Red Sox logo (upside-down to show their 2011 season performance)Forgive me for going off-topic again and blathering once more about the Red Sox. A lot needs to be said about them, which unfortunately is not being said — and likely won’t be said — so I have to say it.

Much of my commentary about the Sox back in the first week of May, applies to their September play. Actually, their last month was even worse than their first. The Sox were 7-20 in their last month of 2011, while they were a comparatively-much-better 12-15 for the same number of games at the start of the season.

At the moment, New England sportswriters are hanging their late-season collapse on injuries, the loss of Clay Buchholz at mid-season being cited as a particular culprit. I’ll admit that injuries hindered them, there’s no doubt about that. But by September, all MLB teams — good, bad, and in-between — were dealing with injuries. Even the Yankees, who ended with the best record in the American League, had their share of injuries this year. Basically, the injuries amount to a “wash” across the board of the MLB. Not to mention, they had a chance in April — while the whole team was in prime condition and uninjured — to build up victories. But they didn’t. (More on their pitiful April later.)

What’s more, the quality of play slipped, across the board. Red Sox pitching, hitting, fielding, and even base-running were all hideous in September. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, who’d been phenomenal at mid-season, couldn’t win any games in September. Adrian Gonzales, who led the league in batting average most of the season, couldn’t get much done, either. The entire team was just fucking hideous. And even their best uninjured players showed performance problems. That’s another reason not to chalk this implosion up to injuries … even healthy players weren’t up to standard.

As with their April, the Sox’ September implosion was systemic and pervasive throughout the team.

The wide scale of the poor play suggests that coaching is to blame. While there’s a widespread assumption that manager Terry Francona will be let go after this embarrassing debacle of a season, most of the New England sportswriters are saying he’s being unfairly blamed. Even so, it’s clear that he was at least partially responsible. He’s the head of the team’s coaching staff and is responsible for that aspect of the team. If the coaching played a role in the horrific first and last months of the season, then Francona has to take some responsibility for that. He can’t not be at least partially at fault.

Then, too, there’s the matter of poor acquisitions, which is the the responsibility of general manager Theo Epstein. Here, we have not just one or two seasons of spectacular failures, but several. The list of high-priced flame-outs that Epstein paid for is legion. Julio Lugo, J.D. Drew, Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lackey, and most recently Carl Crawford are merely a few of the many names that leap to mind as examples of this phenomenon. While every team has to deal with an occasional overpaid underperformer, Epstein’s record in this regard is worse than most.

At the risk, then, of sounding like one of those raging sports-talk callers who’ve been screaming for Francona and Epstein to be fired, I can’t help but agree with them, that at least one of them needs to go. After two seasons of falling short of playoff appearances … and a season before that of flaming out shamefully in the ALDS … it’s clear that whatever they’re doing simply is no longer working. Continuing the same strategies, cooked up by the same people, but with the expectation of different results, is almost the definition of insanity. The Red Sox need to change as a team, fundamentally, and that can only begin at or near the top of the organization.

The really sad part about all of this is that John Henry & the rest of the Red Sox ownership really have no economic incentive to change the team that much. Fenway Park is sold out, every single game, and the team is consistently and highly profitable, even without having made the playoffs for two years. I doubt the passionate Red Sox fanbase is going to pull its support for the team sufficiently to dent those massive profits. So I don’t expect that there will be much change in the organization. Just a lot of excuse-making and claims that they will do better next year — which they’ve done previously, obviously to no effect.

The only bright light of the Red Sox 2011 season, is the one team member who was still actually playing the game at the end … and that’s Jacoby Ellsbury. After his “lost season” in 2010 (after having been demolished by the human tank known as Adrian Beltre and then poorly treated by the Red Sox medical staff), he came back — and gloriously! He’d long been my favorite player, and all through 2010 I kept insisting he’d eventually overcome his injuries. He proved me right, and then some! His play this year was nothing short of MVP caliber, and I certainly hope the sportswriters will consider him in their voting (although I’m pretty sure he’ll be overlooked). It will be a crime if he’s not made the AL MVP for 2011.

An honorable mention goes to Alfredo Aceves, a young pitcher who gave his all, and remained more or less steady on the mound while the rest of the pitching staff took a nosedive.

One last thing that’s not being addressed by the sports media, is the role that the team’s dismal April played in this horrible season. Had the Sox started 15-12 in their first 27 games instead of 12-15, they would not have been in this position; they could have absorbed their September collapse safely and still made the playoffs. I said before that their early-season mediocrity would cost them dearly … and unfortunately I was right; it did! But New England sportswriters refuse to discuss this. I can’t imagine why they don’t … but they that’s just how it is. (Enablers to the end, they all are.)

