Saturday, September 8, 2012

OPINION: Valentine Is At The Center Of It All

Mark Lawrence
by Mark Lawrence, Down-Under Editor
Sydney, Australia—I guess you could say I’m one of the luckier citizens of Red Sox Nation – I’ve only been a fan since 1994 yet in that relatively short eighteen-year span, I’ve seen the tragedies of thwarted Pennant races and witnessed the triumphs of two World Series victories, which has helped put the Nation’s collective psyche into some form of perspective for me.  Given this background, you’d expect that my devotion to the Olde Towne Team would continue to flourish, even in the direst of circumstances.  The fact is, though, that it’s fading fast and my disappointment in this club is almost palpable.

A good friend of mine, a Chicagoan and Cubs fan, told me recently to man up.  “What have you got to complain about?” he counseled, “The dern Cubs can’t even buy a win.”

“Maybe so,” I answered, “but at least they’re a functioning ballclub.”

Anyone with even a passing interest in our team knows what should have happened at the end of 2011.  In hindsight, the decision to lose Francona and Epstein seems far too reactionary; and that agonizingly protracted search for a new manager, the death by a thousand cuts that landed the tiresome Bobby Valentine on Yawkey Way signaled to me that 2012 held little promise of post-season baseball in Boston.  And, in the opinion of this greenhorn scribe, the so-called Punto trade – or at least some variation of it - should have been made much earlier.

The intrinsic element of a functioning ballclub is of course a team – and a team in the term’s literal sense. What Red Sox Nation has endured through this season cannot be described as team.  The first fractures were inflicted by Francona’s firing and with each subsequent boneheaded managerial move, the fissures between the developing clubhouse factions grew and grew, fostering a hostile environment hardly conducive to successful major league play. And at the epicenter of all the turgid, distracting drama that has enveloped the club this season is, of course, Bobby Valentine.  Appointing Valentine was analogous to the owner of a racehorse stable firing The Horse Whisperer and bringing in a throwback plantation overseer, albeit one with a perfect coif, a used-car salesman’s smile and a penchant for the spotlight.  And overseers don’t empathise with their subordinates, let alone play cribbage with them.

There are the building blocks of a tenable team still present in the clubhouse, but it will take someone with better skills than the current manager to slide them into place next year.  I can only hope that some discreet telephone calls up north are being made from behind the big desk at Yawkey Way and that certain negotiations are well underway.  Something has to be done – some changes need to be made – because I’m not sure that the Nation can take another lousy season like this.