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.