that the Sox didn’t, uh, believe him, or believed that their platoon combo was so good — and it’s pretty damn good — that Bradley plus the platoon gave them a chance to contend. Not one Fangraphs analyst picked the Sox to make the playoffs, and there were a lot of them. The Red Sox are solidly under the radar. That’s where you want to be. It wouldn’t hurt the cause if Jose Iglesias was Ozzie Smith, though. Which he might be, if we just pray hard enough. It’s up to us. Duh.
Bobby V, only baseball’s most recent enduring snake oil salesman, walked straight into the wave of jeers, because they were coming from behind the bench, because where else was he going to go? The Yankees were pulling their remarkable comeback against the Red Sox on Saturday, and the fans booed the cocky symbol of change, the cosmopolitan brash jerkoff in the townie capitol of America, running their team. If this wasn’t the bottom, what was? How long before everyone just dealt with it?
Change happens slowly, but tiny moments often bear the weight of long periods of change. Nomar was traded, and the 2004 Red Sox went on a tear and won the World Series. This was a big deal because reporters liked to ask if it was a big deal, making it a big deal. How big of a deal was it? I don’t know, but the Nomar trade was a jumping off point for baseball writers eager to try their hands at fiction, the same way the Sox’ September meltdown last year was great fodder for the giant Internet writing workshop that is the Internet. Premise: Stupid, puritanical shit that has nothing to do with baseball affects baseball. Word limit: None. Go to town.
It will inevitably be this way for the Bobby V Sox and the Yankees’ nearly bloodless coup of the Sox for four innings in April, 2012. The Red Sox are too good not to be good, and when they’re good, the premise of the writing assignment will shift toward making a sly, patient gamesman out of Bobby V instead of an ineffectual braggart. Soon, we’ll be told he’s playing the long game, and the Sox will suddenly be “surprisingly” competing with the Rays and Angels or Rangers for one of the two wild card spots. Soon, because of a blip of a rule change Bud “Milquetoast” Selig made during the offseason, we will see Bobby V’s widened room for error, and forget about it because it ruins the narrative. If the current wild card system was in effect last year, Francona would have made the playoffs again, and he might still be around. That would have been good, though painfully mature. In turning over the management of the team, the Sox showed that the inmates are running the asylum. The Cubs needed to clean house because no one was running the show. The Sox live and die by the players. Bobby V is the mermaid on the prow, and as much as some players obviously can’t stand him, a rising tide lifts all boats. This is the real Moneyball: Money wins out. The Sox spend too much to suck. When they don’t, remember that Bobby V probably has shit-all to do with it.
Tim Wakefield was having his Red Sox breakout season (1995 version, not 1997 redux) when I worked at the snack bar at a beach club in Oak Bluffs. It was the third job I ever had. I, along with everyone else, hated it when people ordered frappes, because they were a pain to make. Ice cream does not want to blend the same way Timmy Wakefield didn’t want to bend, but would if you coaxed him. He’d be a long reliever, a short reliever, a closer or a mop-up guy but he’s only really Tim Wakefield as a starter the way ice cream is only ice cream when it’s frozen and gooey and basically the best thing on earth.
I mention the 1997 season as a second breakout for Wakefield because I’m pretty sure every Red Sox fan thought 1995 was a fluke. He was a 20-something year old kid embarrassing fools with his senior citizen discount pitch. Then 1997 happened, and we were waiting for it every year. Two was a pattern, and pattern basically repeated itself with converging highs and lows for the next 15 years. He was generally good and reliable and was shuttled around the pitching staff as its needs changed. He was a silly putty puzzle piece, ready to fit in where you needed him, but he needed to be in the rotation.
There was something about the first inning that spoke to him. I wonder if it was something about the knuckleball, about finding it the day that it’s on, trusting physics, and hanging on for dear life. Actually, that’s every start for a knuckleballer. The great starts would be the ones where you had absolutely no doubt whatsoever in physics, in the invisible but comically powerful forces that rule the universe, and you’re halfway back to the dugout just when Scott Brosius is starting to whiff at your 65 mile-per-hour junk, and everyone in the stadium knows it’s happening.
