Monday, July 30, 2012

Divorced From Boston Red Sox - And Very Happy

I'll admit a few things up front:

1) I am a hockey fan first and foremost. But I stopped watching hockey for almost 20 years for several reasons.

2) I've always liked baseball but not enough to follow it if my team was out of it.

3) I'm from Boston, which makes (or in this case made) me a Boston Red Sox fan.

This means a delusional allegiance to a team that hasn't always reciprocated. Which in part was the main reason I stopped watching hockey.

I am a Boston Bruins fan.

How do these two relate other than geographically?

I stopped watching the Bruins and therefore the NHL because I had had enough of former GM Harry Sinden and owner Jeremy Jacobs (who still owns the team). Every year the Bruins would be 'just good enough' but they would never invest in any player or players that would take them over the top.

Even Al 'The Planet' Iafrate didn't cut it
In a way, this philosophy is still in play, but in a much better way. The Bruins will likely never pay top dollar and give out one of these 6 to14 year contracts that are now in vogue in the NHL. And I wholeheartedly support that. Any team that gives any pro athlete a contract for longer that 5 years is insane in my view. The NHL changed the rules so that teams must spend a minimum of the salary, today, the Bruins spend to the upper end of the cap limit which is counter to the ways the team was previously run.

What brought me back? The 2011 team. Even if they hadn't gone on to win the Stanley Cup as they did, I was back.

For two main reasons:

1) While I was sort of watching peripherally, the Bruins were building a solid team from top to bottom under the guidance of Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli. Chiarelli put together a very good (not great) lineup that featured great goaltending and a team first attitude. Secondly, they had Claude Julien as the head coach who had failed while coaching the Bruins long time bitter rival The Montreal Canadiens but has found a home here in Boston. Signing players like defenseman Zdeno Chara and keeping core players like center Patrice Bergeron were the building blocks.

2) My son became a hockey fan. For all the years I ignored the Bruins and the NHL, he was never really exposed to hockey while he was growing up. Now that he's older, he found that he loves hockey. With a passion. After growing up in the Original Six era and seeing all the greats like Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Ken Dryden, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Guy Lafleur, and the list goes on and on, how could I resist not going back to my favorite sport when my son fell in love with it?

My dad had "season tickets" way back in the 50's, 60's and 70's. They really weren't season tickets because he and about 20 other guys would show up every game and buy their tickets at the box office prior to every game. I don't know if anyone else could have walked up and bought any of those seats, but my dad and all those other guys were in the same seats every single game for years.

And I got to go to a lot of games back then. I remember seeing goalies without masks and straight sticks. That's how far back I go with the Bruins.

Then the Bruins screwed everything up by drafting a young kid from Parry Sound Ontario named Bobby Orr and went on to win the Stanley Cup in 1969-70. Everything changed after that, no more walking up to the ticket office the night of the game and getting  "your" seat.

Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Bruce Gamble pictured with Boston Bruins defenseman Bobby Orr.
I might have even been at this game. I saw Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender, Bruce Gamble take a  Dallas Smith shot that was tipped to his forehead. Blood everywhere, Gamble, who was replaced for two periods by veteran backup Johnny Bower,  returned to play in the 3rd period after getting stitched. Old school hockey.
Anyway, enough digression, this is about my divorce from baseball.

What led to it? Why, the 2011 Red Sox of course.

I disliked the team. From the beginning of the season it felt to me like this team was just unlikable. They went out and got Adrian Gonzales, who was long coveted by then Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein. Gonzales was born to play at Fenway Park we heard.  Gonzales might be a great hitter and all that, but he has the personality of a spinster librarian from the 1960's.

They also signed long time nemesis Carl Crawford as a free agent who tormented the Red Sox for many years with the Tampa Bay Rays. Crawford has been a major bust since signing here. To be fair, he's battled injuries, but it was a curious signing by Epstein from the outset. They really had no place for Crawford in the lineup. At least Crawford seems like a good guy. Both Gonzales and Crawford were signed to long term mega deals.

The Red Sox also signed long time malcontent pitcher John Lackey. Lackey is probably MLB's biggest sourpuss and has the personality of swamp rat aka a nutria. Just what this team needed.

It's likely that move alone was what galvanized the team to become one of the most overpaid, entitled bunch of whiner Red Sox ever assembled which is quite an accomplishment. In combination with Josh Beckett, who was already someone who is about as affable as a hungry grizzly bear. Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield made for a toxic mixture in the Red Sox clubhouse for then manager Terry Francona.

