By Jason Keidel
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Forget that I’d root for Cuba’s national team – with Castro coaching – over the Boston Red Sox.
Forget our duplicitous buddies in Boston, who branded the Yankees cheaters while the meat of their lineup shot equine cocktails that would make Man o’ War blush.
Forget their hypocrisy, calling the Yankees the Evil Empire for spending $200 million while Boston spends well over $150 million every year.
Forget that they started 2-10 and finished 7-20, vomiting an unbeatable September lead to Tampa for the AL wild card spot.
Forget that Manny is gone and Papi is perhaps next in line to leave his beloved yet beleaguered fans up I-95.
Theo Epstein and Terry Francona – the twin faces of the Babe’s broken hex – have been jettisoned from Fenway. We can parse the particulars – whose idea it was for each employee to leave, who knew what and when they knew it, etc. – but the truth is that the remains of a once-brilliant ball club are buried, along with Ruth’s ghost.
Let me be clear: I love it, and leave it to the Red Sox to bounce the boys of their best summers. Even this year, between the brutal bookends of April and September, Boston went 81-42. Evidently, the men who put that kind of team together aren’t worth keeping around.
Many Red Sox devotees assure me that this is the right move, and that the team of Tito and Theo have lost the attention of the team they led to two World Series titles. There have been rumors about beer drinking, about poker and Playstation playing in the clubhouse, while wearing the historic choke like a loose garment. I don’t care.
I don’t want to see the men who built the ball club that no longer feared the Yankees, the Cowboy Up cadre who performed the impossible exacta of not only beating New York, but also doing it while down 3-0 in the ALCS.
I don’t care that Theo is about to be in Chicago. I care that he’s not in Boston. Neither is Francona, perhaps the only likeable lifer in their dugout. Like his opponent during their title runs, Joe Torre, Tito’s primary job was to juggle the titanic and volcanic egos that come with disparate cultures and cash levels. And he did it masterfully.
There is truth to the assertion that every run ends, that even the strongest voices will one day find deaf ears. Maybe Francona’s leash stretched far too long, and the players pulled until it snapped. But the whole thing feels quick and careless, immature and premature, a move spawned by a newly pampered region, overwhelmed by a sudden sense of entitlement. And while it’s the goal of every team to win the World Series, only the Yankees have that yearly mandate. Utterly forgotten up north is that Boston is the only team with multiple championships over the last decade. And the collective amnesia could be fatal.
When you spend Boston’s megabucks on payroll – and it seems every Sox fan’s nightmare is a knee-jerk spending spree on Jose Reyes – chances are good that you’ll be good every season. And maybe the next tandem to lead the Red Sox will be just as sublime as Theo and Tito. But don’t bet on it. It takes a special spiritual mien to do what those men did. Winning a few games with Josh Beckett or Pedro Martinez is easy. But to renounce and remold an entire culture ensconced in the aggregate gags over 86 years, to grow beards over the scar tissue of Bill Buckner, Bucky Dent, and Aaron Boone is a wondrous feat.
And just like that, they’re gone. Perhaps it was Francona’s idea. I don’t care. He will no longer torture the Bombers in a Boston jersey. Owner John Henry did his cryptic best to boot Epstein, too, saying no one keeps his job forever, essentially sealing Epstein’s vocational coffin. Epstein landed softly, on a mound of money (up to $20 million) from the Cubs. I don’t know if he fits the contours of the Friendly Confines. I don’t care.
This sounds like an organizational gag reflex commensurate to the one they witnessed on the diamond. Forgive the cliché, but two wrongs don’t make a right, and they’d better be right in light of what Epstein and Francona did for this franchise. Sometimes a little distance endears the departed employees to their former employers. Henry and his minions may find that this was a colossal mistake. And there’s no reset button.
The team that couldn’t lose looks lost, blindfolded while pointing fingers at new found or unfounded foes. Boston is about to lose their All-Star closer (Jonathan Papelbon). And they may part ways with their iconic cleanup hitter (David Ortiz), who doubled as team consigliere down the dugout, the glue among a conga line of loose cannons.
There are myriad gaps, mostly metaphysical (John Lackey has been a loser, Carl Crawford was a bust after signing a seismic contract, and questions abound about Daniel Bard after he shriveled up in September), to be closed by a squad that was picked by pundits to win well over 100 games and make quick work of the American League. There is still much talent, but an equal heaping of torment. Ben Cherington (who?), Epstein’s apparent replacement, has some Shaq-sized cleats to fill, as will his new manager.
An ancient boxing maxim says if you kill the body, the head will die. But in baseball, it’s often the reverse. Two fine baseball minds just left Beantown. They turned the Bambino’s hex into a hoax, yet their bosses are suddenly, stunningly forgetful and ungrateful. Perhaps this mess of a month has created a new voodoo in New England.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com