Every Timmy start had a chance to be like that, even more than every Pedro Martinez start had a chance to be a perfect game. You weren’t looking for perfection with Timmy. There would always be a hit or two. You just wanted to see whether the ball cared to participate. As good as knuckleballers are at what they do, they’re ultimately subjected to geothermal forces. There’s only so much Tim Wakefield could do. For Pedro’s overt grandiosity and religiosity, Tim Wakefield was the one whose God mattered. He could show up and throw the knuckleball as well as it’s ever been thrown, but if the weather wasn’t cooperating it would rain Rawlings in the bleachers. Every start, you waited to see if Wakefield had it, and on those times he had it, I mean, what could you do? It felt like a bitching rewards program for a store really close to your house. How the hell did I get this new car?
I know non-Red Sox fans understand. For all that Yankees fans could never understand about our love for many of our players, there was no questioning what made Wakefield respectable, the same way there isn’t about Mariano Rivera. Any fan that wouldn’t have killed to have Tim Wakefield on its roster would have been off its rocker until about three years ago. (Any team repeating the sin with Rivera would be committed to an open-air insane asylum in the Northwest Territories.) The knuckleballer papacy transfers now, I guess, to R.A. Dickey, whose apprenticeship is likely less Aaron Rogers than Benedict himself—elected as a transitional titleholder but a dude whose successor is anyone’s guess. The one-MLB, one-knuckleballer policy strains the limits of faith even more than the Vatican, because it’s science: What is is about this sport that makes certain there is exactly one person in the world who can dominate it with this silly pitch, even as the league and population grow? When will that stop? Will it ever? Tim Wakefield was great because he kept this mystery going for 20 years longer than it had to. We would have admired him for it anyway, but because he was ours, we loved him.
It’s easy to take any individual story from the New York Post during baseball season and shake your head at its stupidity. Stories like “Sources: A-Rod and Derek Jeter Don’t Have Sleepovers Any More” and “Video Shows Sheffield Scowling At Kitten” resonate in the public memory (whether I just made them up or not) precisely because they seem to have a news value of exactly zero, yet are repackaged in one form or another over and over from March to October, usually dwarfing the game stories and getting a second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth life on ESPN. Nine for the kitten.
If the shitshow following the Red Sox collapse has taught us anything, it’s the functional utility of these stories. The culture of the Yankees extends beyond silly-on-the-surface rules like “No facial hair below the lip.” A player is, when signing in the Bronx, effectively relinquishing his right to privacy. It’s not in the contract, but that doesn’t make it any less true. It’s why the Yankees pay you more than you’re worth—in a very real way, it sucks to play for them, and everyone knows it.
The stories in the Post and Daily News, day after day, regularly trump anything the zaniest bloggers could come up with, and are legitimized by being printed on dead trees. The players have to talk about this stuff. It’s part of the job. It’s a small, constant distraction that seems wholly impractical, but if the Red Sox/Red Sox media (and really, they’re one and the same to the consumer) implosion has taught us anything, it’s that this sort of release valve isn’t only coldly practical, it’s actually kind of good. Red Sox fans fantasize that everything will be alright right up to the point it’s not, then point fingers at everyone. The media won’t report on drinking in the clubhouse during the season because they don’t know about it or don’t think it’s an issue if the team is winning. Their intention is not to rock the boat, it’s to ride it.
The New York media is not so callow. It knows its job is to sell papers, and if selling papers takes down the personal reputation of the GM, a manager, or star player, so be it. All in the game, homey. Even when Joe Torre got ridden out of town after a playoff loss, it was a story months in the making.
Boston fans can’t accept that the team just sucked for a month and lost because they got all this nonsense news they should have had way before their period of mourning. Correlation equaled causation, and that was that. Meanwhile, players who thought that they signed to play for a “new” Red Sox organization realize that they’ve been sold a bill of goods. The Sox are not the cuddly Yankees. They’re the backstabber, wannabe Yankees. The Yankees, as odious as they can be, are usually honest about their brutal intentions, and when they’re not, the media is honest with them.
Boston fans want a fiction, and they are uneager to have that fiction disturbed during the season. They project their own fears onto the team more readily than any fans in sports and think it won’t effect the end product. They watch and spend money after all, right? It’s easy for the Epstein-era fans to be ignorant of a time that no free agent wanted to come to Boston, to the point that when Manny showed up, and even then only for an Edgartown’s worth of money, it was a shock to the system. Somebody chose to play in Boston? That was a new one. Yes, players wanted to play for Red and K.C.’s Celtics and now Belichick’s Pats, but those are exceptions—they have nothing to do with Boston culture. KG had to be convinced to play there, and then it worked only because people reminded him he never, ever goes out on the town.
