In 2005, Theo Epstein left the Red Sox for the first time. Most of us recall only that he escaped from the rabid media by donning a gorilla suit and that he went to Argentina to see Pearl Jam. At the time of his departure, Theo was a local hero, a year away from the Greatest Comeback in Sports History, but he was grossly underpaid. More importantly, he was beholden to the demon Larry Lucchino in all his dealings. Negotiations were nevertheless underway to bring Theo back, and the parties involved had agreed to keep negotiations out of the media.
Then, the Curly Haired Boyfriend (http://www.duffyscliff.com/entry/index/1) dropped this infamous bomb right in the middle of things: http://www.boston.com/sports/baseball/redsox/articles/2005/10/30/lets_iron_out_some_of_this_dirty_laundry//. At the time, one of the issues raised by CHB was that Theo had squashed a deal with Colorado at the trade deadline and forced Lucchino to take the fall when Colorado’s management responded with anger. In fact, most news sources (including the Boston Globe) at the time reported that the deal was killed by Red Sox ownership, and not Epstein. I confronted CHB with that fact in an email exchange, which he promptly dismissed with a snarky comment. Hurt by management’s underhanded use of their media partners (as CHB often notes, the Globe’s parent company owns 17 percent of the Red Sox), Theo walked away from his dream job. It’s not hard to imagine that Theo found solace in Pearl Jam, who had famously boycotted price-gouging, duplicitous Ticketmaster, forgoing fame for principle.
Why, you may reasonably ask, is it relevant in 2011 to re-hash a botched 2005 trade and the drunken ramblings of a notoriously hackneyed columnist?
Well, if that 2005 CHB column seems familiar, perhaps that is because it appears to follow the same general outline as this more recent smear job: http://articles.boston.com/2011-10-12/sports/30271654_1_jon-lester-josh-beckett-terry-francona. Just as the 2005 article scapegoated Epstein, the 2011 article scapegoated Terry Francona, the greatest manager in Red Sox history, and Epstein, the architect of two world champions. Surely, the players were irresponsible, overly entitled, and perhaps defiant of authority. But why was that? Was it perhaps ownership’s unwillingness to give the manager authority by picking up his option? Was it their knowledge that ownership ultimately makes baseball decisions based on marketing, dismissing the recommendations of the baseball people? Does anyone really believe that John Henry consented to spending $142 million Carl Crawford on the say-so of Epstein, even though he “personally opposed” it? With Shaughnessy’s sycophancy now exposed, Bob Hohler now became the hit man for ownership.
So, with all this in mind, I was watching an Occupy Wall Street demonstration with a friend, someone who usually engages in some Red Sox banter with me. We talked about the 2011 season not with sadness, but with disgust, which is the most common reaction I have encountered among Red Sox fans. I go to about 10 games per year, usually with my 11 year-old son, and I watch nearly all the games. For most fans like me, there was a sense of foreboding very early on in the season, even while the team was winning. Seldom did the players acknowledge or interact with the fans. Their home record (45-36) was the same as their road record, and I believe this reflects a failure to connect with the fan base. Beyond an occasional flash from the Pedroias and Ellsburys, there was no inspiration, no intensity. The focus of the management, meanwhile, is ALWAYS marketing (If you subscribe to their email, you know what I mean: Buy a brick! 20% off our overpriced merchandise! Worst of all, congratulations on the opportunity to buy tickets, also known as “you have been graced with the opportunity to spend your hard earned money for an audience with the kings.”). As I talked with my friend, I had that moment of clarity: THE RED SOX ARE THE 1%!
The feeling washed over me in flashback, like Bruce Willis realizing he’s dead in The Sixth Sense. It was all there: the way Bronson Arroyo was traded right after he gave them the hometown discount; the way I was held hostage during a long rain delay in May just so I would continue to buy food for my starving kids; the sleazy scalpers only outdone in their sleaziness by the team’s sanctioned scalpers like Ace Ticket; stupid stupid “Sweet Caroline”, saccharine anthem to the kool-aid drinking masses; the prefabricated marketing campaigns for “governors” and “presidents” of Red Sox Nation; the pursuit of backpage headlines in the hot stove belying a desperate narcissism; and beneath it all, ownership’s contempt for you, the fan. Lucchino manipulating the press, Tom Werner oiling the PR machine, John Henry taking your money and expanding regime into his soccer and racing franchises, like some corrupt commodities futures manager gambling on credit default swaps. And who is there to clean up the mess, to “buy out” this disaster? I am, and you are.
Well, I am done. And don’t think that this is some lark, the lunatic rantings of a disgruntled fan. You cannot find a room in my house without some piece of Red Sox merchandise. I was there when Varitek gloved ARod, and I prayed to Baby Jesus that Mueller would hit the walk-off that game (and he did!). I was there for innumerable Papi Walk-offs, and Manny doing the Wave, and Kevin Millar riding his motorcycle through a throng of fans like he was Elvis. So strong was my faith, I bought tickets to Yankee Stadium for the seventh games in 2003 and 2004 before there was any inkling that the Yankees would play the Red Sox, just on the off chance that my friends and I would be there for the most historic games in Red Sox history. And yes, we were there, the taunting of 2003 and the triumph of 2004. It was truly magical, especially as we contrasted the Yankees’ fans joyless triumph of 2003 with our own transcendent elation in 2004. We went to World Series games, rooting on our favorites, like Popeye Allen Embree and brain-damaged but indispensable Bellhorn.
But after that? My God, now? I cannot in good conscience support a Corporation (Believe it, that is what the Red Sox are: a Corporation) that has taken advantage of a region’s loyalties and love for its own ill-gotten gain. A Corporation that manipulates its media partner in service of its nefarious goals-goals that have nothing whatever to do with baseball and everything to do with maximizing profits. A Corporation that has no loyalty, that demeans any person who dares to leave. Let’s face it, Red Sox fans. If you didn’t know it already, the Red Sox have become everything you ever hated about the Yankees, with their front-running fans, their sense of entitlement, their ubiquity in every other stadium, and their utter disdain for true baseball fans. It won’t be long ‘til you’re shouting “First Name, Last Name” like the pre-programmed goons in Yankee Stadium’s right field. The thrill is gone. It will be difficult to rid my house of all those jerseys, that clock, the signed balls (Dice K! Woo-hoo), the rocking chair. But it has to be done. The revolution requires it.
And, like my friend, I favor the Pirates for particular reasons. I attended college with Pirates owner Bob Nutting. We weren’t best friends, but I knew and liked Bob. I wrote to Bob back in June to let him know that I might stop by PNC Park to see the Red Sox series. I told him my son was playing for the Little League Pirates and we were looking forward to a visit. Bob wrote back and invited me to stop by and see him, although he noted that “Red Sox fans can be a little rough.” For personal reasons, I was unable to make the visit, but Bob wrote back to me. He was sorry I couldn’t make it, and he said the team is playing better and will be better still next year. It was humble, hopeful, and pleasant. I can’t imagine that John Henry or God forbid-Larry Lucchino- would ever correspond like that (In fact, I would hesitate to even open Lucchino’s email for fear it might have Russian porn identity theft computer- crashing virus mixed with the fires of Satan).
PNC Park is a beautiful stadium, with all-you-can eat seats in the right field bleachers. The Pirates’ history includes one of the greatest people ever to play sports, Roberto Clemente. They are young, for the most part, and they are underdogs. Their marketing strategy seems to be this: Come see good baseball played by committed players in a beautiful venue. They don’t act like they are doing you a favor by allowing you to come to the games. They are happy to have you. And I am looking forward to enjoying baseball again.
Let’s go, Bucs!