If you’re a Red Sox fan and you feel like the 2012 season is already lost, take a deep breath and consider the following before you cancel your cable subscription and take up a new evening hobby:
1. Building a contender isn’t as easy as spending a lot money. (Ask the New York Yankees.) And if it were that easy, Major League Baseball would be selling a very boring product, because three or four teams would contend for the title every year, and everyone else would suck. I’m not happy that the Sox are a .500 team, but I am glad there’s more parity in the league, and that places like Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Detroit have teams they can root for. For all the talk of the Red Sox being loaded with “entitled” players, it seems a great many Sox fans feel entitled to watch a World Series contender every year.
2. I don’t understand the calls for Bobby Valentine’s head. I’ve watched far more games this season than I’d care to admit, and I can recall only a handful of boneheaded in-game moves by the manager. Valentine certainly doesn’t follow the Belichick/Francona model in terms of handling the media in this town, but of all the brouhahas he’s supposedly inspired this year, have any of them had much staying power? Virtually all of the “players don’t like him” stories have ended up looking unfounded or misplaced. For example, Buster Olney’s report of clubhouse “toxicity” seemed more to do with the coaching staff than anything going on between Bobby V and his players. And when Dustin Pedroia called out Valentine early in the season for not knowing “how things are done around here,” Pedroia hadn’t read what Bobby had said, and he admitted as much later on with obvious contrition. At worst, Valentine has seemed a little old and weird during post-game pressers, but in terms of managing this injury-plagued team, I just don’t see much to complain about. If the owners should’ve learned anything from this year, it’s that firing Tito and not getting rid of problematic players—members of the actual team—is a lousy way to go about improving a ballclub. As Pete Abraham put it so perfectly in his column today about this very subject, “The Red Sox quit on their manager last year and they fired the manager. Maybe this time they need to look at where the problem really is.”
3. Losers are inherently unlikable. Many fans have lamented that this team is unlikable in their character. I’ve tried hard to discern how that’s true—that these 25 guys are individually or collectively unlikable in specific, obvious, Carl-Everett-denying-dinosaurs ways—but all I come up with is “they lose a lot of games.” Yeah, Josh Beckett’s M.O. when in uniform is to be a curt prick, and mouth-breather John Lackey’s propensity for dickishness is well documented (albeit mysteriously denied by his teammates). Jon Lester reminds me of Roger Clemens—or a sweaty, thick-necked, snorting bull—when he’s not getting calls from the home-plate ump, but he definitely isn’t an asshole. Are we to believe that these pitchers are so omnipotent and boorish that they’ve poisoned the minds of the other players—professionals who take pride in their craft and worry deeply about their careers—to the point that those players aren’t interested in playing well? Again, I’ve watched a lot of games, I’ve studied the faces in the dugout (HD makes it so easy) just like every other viewer, and I see a group of guys who seem fond of each other and are trying to stay positive. What’s unlikable is the losing. That’s it. If the team were as bad or worse but with a roster full of Kevin Millars and Tim Wakefields, I doubt anyone would be arguing, “Yeah, they’re a last-place team, but I just love how funny and sweet those guys are! Who cares about the playoffs!” And if the team were as hopeless or depressed as the alleged toxicity could suggest, the Sox would be 20 games back instead of 10.
4. Injuries matter. Anybody out there think David Ortiz and his 1.024 OPS would not have made a difference in the last three weeks? This team has yet to field its projected starting lineup, and unless Papi’s Achilles tendon heals soon, we may not see that lineup at all this year. There’s no need to rehash the 20+ DL assignments Ben Cherington has made; this teams ranks among the most injury-plagued squads of all time, with over a thousand player-games missed this year alone. Whether these injuries are the main reason for the team’s mediocrity or just one of a dozen bad things that snowballed into an avalanche, it really doesn’t matter. The significance of the injuries is obvious, and it’s too clever by half for so many pundits to be insisting otherwise. I understand the urge to not blame the entire season on injuries, but that doesn’t mean you can just wave those injuries away. (Tony Massarotti has been especially annoying on this front.)
5. Timing is everything. When the starting pitching was terrible for the first three months, the offense kept the team afloat. Now that the pitching has improved—Clay Buchholz shining, Franklin Morales earning a starting role, Lester finding his way back to respectable—the offense is sputtering and the stellar bullpen has faltered. The Sox have had a hard time firing on all cylinders for more than a few games—or a few innings—at a time. There is still time for this team to get hot and stay hot. The talent is there.
6. Today’s media is brutal. And that probably includes you and me. Twitter, blogs, social networks, and the evolution of traditional media sites have a) empowered everyone with a smart phone to voice their opinion, and b) demanded non-stop work from beat writers who are trying to save their livelihoods by adapting. (This is why Buster Olney tweets 18 hours a day.) Regardless of the on-field performance of the Red Sox, this town and its media are going to root out any soap operas they get whiff of—or create ones out of thin air—as long as the Sox exist and as long as it pays to gripe about them.
P.S. The Sox demolished the Rangers tonight. So there’s that…