This year's team has been lousy on the field, but its off-the-field antics have been unforgivable.
Updated 8/25/12—Just two weeks into this season of discontent in Boston, Bobby Valentine, the manager of the Red Sox, was talking about hitting bottom. The topic had arisen in the immediate aftermath of one of the worst defeats in the long history of the team. Leading 9-0 at Fenway Park after six innings against the New York Yankees, the Sox came undone, losing 15-9. Valentine said this: "I think we've hit bottom. I told [the team] after the game, 'You have to sometimes hit bottom.' If this isn't bottom, we'll find some new ends to the earth, I guess."
To many diehard fans, this was one of Bobby V's best guesses this season, a year that sees the Red Sox now 13.5 games out of first place in the American League East and seven games under .500. Indeed, by the standards of what has transpired between now and then, the April 22nd game against the Yankees wasn't so bad after all. Sure, the Red Sox may have been humiliated by their ancient rivals in the lyric little bandbox they call home. But at least they had each other, a talented and expensive lineup, and 140 or so games to get their acts together.
Five months later, even that false hope is gone. The Red Sox have been exposed as a thoroughly despicable team; unloveable, unwatchable, and undeserving of the support their fans offered up during the remarkable ten-year run of success that's now history (see RIP: The Red Sox Decade (2003-2012)). Their play on the field has been bad enough. How many underachieving millionaires does it take to screw in a light bulb? But it's their off-field failures which mark this team as one of the worst of all time--no matter what their final record turns out to be.
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Both of these components were vividly on display this week. Last night, for example, the Sox blew an early 6-0 lead to the California Angels, and then blew an 11-9 lead in the ninth inning, losing 14-13. It was only the second time since 1930 that the Sox had lost at Fenway despite scoring 13 runs. The Red Sox now are eight games under .500 at home. How did it happen? Cody Ross, the right fielder, misplayed a ball in the ninth. Alfredo Aceves, the game closer, blew the lead in the ninth and then, inexplicably, was permitted by manager Valentine to pitch again in the 10th.
The game was played, as so many Red Sox games this year have been played, under a dark cloud created by loutish behavior by the players. Last year, of course, there was the debacle over beer and chicken in the clubhouse during games. Then there was the awkward dismissal of Terry Francona, the manager whose gentle nature with players created the spoiled-brat atmosphere that taints this year's team. Valentine? Even in the best of circumstances he's a lot to handle in a clubhouse. These are not the best of circumstances. The team has been stung by one example of back-biting after another.
But nothing--and I mean, nothing--compares to the disgraceful episode now rocking the team. Earlier Thursday, before the Sox found another way to lose, news reports surfaced that only four Red Sox players had attended the Monday funeral of Johnny Pesky, the team's legendary player, coach, big brother, and ambassador, who passed away earlier this month at the age of 92. Pesky was my generation's link to Ted Williams. He was the franchise's bridge over troubled waters. He was an ever-present figure around the team right up until nearly the end.
Peter Gammons, himself a baseball icon, called Pesky the "most beloved" Red Sox. Here's more from Gammons on Pesky:
I have never met a Red Sox fan who did not love Pesky. He always was nice to people because he was the essence of a good person. He went to rubber chicken banquets and Jimmy Fund events and loved his Red Sox as much as any fan out there...
I always thought that one reason people liked him so much was that he never forgot from whence he came. Pesky didn't big league anyone. Yes, he played on some very good teams and was one of Ted Williams' best friends, but he never forgot that he started in baseball as a clubhouse kid in Portland, Ore...
John and Ruth Pesky remained in Boston until each passed away, and were part of the landscape. Players loved having him in the clubhouse, and Jim Rice, who was exceptionally close to Pesky, told everyone that Johnny was the best hitting coach he ever had. He'd come to the clubhouse, dress at the locker right inside the door, and swap stories.
And so on. On Monday came the funeral. Here is how The Boston Herald described what happened:
The only players the Herald observed at the funeral at St. John The Evangelist Church in Swampscott were designated hitter David Ortiz, pitchers Clay Buchholz and Vincente Padilla and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. By contrast, that same night, nearly the entire team turned out for pitcher Josh Beckett's annual Beckett Bowl and country music show at Lucky Strike Lanes and the House of Blues.