I’d like to point out, too, that the Red Sox advertising campaign all season long has used the mottoes, “We’re all in” and “We won’t rest.” As in, “we’re committed to winning.” Clearly, however, they were not, in fact, “all in,” and in April and September, they did more “resting” than “playing.” They ought to be ashamed of themselves for trumpeting their commitment to winning, when they were not actually committed to winning.

But, they won’t be ashamed. They’re the Red Sox, after all, and no matter how dreadfully they play, they just keep rolling in money.

One last thing: It’s clear the Tampa Bay Rays deserved to get the AL Wild Card this year; it was no fluke, even if some might think so. I wish them luck — even though they’re rivals of the Red Sox in the AL East. The other three teams in the AL playoffs — the Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, & N.Y. Yankees — are all going to be tough competitors. So the Rays will need that luck.

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  • I just knew you'd have an interesting article posted here on this topic within a few days. 😉

    I like Terry Francona. I think he's an honorable man and a damned good baseball manager. I hope the players will eventually come up to his level. In the event that the Boston owners decide to replace him, then I hope Terry finds a team that deserves his talents.

    Now, hopefully those Motor City Big Cats will blow those despicable, over-paid Yankees out of the running. 😉

    GO RAYS! 🙂

    • I'm no longer sure how "good" Francona was. In retrospect it seems that, over the past season … and perhaps extending back into last season … he did not have the support of his own players, he could not control them, and many of them would not listen to him. Essentially they "quit" on him. He had no control over the clubhouse and had long since lost whatever respect the players might once have had for him.

      There was also a lot of continuing dysfunction … again, carried over from last year … which Francona apparently refused even to begin lifting a finger to stop. Youkilis kept bad-mouthing Ellsbury over his departure from the team to get over his multiple injured ribs, to the point where Ellsbury kept to himself and said nothing to anyone. Then, when he started ripping the hide off the ball and showing up his teammates, it got even more contentious.

      But Francona ignored it. Flatly refused to intervene.

      After hearing what I've heard over the past few days, my opinion of Francona has changed a great deal. I no longer think he's all that effective a manager. He wouldn't even perform the basic task of building and maintaining some team cohesion. He preferred that his team wrangle with each other, slack off in their training, drink in the clubhouse, and more. And he didn't think to do anything about it until Sept. 7, when it was too late to change anything.

      Also, after what I've heard, I'm convinced Ellsbury will be off and running just as soon as he can. The rest of the team treated him like shit last year and even worse this year … and all he did was get over a very bad injury in a spectacular way.

      What's even worse, though, is that the team's owner, John Henry, himself "gave up" on the Red Sox. He's spent most of his time over the last couple years dealing with other projects, like his racing team and soccer team in the UK. And even now he's had nothing to say about the Red Sox debacle, but has happily continued attending his soccer team's games.

      There are some very bad things going on in Boston and despite Tito's departure, I don't see it improving at all. If anything it will likely get much worse.

      • Well, we may never know for sure what went on in that clubhouse. Regardless of that, Boston is a team with issues to overcome; and Francona is a talented manager who may have just given up on those guys. We have no proof that this is what really happened, though. I think Francona will be sucked up quickly by some other MLB team. We'll see how he does when that happens… and we'll see how the BoSox behave with a new manager. Should be interesting. 🙂

        P.S. Ex Red Sox player Johnny Damon had nothing but good to say about Francona in an article in this morning sports page (St. Pete Times). http://tinyurl.com/5t95sxr

        • Honestly, it's even clearer than ever that Francona steadfastly refused to come down hard on his players. Even knowing they were doing things he disliked. He talked about a Sept. 6 team meeting about "issues" but this meeting obviously did no good … if anything, it only made things worse.

          And Francona left it that way. He preferred to let the team lose games, and fail to reach the playoffs, rather than be "too tough" on his guys. So yeah, I imagine Damon has nothing but praise for Francona. He's the ultimate "player's manager," he actually lost his job because he refused to call his players on the carpet for their conduct.

          I'm not sure how effective he will ever be as a manager. He's already proven that players can walk all over him and he won't say shit about it.

  • They found their scapegoat, Psi…
    http://tuppence-times.tumblr.com/post/10868860881

    • I'm not sure Francona was just a "scapegoat," he sure did his best to contribute to the problems the Sox had, and kept blinders on until it was too late to change for the better.

      Of course Epstein deserves to be fired even more than Francona did, and he just might.

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