For the record, I loved Francona. A lot of Red Sox fans did not. Francona was probably not the best tactical manager in baseball, but he won two World Series with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007 which in my book entitled him to a lifetime pass.

Francona, as it happens after 8 years, lost the team and it was time for a change.

But, ever publicity conscious Red Sox ownership and upper management screwed this up beyond all reason. Instead of handling this like "IT WAS TIME FOR A CHANGE, you know, we love Terry Francona and the Red Sox will always be grateful for his contributions, etc. but we felt it is time for a change." And bring in a new manager (John Farrell anyone?) Red Sox management had to do what they do and have done so many times in the past; poison the waters and make Francona look bad.

Stories were floated about Francona's marriage falling apart and pain killer addiction was put out there in a now infamous column by Boston Globe hatchet man Bob Hohler. 

Hohler never wrote anything worth a damn in his career, but all of a sudden has this powder keg of inside intimate information about Francona and publishes it after Francona was unceremoniously dumped. Hmmm, how did Hohler get such juicy info? Couldn't have been from the great Larry Lucchino who is about is as vindictive a snake that has ever slithered the earth could it???

All this was done to make Francona look bad and the Red Sox look good.
Predictably, it backfired big time.

Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona
Francona was seen as a great guy who lost control of his clubhouse and was unnecessarily smeared on his way out the door. The damage control was laughable as Red Sox upper management ineptly scrambled to change the public perception that they had screwed a good guy over once again.

There was the uncomfortable and awkward interview with Red Sox principal owner John Henry, an unsympathetic figure if there ever was one, with local radio station, 98.5 The Sports Hub.

John Henry - not strong enough to drive railroad spikes
Henry was getting bashed on the air by radio hosts Michael Felger and Tony Massarotti during an afternoon drive time show. Henry (presumably in his limo being ferried about) got really pissed, had Jeeves drive him to the radio station, barged in (well weakly pushed the door open or had Jeeves barge in) and demanded to go on the air with Felger and Massarotti and set the record straight.

What resulted was an uncomfortable exchange with the radio hosts that made Henry look more like a buffoon than he possibly could have imagined. Felger had a field day with Henry and Henry came out looking like the elitist clown he really is.

Fast forward, the Red Sox now obviously needed a manager to appease the fan base and put them back into the forefront as one of Major League Baseball's premier franchises. They already were too late on the aforementioned John Farrell who was Francona's bench coach who went on to manage the Toronto Blue Jays.

So who did they turn to?

Why one of the most egotistical, arrogant, smug, self centered clowns in all of baseball, the inimitable, Bobby Valentine.

Bobby Valentine  after getting tossed from a game as NY Mets manager, returned to the bench in disguise
Valentine had not managed in the Major Leagues in about 10 years. He had gone to Japan and done quite well there and become an analyst for the unctuous cable network ESPN,( that's a perfect fit) but could not get a major league job. Plus Valentine is a quintessential horse's ass of the highest order.

That did it for me. I never liked Valentine, I don't like the Red Sox owners John Henry and  Tom Werner. I loathe team president Larry Lucchino. Long time Boston native General Manager Theo Epstein bought his way out with a year left on his Red Sox contract to become GM of the Chicago Cubs. Epstein was replaced by assistant Ben Cherington who was immediately neutered by Lucchino. Now with Epstein gone, Lucchino had full control of the operation.

With upper management like that and an increasingly cantankerous roster, I had enough. Even though guys like Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek "retired" (both had to pushed out the door) there were still enough surly guys on the team.

Those are the main reasons I decided not to watch them any more. Along with that came the decision not to watch baseball any more. Like with the Bruins and the NHL, when I go, I go. And I couldn't be happier.

Here it is late July and I could care less what is happening with not only the Red Sox, but MLB. I have absolutely no interest in who's doing what and who could win the World Series.

