Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be Yankees fans (The 2008 Maple Street Red Sox Annual, Part 2)

March 24th, 2008 → 12:47 pm @

This is the second half of my essay in this year’s Maple Street Press Red Sox Annual (published on conjunction with the good folks from Sons of Sam Horn), which is currently available for the low price of $12.99 (cheap!). For lots more inside dope on the Red Sox, circa 2000-2005, check out my New York Times bestseller Feeding the Monster, which you can get for the even lower price of $10.20 (cheap!). And, as always, it’s never too later to request your signed copy of FTM.

Overfeeding the Monster: Entitlement and the Evolution of Red Sox Nation (Part II)

I went to my first Yankees-Red Sox game in the late ’70s, back in the days when Jim Rice viewed a base-on-balls as an affront to his manhood and Fenway Park still had its neuroses-inducing troughs. Over the several decades, I discovered a multitude of reasons to hate the Yankees: they were from New York, they had unceremoniously stomped on the collective heart of Red Sox Nation too many times to count, and their fans were obnoxious, self-entitled, uninformed, drunken louts. In contrast were the Red Sox’s partisans. I took pride in the fact that we were a stoic, loyal, and intelligent bunch. It was an important part of my identity at the time.Those descriptions, like all stereotypes, stuck because they had more than a bit of truth to them. Which is why I worry about our–that is, Red Sox Nation–current collective identity. In the years following the ’04 World Championship run, I’ve had more than one non-Bostonian complain about Sox fans and how they were assuming the sort of Yankees-esque sense of entitlement I’d grown up despising. I argue with these malcontents, of course, and point to SoSH, and the impressive number of stat heads and literati that follow Ye Olde Town Team.

But emails from those “Red Sox fan for decade,” as well as more than a few of the callers to ‘EEI, and yes, some of us knights of the keyboard have made these defenses more halfhearted as of late. There are times when it seems as if an immensely unappealing, I-deserve-what-I-want-and-I-deserve- it-right-now myopia has replaced the Calvinistic resignation that RSN personified for so many long years. To take but one example: a Worcester Telegram columnist actually put his name to a piece that detailed the “many bad decisions since [the World Series] – letting Pedro Martinez and Johnny Damon escape to New York…Matt Clement, Rudy Seanez and Julian Tavarez, and the long-term contract for puzzling Josh Beckett, for starters.” (The headline on that gem: “Epstein to blame for Boston’s downsizing.”) As any sentient being can tell you, Josh Beckett, at $10 mil per, has to be one of the biggest bargains in the game. Pedro Martinez, who played in five games last year while collecting his $13 million paycheck, is not.

That story, of course, was written back in 2006, when a lot of those former Boston stalwarts who were allowed to “escape” looked pretty good. Pedro posted a 2.82 ERA his first year wit the Mets. With Derek Lowe’s ERA during his first year with the Dodgers coming in at least a half-run lower than any Red Sox starter that year, it was easy to forget that DL had been one of the worst starters in all of baseball in 2004. Orlando Cabrera had more than four-times fewer errors than Edgar Renteria, the man signed to replace him. And during his first year with the Yankees, Johnny Damon’s 24 home runs were more than everyone on the Sox save for Manny and Ortiz.

But taking on the Pedro Martinez of 2005 meant also having him for 2006, 2007, and 2008. Instead, the Sox got Clay Buchholz, the guy who was chosen with the sandwich pick the Sox got in the ‘05 draft in compensation for Pedro’s departure. For anyone who doesn’t remember, Buchholz, who costs around $12,700,000 less than Pedro per year, pitched a no-hitter in his second Major League start. And one of the guys the Sox got with Cabrera’s compensation pick was a left-handed outfielder named Jacoby Ellsbury. Maybe you’ve heard of him?


Baseball–real, honest-to-goodness professional baseball–isn’t like fantasy leagues, or Bill Clinton’s golf games. You don’t get to fix your bad moves 24 hours later, and you don’t get mulligans. (“Hey, Bill? It’s Lou Gorman. That Larry Anderson for Bagwell deal? Yeah, we’d actually like to take that one back.”) The best you can do is work hard, figure out the best approach, and trust that, more times than not, that’ll pay off. As we’ve seen recently, a lot of the times it does. In 2007, David Ortiz came to the plate 667 times and reached base on 297 separate occasions, good for a .445 on-base percentage, tops in the league. Included in all those hundreds of plate appearances were 35 home runs and 52 doubles. Those gaudy stats aren’t news — Ortiz accomplishments since he arrived in Boston in 2003 have truly been historic, and he’ll go down as one of Boston’s all-time great sports heroes, up there with Williams, Orr, Bird, and Yaz.

Ortiz’s year-end line also included 16 double-plays, which means that more than a dozen times he was an utter failure at the plate. And, of course, a .445 OBP means he didn’t succeed more than half the time. That doesn’t take away from the overall impressiveness of his accomplishments, just as the team’s ill-conceived moves, poorly executed trades, or poor signings shouldn’t obscure the fact that the Sox have been the most successful team of the 21st century. (There have been a few screw-ups, such as the four-year, $40 million contract the Sox gave to Edgar Renteria; the three-year, $25 million deal for Matt Clement; the panicked re-acquisition of Doug Mirabelli at the beginning of ’06; and, yes, this past year’s mid-season trade for Gagne, a pitcher who did his best to single-handedly sink the Sox’s chances.)

