How could I resist? Nick Cafardo updates us on Bronson Arroyo’s remarkable career.
I used to write about the Red Sox quite a bit here, but I’ve found that Facebook and Twitter are generally more than sufficient to express a few opinions and get a discussion going. Still, with the Sox having pulled off perhaps the biggest trade in team history, I’ve got to say something.
So here’s something: I like it. I’m thrilled to see Josh Beckett leaving, of course. I like Carl Crawford, but his body’s been breaking down since he got here. And though there are going to be many days when we’d love to see Adrian Gonzalez in the middle of the Red Sox’ lineup, the fact is that Ben Cherington, Larry Lucchino and company didn’t have the financial flexibility to fix what’s killing them — a lack of starting pitching. Now they do.
Bobby Valentine? I don’t know. I’ve got no problem with Bobby V. He’s not as good a manager as Terry Francona, but he’s been maligned since he got here for reasons that I don’t understand. No one was going to win with this team, especially with all the injuries.
The role of the sports media in the Red Sox drama this year deserves deeper exploration. Thanks to the competition between sports-talk radio stations WEEI and WBZ-FM, the environment seems more toxic than it has in many years.
No doubt there were and are problems with the clubhouse chemistry — Francona, Cherington and Valentine have all said that. And yes, more than four players certainly should have showed up for Johnny Pesky’s funeral. But is all the drama swirling about the team even remotely as important as the injuries and — beginning last September — the complete collapse of the starting pitching? (Insert obligatory reference to beer and chicken here.)
The craziness especially affected fans’ perception of Beckett. He seemed unwilling or unable to help himself in terms of public relations, and it strikes me as credible that his lack of physical conditioning is at least partly responsible for his miserable record this year.
But it wouldn’t surprise me if Beckett’s been concealing a significant injury — one the Dodgers presumably already knew about. Let’s not forget that another non-fan favorite, John Lackey, took the ball every fifth day last year despite having a torn ligament in his elbow. These guys want to compete. If it weren’t for Beckett, the Sox would never have won in 2007, and that should count for a lot.
The big loss was Gonzalez. Evidently the trade wouldn’t have happened without him. The fact that he was making way too much money and seemed a little soft when the game was on the line makes his departure more palatable. But the stories coming out about his supposed whining and lack of leadership should be taken for what they are until someone is willing to speak on the record.
I’ve been listening to a lot of sports radio since it emerged that Josh Beckett golfed despite missing a start with an injury or near-injury or whatever it was, and I just thought I’d throw this out there:
The sports pundits in Boston have gone insane. Some more so than others, of course. Tony Massarotti and Mike Felger of the Sports Hub (98.5 FM) have been completely unhinged, while Michael Holley and Glenn Ordway of WEEI (93.7 FM) have been relatively restrained and coherent.
Overall, though, it’s gotten so ridiculous that hosts were asking callers last night if they would rather have seen Beckett get lit up than pitch the seven innings of shutout baseball that he turned in. And some said yes, damn right, they wish he’d been blown out in an inning or two.
Beckett strikes me — and most of us, I’m sure — as a pretty unlikeable guy. I don’t appreciate the way he answers questions. He was apparently the ringleader of the chicken-and-beer brigade, whose importance has been exaggerated, but which nevertheless was symbolic of a team that wasn’t much of a team. Still, the real story behind the Red Sox’ collapse last September and this spring is staring you in the face: the starting pitching totally melted down. When the starters do well, the Sox win, as we’ve seen this week.
Beckett pitches to the best of his ability (which is still pretty good, if not 2007 good), he doesn’t make excuses and, as he showed on Tuesday, he certainly doesn’t let himself get distracted.
There’s a pattern here. In 2010, Jacoby Ellsbury was injured and misdiagnosed, and the jock punditocracy questioned his heart and toughness. Last year Clay Buchholz fractured vertebrae in his back — think about that for a moment — and got the Ellsbury treatment. For good measure, John Lackey, who, yes, is loathsome in many respects, gave it his all despite needing Tommy John surgery.
Photo (cc) by Keith Allison and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.
No rational person thinks the racist tweets that followed the Bruins’ loss at the hands of Joel Ward on Wednesday represented any more than a tiny, ignorant minority of hockey fans (see this, this and this).
But there’s still something uncomfortable about hockey and race, especially in a city whose racial history is as troubled as ours. (And no, we don’t know how many of those offensive tweets came from Boston.)
The fact is that there has always been a certain subset — subspecies? — of hockey fan who likes the sport in part because nearly all the players are white. I grew up here, and I heard plenty to that effect when I was a teenager, and even in my 20s.
It’s no accident that the Bruins of Bobby Orr (two championships) were far more popular than the Celtics of Bill Russell (11). Or that the Celtics finally became the toast of the town after the face of the franchise turned white, first with Dave Cowens and later with Larry Bird.
Of course, Boston is not the same city today that it was in the 1970s and ’80s. The Celtics of recent years, led by three star African-American players and a black coach, have been as loved as any team in Boston. Even the Red Sox have put their ugly past behind them.
But there’s a context for hockey that doesn’t exist in other, more integrated sports. Among other things, Boston Herald writer Ron Borges couldn’t have made his non-racist but stupid observation about Tim Thomas with any other sport because getting beat by a black player would have been entirely unremarkable.
And the mouth-breathing racist fans who tweeted the “N”-word would have long since come to terms with minority athletes (or stopped watching) if we were talking about any sport other than hockey.
It’s not the NHL’s fault that there are so few black hockey players — it’s a function of geography and culture. Indeed, Major League Baseball itself has very few African-American players today, a demise that has been masked in part by the rise of Latino players of color.
