Saturday, July 28, 2012

No Optimism Left For This Team

by Mark Lawrence, Down-Under Editor

It occurred to me recently that baseball is a perfect game played by imperfect players.  There’s nothing as athletically poetic as a well-turned double play and nothing as maddening as a wild pitch that walks in a run – particularly the winning run. But, while these things happen from time to time, the ratio between inexcusable, clumsy plays and brilliant ones usually runs at an acceptable level.


For the past eighteen months or so, there’s been something seriously awry within Our Beloved Ball Club and trying to identify it has been driving me nuts.  What’s particularly annoying is that there doesn’t seem to be any particular element present that could go some way towards explaining this grand funk – or is there?

Beer and chicken aside, this was a team that once exhibited a healthy chemistry not often seen.  Teammates seemed to genuinely like each other and they were led by a manager with good baseball savvy who mentored his younger players, gently guided his veteran staff and enjoyed the warm affection of the fans.  And, up until the last weeks of 2011, it all seemed to work fine.

Well, we all know what happened.  In the wake of one of baseball’s most epic collapses, a series of knee-jerk reactions saw the manager – and his boss – terminated with a prejudice that approached extreme.  And for the longest of times, the players were left wondering just what the hell would happen next.  They were embarrassed by what had happened in the privacy of the clubhouse and the terrier-like attitude of the Media Pack gave undue importance to a silly story and elevated it to the level of a political scandal.  The pressure of playing in Boston, already intense, continued to grow and the NOG’s idea of a fix was a painfully prolonged searched for a new manager which resulted in the appointment of the biggest baseball egoist since Ty Cobb.  The players must’ve been thrilled as they headed towards 2012.

Of course, the club was hamstrung from the get-go.  Long time DL dwellers provided the Media Pack with reams of pulp fiction speculation about their future and from the onset, the new manager cavalierly strode into the limelight, stepping on toes as he went and making this correspondent feel that the 2012 Red Sox would be more about Bobby V. than the business of winning games.  Reports of fractious Spring Training frictions between manager and players merely confirmed my misgivings.

The ensuing, imprudent remarks to the press questioning the allegiance of certain players may have sounded like the casual blathering of someone who’d engaged their mouth before their brain, yet one can’t help but sense some calculation behind it all.  Were these incidents designed to inform the players that the friendly Francona reign was over and that there was a new boss with a hard nose and an ass to match?  In the 21st Century, the Martinet Method of Team Management has no hope of working and if Valentine believed a dictatorial approach would work, he was at best ill-informed.

It seems to me that a large part of this year’s sub-par performance has to be sheeted home to the atmosphere in the clubhouse – and that atmosphere, dispirited and seemingly exit-less, was not completely generated by the players.  In their darker moments, these guys must be evaluating the solidity of their tenure, given that no player seems secure on the roster, and finding their conclusions more than a little depressing.  And a depressed, insecure player can’t reasonably be expected to turn in regular Major League level performances. Continual speculation about trades further exacerbates the situation – although it seems that Youkilis is slowly regaining his form over on the South Side, in a clubhouse with a different dynamic.

In any case, I have no optimism in my heart for the remainder of this season.  Right now, all I hope is that the NOG has been involved in some top-secret discussions somewhere – the backseat of John Henry’s limo or a broom closet at Fenway – seeking a solution to this malaise that doesn’t involve the perfunctory trading of players in temporary slumps, or those nursing temporary injuries.  And if the issue here isn’t wholly the players – they are demonstrably capable of playing at the highest level – then the fault must lay elsewhere.  And it shouldn’t take a baseball genius to figure out where.