The Red Sox front office, in case you forgot, took a lot of beatings in the last 12 months; if a Martian came down and read the coverage of the team, he could reasonably be expected to conclude that Theo Epstein had personally taken a bat to Jason Varitek’s knee, Jed Hoyer had smashed Wily Mo’s hand in a door, and Ben Cherington had spent weeks hiding behind Papi’s car for the sole purpose of startling him to the point of his developing a heart murmur. (After all, if the disappointing season was entirely the front office’s fault, all of the primary causes would have to be laid at its feet.) The local media didn’t help in this regard; as I’ve said time (and time and time) again, the most frustrating (and, to my mind at least, reprehensible) aspect of this was when writers or commentators decried moves they had previously been in favor of…and failed to fully explain the confluence of factors that contributed to 2006*
Anyway, it turns out that at least some people think the Sox didn’t do such a bad job after all; in fact, in Baseball America’s recent ranking of the 2006 draft, the Sox ranked tops in all of baseball. It’s not surprising that it’s a national publication devoted in large part to amateur players that took the time and energy to point this out; in various local writers’ and commentators’ end-of-season rankings of the Sox’s front office, I didn’t see a single instance in which the team’s draft or player development program was included in any significant way.
Now, a worthwhile question to ask is why, if this team is so good at evaluating talent, it has struggled when transitioning these players to the big leagues (and/or seemingly made some missteps when it comes to trading away prospects). One factor — and this doesn’t totally explain things away, but has to be considered — is the reality that playing in Boston is different from playing in virtually every other market in the country. Some players react to the intensity and scrutiny differently than others; just as crucially, the fans and media throng put enormous pressure on the team to put up a team littered with big names and known quantities. Nick Cafardo’s Globe piece today hints at that — the piece begins, “If Theo Epstein or Brian Cashman tried to parade a roster like the Cardinals’ onto the field in Boston or New York, they’d probably be run out of town” — but then fails to explain how this affects what eventually happens on the field. (A corollary, and a valid point, is that if Brian Cashman or Theo put this team on the field in the AL East they’d likely end up with a losing record….but I digress.)
* Related to this is another David Leonhardt column that deals with former Treasury Secretary Robert Robin, a writer-subject combo I’ve brought up before in relation to how sportswriters and sports fans could better understand the game. In yesterday’s piece, Leonhardt addresses Rubin’s recent bet against the dollar…a bet that didn’t pay off. But that doesn’t mean it was an incorrect bet to make. Leonhardt explains Rubin’s philosophy:
“Throughout [Rubin’s] career â€šÃ„Ã® as an arbitrage trader at Goldman, as the Treasury secretary who led the 1995 bailout of Mexico â€šÃ„Ã® he has argued that decisions should not be judged solely on the outcome. Somebody could do a perfectly good job of weighing the relevant risks, make a call that maximizes the chances of success and still not succeed, because the world is a messy, unpredictable place.”
Unpredictability is hard for sports fans to swallow; I get that. What’s harder to choke down is when sportswriters — either because they’re lazy or because they’re pandering to their audience — don’t take the time to understand and explain this stark reality.