For an underachieving team already scorned by its fans for its lack of passion the no-shows at the funeral are completely unacceptable. The official excuse was that the players were tired, that they had just returned early that morning from a road trip, blah, blah, blah. But this wasn't a team photo. It wasn't a charity golf tournament. This was a funeral for a man who devoted virtually his entire life to the organization. Do you think Derek Jeter, the great Yankees captain, would have tolerated such organizational disrespect from his teammates? Of course not. It is not the Yankee Way.
As a fan, I can forgive Cody Ross for overrunning the ball last night (in the bottom of the inning, he homered to send the game into extra innings). I can forgive Alfredo Aceves for serving up meat to the heart of the Angels' lineup. I can even forgive Valentine for leaving Aceves in too long. Mistakes happen, in baseball and in life. But I cannot forgive, and I will not forget, the bulk of the team blowing off Pesky's funeral. It wasn't just another petulant act by a bunch of underachieving millionaires; it was a hostile act of disrespect for everything fans have come to love about their ancient team. Johnny Rottens, indeed.
And, worse, it was an act that was then excused by team owners. It's possible that management was furious with the players who chose bowling over Pesky's funeral. It's possible that management called Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez, the men whose palace coup failed last month, to have them explain how they could expect to lead if they couldn't cough up enough respect for Pesky's memory to attend his funeral. But that's not the story fans were offered. As the Boston Globe reported Thursday, Larry Lucchino, the Red Sox president and CEO, said this instead:
There was a tremendous turnout at the Johnny Pesky's funeral... We had over a 100 people there in terms of ownership, front office, current players, staff, former players. It was a very impressive turnout. I think the people who knew Johnny best had came to it. Our players will have had a chance on Tuesday night to participate in a ceremony on the field -- they all willingly and enthusiastically participated on that date -- and then there's going to be another memorial service. So I think it's unnecessary to focus on that issue.
Think that's how the late, great George Steinbrenner would have responded if something similar ever happened at the funeral for a beloved Yankees' legend? The Red Sox today are a team without a conscience or a soul, a team without honorable leadership or a moral compass. It would have been appropriate-- and well-timed and welcomed-- if Lucchino had publicly blistered the team for its selfishness in blowing off the funeral. I would have cheered that. Instead, fans got more excuses and happy talk from owners whose credibility already has been diminished over the past few years.
The Red Sox continue to pretend they have a long and active consecutive sellout streak at home. It's a joke, of course, as the Boston Globe reported earlier this year. All you have to do is see all the empty seats at Fenway to know the Sox aren't drawing as well as they used to. Why this is so is no mystery, either. For decades, I watched the Red Sox when they were bad and when they were good. I watched them when I knew they would lose and when I knew they would win. But I can't watch them anymore, not now, not this year. And maybe not for a long time to come. I know I am not alone, either.
The Red Sox's uninspired and selfish play this year, and the team's bitterness and dissension off the field, no doubt broke Johnny Pesky's old heart. The fact that only four uniformed players from this wretched team could muster up the decency and respect to attend the old man's funeral has broken, I suspect, a great many more of the hearts that beat in Red Sox Nation. I used to look forward to October to watch the Sox in the playoffs. Now I look forward to it so I don't have to hear about these guys anymore. It's a good thing Johnny Pesky wasn't around to see what happened to his beloved team this week.
On Saturday morning, in one of the biggest trades in baseball history, the Red Sox shipped disgruntled pitcher Josh Beckett, disgruntled first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, oft-injured outfielder Carl Crawford, and underachieving utility infielder Nick Punto to the Los Angeles Dodgers for four prospects and a free agent first basemen. None of the our traded Sox players attended Johnny Pesky's funeral. Boston' baseball writers called the trade a move toward a clean slate. I call it a good start—and the beginning of a new Boston baseball curse: the Pesky curse. How many other no-shows at his funeral will be gone before the start of next year? Not enough, I'm guessing. Still, at least these four disrespectful players will no longer darken the Sox clubhouse.