I say this not in defense of the team’s front office or the guys in baseball ops; they’re doing just fine on their own. I say this because I want us–the media and the true fanatics and maybe even some of the pink-hat bandwagoners–to look at the big picture, to remember that life isn’t perfect, to keep in mind that sometimes it takes a little while for dividends to pay out. I say this because, more than anything, I don’t want us to turn into Yankees fans.

Post Categories: 2008 Season & Maple Street Press Annual & Yankees

Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be Yankees fans (The 2008 Maple Street Red Sox Annual, Part 1)

March 21st, 2008 → 10:08 am @

Those of you who are regular readers of the Maple Street Press Red Sox Annual (published on conjunction with the good folks from Sons of Sam Horn) know that it delivers a series of remarkably insightful articles every February. This year is no different: the 2008 edition, which is available for the low price of $12.99 (cheap!), includes a piece on the ’07 title run by the Globe‘s Gordon Edes, an examination by stat man Pete Palmer on the necessity of a lefty specialist, a ranking of Beckett among the playoffs all-time pitching greats, interviews with Director of Player Development Mike Hazen and pitching coach John Farrell, a position-by-position breakdown of the big league club, an analysis of the team’s minor leaguers, a ranking of the top prospects, the change in approach to free agents…well, you get the idea. Reading this is, without a doubt, the easiest and most enjoyable way to sound like you truly know what you’re talking about when you starting jawing off at the Cask.

I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute to this year’s Annual; my contribution is an essay on the current state of Red Sox Nation. Jim Walsh, the book’s editor, has been generous enough to let me reprint it here, probably because he knows that there’s not a soul out there that wouldn’t want to read everything else the book has to offer.

So without further ado, I offer it up, here. Or, rather, I offer up the first half here – I’ll post the rest over the weekend…


Overfeeding the Monster: Entitlement and the Evolution of Red Sox Nation

On December 26–fifty-nine days after the Red Sox completed their sweep of the Colorado Rockies for their second World Series win in four years–I got an email from a self-identified “Red Sox fan for many decade.” The subject line referred to my book “Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top.” It read, “Update FTM; revise drop hed to include the word ‘dumbs.'” The email itself went on in the same vein:

“Just got FTM as a Christmas present. Suggest you update it to include the Bosox boner on Gagne. See article by Rob Neyer, senior writer’s story on e-mails between Epstein and scout Mark Delpiano re: Gagne, in which Delpiano warned the Red Sox to steer clear of the drug-dependent Gagne. Stupid deal cost the Sox a very good pitcher, Kason Gabbard. Also, the Red Sox will commit another blunder if they give away the ranch to obtain Santana. The Yankees have pinned a ‘no trade’ label on pitcher Ian Kennedy. The Red Sox should do the same with Jacoby Ellsbury.”

In the year-and-a-half since FTM came out, missives like this have been surprisingly common. Take this one, sent in the summer of 2006: “I would rather have Pedro with Josh Beckett.” Or this one, sent a few weeks later: “When Theo ran Pedro Martinez out of town last winter, we should have all seen that Theo was not interested in winning in the present. That was the beginning of the end. The thing I don’t get, is how running good players out of town helps building for the future?” I picked those two randomly from the dozens that didn’t get caught up in my obscenity filter.

Back in the fall of 2005, an impassioned Theo Epstein warned his colleagues in the Red Sox’s front office the dangers of aspiring to Yankees-esque, superpower status. [Note: this, of course, was first reported in Feeding the Monster, available for the low price of $10.20 (cheap!).] There was, of course, the monetary burden such a effort would entail, but Epstein was more worried about the instant-gratification ethos such an effort risked creating.

“We’re going to need a lot of patience, because there’s going to be a lot of failure,” Epstein said. “It could get rough. Right now, there’s a lot of hope [about the team’s young talent]. But remember, the most popular player on the football team is always the backup quarterback. When [Dustin] Pedroia”–who had just concluded a season in which he hit a combined .293 in AA-Portland and AAA-Pawtucket–“gets up here and he hits a buck-fifty, discovers he can’t reach the wall and can’t find his stroke because it’s freezing out—well, that will happen.”

As it turns out, Epstein’s had it almost exactly right. Pedroia did, in fact, have trouble reaching the wall when he first took over as the team’s starting second baseman. (He finished last April with a .182 average, a figure that beat Epstein’s prediction by a mere 32 cents.) Even with the Sox spring surge, it didn’t take long for the masses to get restless. On April 23, three days after Alex Cora tripled in the go-ahead run in a come from behind victory over the Blue Jays, a Globe columnist wondered when Francona would “decide that Dustin Pedroia is simply not ready to hit major league pitching? … It’s not as if the manager doesn’t have a viable option.” A mere week after that, the fact that Cora had hit a robust .360, over a dozen or so games, the situation was dire enough that the Herald (“Cora keeps making case”) and the Providence Journal (“Cora is really making a case for himself”) ran almost identical headlines.

And what happened after that? Cora hit .232 for the rest of the year, concluding the ’07 campaign with an average (.246) that was almost exactly in line with that for his career (.244). Pedroia, meanwhile, hit .333 the rest of the way and ended the year at .317. Among his season’s highlights were smacking a leadoff homer run in Game 1 of the Series. Oh yeah: he was also the first member of the Sox to win the Rookie of the Year since Nomar snagged it a decade earlier.

Coming tomorrow: My first brush with the trough, the knights of the keyboard, and why there are no mulligans in baseball.

Post Categories: 2008 Season & Gordon Edes & Maple Street Press Annual & Yankees