When combined with my short rant from last week, this may be the most I have ever written at one time about baseball, America’s second most useless pastime. I apologize for this lapse, and promise it will not happen again.
However, my brother-in-law linked Keith Olbermann’s analysis (above) of the Boston Globe’s article on “why the Red Sox tanked so badly.” Olbermann calls it a hatchet job. I detect some implied criticism from my brother-in-law’s sending it to me - perhaps he, like Olbermann, feels I am not blaming The Money enough. So let’s be clear on where I stand:
Terry Francona was a good coach until he decided he didn’t want to do his job any more, which unfortunately was about midway through this past season - and even more unfortunately, he didn’t tell anyone and none of The Money seemed to notice. (More on that in a moment.)
I don’t actually agree with the Globe that Francona’s personal problems tanked his performance, but I don’t think they helped. I don’t think his personal problems disillusioned him with the job - I think that was 50% just plain being exhausted with shepherding the spoiled brats (more on that in a moment too), and 50% the fact that The Money (specifically, John Henry) seemed to dislike him and was looking for an excuse to punt him.
By the by, I think there is some validity to the theory that John Henry didn’t like Francona because Henry wants a coach who doesn’t try to think for himself. However, if Henry gets his wish on this (and he will), it will be an even bigger disaster. Mark my words.
Theo Epstein has always, in my mind, been overrated. I don’t feel that his boy-genius reputation has ever been deserved. He has made more horrible picks for the team than good ones, and he has in recent years spent a lot of money that the Sox did not in any way get value-received for. (I’ll spare you the rant on money in baseball - I did that last time - but even if you disagree with the amount of money in baseball, you must admit that the Sox repeatedly did not get what they paid for - Matsuzaka, Lackey, Crawford, etc, etc etc.) See also.
[Overheard on a sports-talk radio show: “We are the 99% … who hate John Lackey.”]
I have never found much evidence that Epstein was ever overruled/interfered with in team hiring decisions by The Money. Therefore we must assume that, while he gets sole credit for the handful of brilliant decisions, he must also get sole blame for the much larger number of dumb ones. According to my math the balance appears to be negative. Good riddance to the boy genius, and condolences to the Cubs.
But let us not assume that I leave all the blame there! Oh my no.
The Money have shown over and over the peril of running a baseball team like a business. Sure, a baseball team can be thought of as a business, and a sadly obscenely-profitable one … as long as your team wins. When your team does badly, your revenue from it eventually dries up … and good business practice has almost nothing to do with whether your team wins. [One of the things I’ve noticed about businessmen is they think they can run everything in the world like a business. The number of failed businessmen-turned-politicians is a testament to how wrong this is.]
I will now stop and say something in favor of the odious Steinbrenner: Prime asshole that he was, he knew that it was important for his team to win, regularly even if not consistently, and he spent his money with that goal always in his eyes. The Money spend their money trying to make more money. There is a difference.
The Money, unlike the fans, do not care whether the team wins or loses; they care how rich the team makes them. And they have many other processes they’re keeping an eye on at the same time - like Henry’s substantial investment in an English football team, something utterly baffling and alien to Red Sox fans, who view it as a useless distraction for Henry.
Basically, the charge against The Money that Olbermann levels is that they were oblivious to what was going on with the Sox, that they were not sufficiently involved, that they didn’t give a damn. All of this is true. The question is: Why would anyone with a working brain have expected any differently? They thought they could just wind the machine up, prime the pumps with cash, and sit back and profit. I don’t see any indication that any of The Money ever thought that their cash cow would ever actually need active tending once Epstein was hired.
And finally, we must not forget to save some venom for …
The Team. A group of overpaid, spoiled brats whose general mantra seemed to be, “Well, I got my obscene paycheck, now why should I actually have to do the thing I was paid to do?” (along with “Teamwork? What the hell is that?”) On the other hand, can you blame them? Think about it: You’re John Lackey. You’re thirty-two years old, and have the emotional maturity of someone thirteen years younger. You’re already kind of an asshole, and you know how short the lifespan of a pitcher’s arm is. You got your eighty-two-and-half million. It’s guaranteed. You’re probably not going to work again in baseball after the next five years anyway. What possible incentive do you have to actually do the thing you were paid to do? How many of us wouldn’t be tempted to take money we could be set-for-life on, then say, “fuck this, I’m going to slack off as much as possible until my contract’s done and then I’m moving to fucking Tahiti”?
Here is where I credit Francona: The only times the Sox have actually worked as a baseball team since their 2007 victory are the times when he has basically forced them into line - gotten them to stop being selfish and/or apathetic and actually play some baseball. When Francona stopped caring - and again, who can blame him? - they were doomed.
And at that, I always felt Francona wasn’t firm enough. Remember, I hold to the Belichick school of coaching: I think that when you are a coach, it is far better to be feared than loved. I think a sports coach at the pro levels needs to approach the job as if it’s boot camp and he is R. Lee Ermey. Drill sergeants know they can’t afford to have any friends.
So, in summation: The GM always sucked. The team has sucked for quite a while. The Money sucks. The coach began to suck. The Globe is right. Olbermann is right. And I am right and you are right and all is right, too-loora-lay.
Here’s to another well-deserved eighty-six years.