Thinking about the big Red Sox trade

Josh Beckett and Kevin Youkilis meet President Obama at the 2009 All-Star Game.

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.

Official White House photo by Pete Souza.

Bruce Springsteen and the ghosts we live with

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in Spain earlier this year.

The emotional heart of Bruce Springsteen’s three-and-a-half-hour show at Fenway Park last night came about an hour in. As the E Street Band played the opening chords to “My City of Ruins,” Springsteen told the crowd that he’d written it about his “adopted hometown” (Asbury Park, N.J.), but that it had evolved into a song about “living with ghosts.”

At that point, he asked that a light be shone on the right-field foul pole. No one had to be told what that was about, and we all responded with warm, sustained applause.

Trying to describe what happened next cannot possibly do justice to the moment. “My City of Ruins” is a pure gospel song. It’s by far the best Springsteen has written in the latter part of his career, and one of the very few that would hold up to his classic work of the 1970s and early ’80s. In the middle, he took a long break in order to recognize his bandmates. Then he called out — repeatedly — “Are we missing anybody?” The moment carried all the more power because Springsteen did not mention Clarence Clemons or Danny Federici (or Johnny Pesky, for that matter) by name. And he acknowledged that everyone in Fenway Park was missing someone. (David Remnick describes a similar moment in his recent New Yorker profile of Springsteen.)

It was chilling, moving, spiritual, inspirational — possibly the single most intense moment I’ve ever experienced at a concert. And I write that as someone who has a track record with Springsteen.

I’d brought my 21-year-old son and a lot of baggage with me to Fenway Park. I consider myself close to an original Springsteen fan, having been turned on to his second album, “The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle,” by Jon Landau’s famous review in the Real Paper. I’d seen him in 1974, ’75, ’78, ’80, ’84 and ’92, but not since. And I’ve thought his albums in recent years were hit-or-miss — mostly miss, marred by simplistic lyrics and hack production.

In truth, I also didn’t like the fact that Springsteen concerts had become places to be seen by swells who vaguely remember liking “Born in the U.S.A.,” though that’s hardly Springsteen’s fault. (This, though, is definitely David Brooks’ fault.)

Despite all that, our night ended up ranking with those earlier concerts. Springsteen skillfully mixed songs from his new album, “Wrecking Ball,” with a generous helping of his classics. Even the new stuff sounded a lot better than it does on the album, partly because the cheesy production was blown away, partly because Springsteen’s obvious enthusiasm for the new material overcame the weak spots. Besides, “We Take Care of Our Own” is pretty good.

Another high point was a masterful performance of “Thunder Road,” maybe the best song Springsteen has ever written. He seemed to be choked up at the end; I know I was. It’s hard to describe what that song meant to me when I was 19, waiting to escape from my own “town full of losers.” It means something totally different now, as most of those in the crowd were old enough and wise enough to know that there is no escape.

Finally, I have to mention “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” which used to end with an embrace and a kiss with Clarence Clemons. I was a little uneasy with all the attention and cheering focused on Clemons’ nephew Jake Clemons, who’s taken over the sax parts. And I was worried that Bruce would overdo it with Jake — maybe not kiss him, but bring him out for a star turn. I shouldn’t have. At “the Big Man joined the band,” everything stopped, and a slideshow of scenes from Clarence Clemons’ life was projected on the video screens. Then the song concluded. Perfect.

There was so much else that to keep writing would be to devolve into list-making. “The E Street Shuffle,” an old favorite. A phenomenal cover of the old John Lee Hooker song “Boom Boom.” Rave-up, full-band versions of “Atlantic City” and “Johnny 99,” a couple of truly dangerous songs from his album “Nebraska.” Closing with “Dirty Water” and “Twist & Shout” (and fireworks!), complete with a James Brown-style collapse and revival on the stage. (Here’s the full set list.)

My only complaint was the venue. This was my first Fenway Park show, and it was less than an ideal place to see a concert. We were in the grandstands behind home plate. The net was never lifted. The band members, in center field, were barely specks. The video and sound were adequate, but no more than that.

Still, the show itself was nearly as thrilling as the first time I saw Springsteen in the old Music Hall, the night that Muhammad Ali would shock the world by beating George Foreman — announced on stage after midnight, just after Springsteen had finished his final encore. Back then, Springsteen was a skinny, bearded 25-year-old who came out and opened, audaciously, by singing “Incident on 57th Street” almost a cappella, accompanied only by a young woman on a violin. “Born to Run” was still in front of him. So were the covers of Time and Newsweek and all the fame and hype that have marked and occasionally marred his long career.

Last night he was 62, with the energy and stamina of a much younger man, still singing and playing and performing like his life, and ours, depended on it. Maybe it did.

Photo (cc) by Juan Ramon Rodriguez Sosa and reproduced here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.