The Providence Journal: April 1, 2013
The Red Sox have always had high-minded scrutiny. Every year the bleachers get filled with a new litter of Harvard and MIT students. The best sports journalism in America continues to come out of Boston and Providence, where young seamheads follow familiar paths from Boston College, Brown University and other local schools to The Boston Globe, The Providence Journal and many other sports media outlets. Recently, yet another beat writer from The Globe, Greg Bedard, ascended to Sports Illustrated magazine to become its senior writer covering football.
After two World Series wins in the last decade, the Red Sox have become a very rich and very powerful team, and, of course, they have been corrupted by it. Now, in addition to high-minded scrutiny, there is the low-brow demand to keep winning every year. Theo Epstein, the former general manager of the Red Sox, referred to it as "having to feed the monster."
The low-brow demands of the Fenway fan mob and media, a.k.a. the monster, boiled over in an eruption at the end of last season, when the Red Sox carried out a stunning trade of arguably their three best players, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Seemingly acting on a familiar refrain from an angry old timer, "For that kind of money ..." (they actually did) "... trade the bums!" Given the Sox history of trading Babe Ruth away to the Yankees, and the resulting 86-year curse, it bears watching how the Dodgers do this year with the former Red Sox stars.
Certainly the three were among the highest-paid players on the team, even in the league. The Red Sox spent years pursuing Gonzalez, likening him to Ted Williams, and traded away several young prospects to finally acquire him for $154 million in 2011. Josh Beckett led the 2007 World Series team, and continued on through 2012 as the tough, loyal leader of the pitching staff. Carl Crawford signed a 2011 contract with Boston for $142 million after stellar seasons in Tampa Bay.
Yet they had a bad year, or even just a bad month, or an injury.
The Red Sox panicked, and under the pressure of the Monster, broomed all three to Los Angeles, and gave in to the grumbling, heckling and outright disgust that now hounds the team through the media after every loss.
In the stands, there is an unfamiliar quiet, an inattentiveness teetering on boredom - most probably the by-product of losing and pricey tickets that put corporate clients in too many themed chit-chat seats. Fenway Park is now part amusement park. "Oh, what's that on the field, a baseball game?"
Yes, the players make a ridiculous amount of money, but it's relative, and baseball players have always had bad years over the course of a career. No more. Now the Red Sox have the patience of a Steinbrenner. In addition to the big trade, many other players like Kevin Youkilis have been released or fled the team under the excruciating tenure of last season's one-year manager Bobby Valentine.
In 2012 the world did come to an end ... for the Red Sox.
The 2013 Red Sox team is largely unknown to the general public. New, shiny overpaid faces have been hurried in to placate the low-browbeaters, much to the skepticism of high-minded scrutiny - Dan Shaughnessy picks the Red Sox and Yankees to battle it out for last place!
Despite the new manager John Farrell and the new marketing campaign, "What's Broken Can Be Fixed," the Red Sox and perhaps more importantly their fans and media have lost their way. They are too big. It is more like a large impersonal corporation. Powerful, wealthy and intelligent but missing the intangibles.
Terry Francona, the former manager of the Red Sox, cited the tangible of needing to be "all in" as an organization to be the best. Boston will be good. Throwing money at things will do that. But until Red Sox Nation is "all in" it together, the monster will continue to chew up Fenway Park.
Chip Benson is an occasional contributor.