Now that I'm this far along, here's what I found:

  • Baseball is an incredibly dull sport. It's the 600 lb. gorilla of the sports world. Guys in my age group are not supposed to acknowledge that baseball is a mind numbing, boring sport to watch. Yeah, it takes amazing skill to be baseball player as it does to be a soccer player but you won't find me watching either.
  • Statistics. I have never been a stats guy. Baseball is the stats guy's sport. This is about as exciting as reading a balance sheet to me. If you like stats, good for you, I watch sports for the action and to see people do incredible things that I can't do. Quantifying any sport in endless measurements sucks all the joy and spontaneity out of the event football included. I don't need stats to predict probabilities or measure how good someone is when my eyes can tell me. No offense to stat geeks, but that's not how I enjoy sports. I don't watch a movie and keep stats. It's all for enjoyment and entertainment. Keeping stats is a buzzkill for me.
  • Baseball players by and large are jerks. Long term guaranteed, multi-million dollar salaries are not the main reason. For some reason, baseball players are mostly cranky and uptight. Maybe it's because they have such a long season and they stand around a lot. I'm not saying there are jerks in other sports (oh, hello NBA) but baseball seems to have most of them in one place.
  • The Red Sox. Red Sox fans are some of the most whiny, entitled bitches on the planet. When you step back from something, you get a clearer picture. Red Sox Nation is an annoying collection of crybabies.The Sox won the Word Series after 86 years in 2004 and repeated in 2007 which was great. I was thrilled in 2004, 2007 was a surprise. But you would think that a fan base that has gone most of their lives following a team that has not won a championship in forever would appreciate how rare it is to win one. Nope. Not here in Boston, the Red Sox are now supposed to win the World Series every year. Not be in contention or have a team that you can like and root for, no it has to be a lock to win it all every single year now. Congratulations Boston Red Sox fans, you're now just like the people you most despise: New York Yankee fans.
  • Red Sox ownership has placed a priority on image an marketing rather than a good solid long term plan for the team on the field. Instead of taking a down year or (gasp) even two to reload and develop players, the Red Sox have taken a blinders on "we're a perennial contender" attitude. They steadfastly refuse to admit they suck. I think they're in last place right now. I don't care anymore enough to go check but I think that's where they are. Usually, most teams in that situation look to make trades to acquire young prospects in exchange for highly paid veterans that contending teams seek this time of year. It's called buyers and sellers season. The buyers are the teams that are positioning themselves for the stretch run and try to get the one or two guys that can help them win it all. The sellers are the aforementioned. Publicly, the Red Sox insist they are buyers looking for the right deal to catapult them right back into contention. Again, I'm not following them, but even I know this is delusional. Once again, Red Sox management chooses to put on the facade that everything is ok on the good ship. It's once again a slap in the face to loyal fans.
Which brings me to my final point that ties all this together. The reason I loathed Harry Sinden and the Bruins through the 80's and 90's and beyond was because they had great players like Ray Bourque and Cam Neely who they underpaid and then surrounded with a team that was just good enough to make a playoff run. All the while they were charging their faithful some of the highest ticket prices in the NHL. And when the natives became restless Sinden would go on TV and say the Bruins wouldn't kowtow to the insanity that other NHL teams follow by overpaying players. And every year, the fans would come, and every year the Bruins were not good enough to realistically compete for a Cup.

The Red Sox know that they will get 2 million plus fans to go through the turnstiles at Fenway. (oohh it's the 100th anniversary of the famous pit) And they will spend millions on overpriced beer and souvenirs. (They even tried selling commemorative bricks for $100 apiece.) But the difference is the Red Sox spend their money foolishly by overpaying big name players who can't thrive in the fishbowl of Boston baseball.


I cannot in good conscience support a team that treats its fans with such contempt just like the Bruins did way back when. 

The philosophy of "They will still come" is a slap in the face to fans who have to spend about $200-300 to go to one stinking game to watch an underachieving, unlikable team run by arrogant rich jackasses who stick their heads in the sand and lie to their fans every single day.

They view the fans as stupid marks who need to be separated from their money. And the sad fact is that there are a ton of them out there that fit that description. 

Even sadder are the fans who just love the Red Sox and will go to games and spend a ton of money because it's the Red Sox and they will follow them no matter what.

The Red Sox really should take a lesson from New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft. Kraft learned his lesson early on in the Bill Parcels era that he was not the show and has now become one of the best owners in all of American professional sports and he has built one of the most successful sports franchises in all of pro sports.

Unfortunately, this is what the rest of the country thinks Red Sox fans look like.
Unfortunately, most of them do look like this but without the paint job.
Some great things have happened since I stopped following the Red Sox:

  • I don't miss them or baseball one bit.
  • It's been a good summer not dealing all the drama that constantly surrounds this team.
  • Football is starting soon, the Patriots should be very good this year.
  • I'm really excited to see the Celtics next year with all the changes they've made.

Now let's hope the NHL doesn't lock out the players this season.

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