Nor does this have anything to do with the vast majority of hockey fans. I don’t like hockey, but I know plenty of people who do. And they are good, decent people who follow the Celtics, the Patriots and the Red Sox just as avidly as they do the Bruins.
But race is an issue in hockey in ways that it just isn’t in other sports. And when you combine that volatility with Boston’s reputation, what happened this week was perhaps inevitable.
Photo (cc) by clydeorama and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.
Mrs. Media Nation and I were in a bar along with two other couples on Saturday, pleased to be parked near a screen that had the Red Sox-Yankees game on rather than the Bruins. Once it got to 9-0, I figured even the Sox’ bullpen couldn’t blow it.
By the time we left, it was 9-8. I caught the rest of the disaster after we walked home.
I don’t have much to say about the Red Sox’ start except for a few obvious observations. It’s not Bobby Valentine’s fault. I’d like to see Daniel Bard make it as a starter, but the bullpen implosion might negate that. The injuries have been devastating, but there’s more than enough high-priced talent on the field that they should be playing a lot better. As for the small sample size, I’m inclined to combine their miserable start this year with their miserable finish in 2011. That’s not a small sample.
Anyway — have at it. And I hope the Celtics go on a run.
In Theo Epstein’s 1,600-word op-ed for today’s Boston Globe, the word “I” appears 41 times, “my” 15 and “me” 10. “Team”? Six.
Boston Herald reporter John Tomase’s Sept. 30 article, in which he reported that some Red Sox pitchers were drinking beer in the clubhouse during games, is looking more and more like the story of this bitter off-season. “According to multiple sources,” Tomase wrote that day, “more than one pitcher drank beer in the clubhouse during games on the days he didn’t pitch.”
It’s been the talk of the town ever since, especially given that no one associated with the team has denied it. And today the Boston Globe’s Bob Hohler, in an all-known-facts takeout on the Sox’ historic collapse, names names: Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey. Lackey is no surprise, and neither is Beckett. For Lester to show up on that list is a little disappointing, given that he was thought to be close to Terry Francona. But, as Hohler notes, all three collapsed down the stretch, the single biggest factor in the Sox’ third-place finish.
Hohler offers some other details as well. It’s pretty clear now that it was time for Francona to leave, if only for the sake of his health. The acquisition of Carl Crawford is described as a Theo Epstein move, contradicting sports-radio chatter that Crawford must have been imposed on Theo by ownership. And it sounds like it’s long past time for Kevin Youkilis to apologize to Jacoby Ellsbury, privately and publicly.
Photo (cc) by Tim “Avatar” Bartel and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.
It looks like Terry Francona is leaving. And the most interesting take I’ve read this morning is by Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston, who makes it sound like Francona didn’t believe in some of the players that management saddled him with.
Edes writes that some of those in the executive suite believed the 2011 team “operated in a vacuum of clubhouse leadership. That in turn cultivated a climate lacking accountability, over which the manager presided with a curious sense of detachment, a marked departure from his previous approach, when he was fully engaged with his entire roster.”
OK, so that’s the case against Francona. But it begs a larger question: If this is true, why did he act that way? Did he simply not like this group? At least from a fan’s perspective, it didn’t seem that any of them were particularly loathsome except for John Lackey. And even Lackey is supposedly a much different presence among his teammates than when he’s throwing his hands up on the mound, lashing out at the media or filing for divorce from his seriously ill wife.
Certainly there have been suggestions that, after a certain point, Carl Crawford checked out. But who else? Nick Cafardo writes in the Boston Globe that the way the Sox babied Clay Buchholz was “nauseating,” which strikes me as a pretty weird thing to say about someone with cracked vertebrae in his spine. Then again, few in the media wanted to believe that Jacoby Ellsbury was really hurt in 2010. It’s safe to say Ellsbury proved them wrong, although some persist in the fantasy that Ellsbury simply got tougher mentally.
I’ve said it before, but my first choice would be for both Francona and Theo Epstein to stay with the team. My second choice would be for Francona to stay and Epstein to go. So I’m not happy about this.
I hope we’re going to hear a lot more about what was really going on in the clubhouse, especially during the disastrous September collapse. As for Francona, this is pure speculation, but I’ll bet he could have kept his job if he was willing to fight for it. Instead, it looks like he’ll end up with the White Sox, where he’ll be treated with the respect he’s earned as one of the best managers in baseball.
This just in: Red Sox fire Joe Morgan, express confidence that Butch Hobson will turn things around.
Photo (cc) 2009 by Keith Allison and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.
Our three-month-old HDTV was in the repair shop — and we’re a one-TV family. It sounded like the rain delay would be a long one. So I turned off the radio and went to bed. The Red Sox’ historic collapse came to its inevitable end without me.
Three quick thoughts:
1. Jonathan Papelbon had a terrific comeback year, so much so that the assumption he’d be gone after the season had recently turned into “they’ve got to sign him.” I don’t know. These things happen, but if Papelbon stays, I’m afraid he would forever be defined by what happened last night, reinforced by his meltdown in the 2009 playoffs against the Angels. Maybe it’s time to start over.
2. We’re going to hear a lot of speculation as to whether Terry Francona should be fired. That’s natural, I suppose. What I don’t want to hear is Theo Epstein’s opinion on the matter. Epstein shouldn’t even have a say. If it were up to me, I’d keep Francona and Epstein, but if I could only keep one, it would be Francona — the greatest manager in Red Sox history and as good a manager as there is today. (OK, maybe not as good as Joe Maddon.) Epstein has done a good job here, but he’s had a dubious two years, and he’s got some explaining to do. If I were John Henry, I might ask Francona if Epstein should stay.
3. Can the Red Sox seriously contend next year? All of a sudden, these guys look really old, without much room for maneuvering. Last night could truly have been the end of an era that started in 2003.