It’ll be interesting to see the long-term repercussions of this fiasco, whether this is just a bump in the road or a reversion to the Boston sports culture pre-literally everyone winning. That’s not a happy place. If we can’t handle the truth about our players—if we don’t actively seek it—it’s the one we deserve. We care, and we have no business pretending we don’t, yet we do, over and over and over. Spread the pain out and it’s more manageable. Hold it in and it’s not.
It’s hard for me to make sense of this whole drinking-in-the-clubhouse-and-possibly-dugout story. I do not care, but apparently I am lonely in not caring. Unless I am just one of many, many people who do not care and continue to click on the articles, thus giving the (digital) impression that I care.
I think people are frustrated with the collapse, and are looking to pin it on booze, a Massachusetts tradition dating back to 1620. Let’s be clear: the beer drinking, if an issue at all, was a symptom of the collapse, not a cause of it. Doc Gooden announced this week that he missed the 1986 Mets parade because he was on a coke binge. If he was sober during the World Series, I will eat my backpack.
Yes, in the 25 years since then, baseball players have developed better training regimens. Often, these training regimens have included steroids, and it should be noted that the 2004 Red Sox—who openly drank Jack Daniels in the clubhouse during the playoffs—looked like a Marvel Comics lineup out there. What can we do? We won, and we’re not going to apologize. Now we lost, and the players must grovel and cop to substance problems they don’t have. If it’s that easy, it’s a fixable problem. Ban booze, and up goes banner number eight.
It’s not that simple. I believe it was the philosopher Kenny Powers who observed that “fundamentals are a crutch for the talentless.” You don’t get to the show without being able to play. You need to resist the temptation to give yourself to booze, but a 240-pound man drinking a beer with the alcohol content of Poland Spring? Come on.
This not to say there wasn’t anything fundamentally wrong with the 2011 Red Sox, by the end. This team lost all hope in a way a team this talented really never has before. Losing seemed like a fait accompli from the moment the downward drift started, but that doesn’t mean it was one. They came perilously close to making the playoffs as it was. They didn’t. Oh well.
The players have owned up to drinking beer, and called it a non-issue. It’s the one thing they’ve gone out of their way to stress means absolutely nothing in the context of the current discussion. The collapse, the sense of dread, all of it was real. The team pushed each other to fail, but it’s not life and death, and certainly bears no relation to 17th century ideas about drinking. End the witch trial, and watch the Bruins.
BEN CHERINGTON: Hey Jed?
JED HOYER: What’s up, Ben?
BEN CHERINGTON: Would you be interested in a pitcher who gives up 380-foot bombs on the regular? He’d be great for your park. We’ll pay for it.
JED HOYER: Dice?
BEN CHERINGTON: No.
JED HOYER: Wake?
BEN CHERINGTON: No.
JED HOYER: Lackey?
BEN CHERINGTON: Yes.
JED HOYER: Let me crunch some numbers. [Punches furiously at keyboard.] Yeah, I think we could do that.
BEN CHERINGTON: Sweet. God bless NESN. Talk to you later.
JED HOYER: Later. [Hangs up, dials new number.]
ALBERTO: Alberto’s Charter Fishing.
JED HOYER: Hey, I know you said you need 24-hour notice, but can I charter a boat today? My work’s done.
ALBERTO: I’m sorry, we can’t—
JED HOYER: It’s Jed.
ALBERTO: Come on down, my man! Who’d we get?
JED HOYER: Lackey. They’re paying for everything.
ALBERTO: Hurry up. They’re really biting.
If you’re listening to Johnny Damon on any subject except barbershops in the New York area, I’m not sure I can help you, but I’m inclined to dismiss any and all of his comments about the 2011 Red Sox. The flip side of enjoying the World Series as a standalone event is that each one has its own story and texture—you don’t learn “how to win,” which should be glaringly obvious when Proven Winners Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and even, yes, John Lackey lead whatever renegade charge was fomenting under Yawkey Way. Johnny and Joe Buck may talk in platitudes, but you don’t have to, and Johnny is easy enough to ignore.
But Pete Abraham, of the Globe? “Johnny Damon, a player who knows a thing or two about winning and good team chemistry […]” I mean, really? The guy’s going to get 3,000 hits, at which point the smoke will be sufficiently blown up his behind to last a lifetime. This is him sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong in a situation where he has nothing to add to the discussion. Let’s not pretend he does.