The Red Sox had an off day on Monday, which meant the beat writers dusted off their notepad to cobble together a story. Rob Bradford, a writer I usually have no problem with and consider very competent, went trolling for some clicks with a column trying to claim that if the Red Sox finish last in the AL East again this year, interest in the team will plummet and the Sox’ place as a cash cow in the Boston sports scene will dry up. It was an easy Chicken Little rainout column that is insulting to true Red Sox fans.
Here are some excerpts, with my return thoughts:
“This organization will find itself at a crossroads this summer, trying to avoid the kind of ditch even a $200-plus million payroll or shock-and-awe transaction won't eliminate. If the Red Sox can't find a way to remain in contention for something -- anything – they'll be in danger of drowning in the kind of apathy their entire sport is desperately flailing to avoid.”
First of all, is there a bigger cliche among sportswriting than the “baseball is going the way of boxing and horse racing” column? Bryan Curtis did a great piece on this at Grantland in October of 2014. Calling baseball "desperately flailing" is a new one. Dramatic.
Second, it’s going to take a whole lot more than a couple losing seasons to get rid of Red Sox Nation. More on this later.
Third, I find it interesting that during football season, sportswriters write a lot of think pieces about concussions, brain injuries, and the future of football. They write articles that claim the violence and brutality of the game will push teens towards sports……more like baseball! So in the fall, we claim teens are going to run to baseball. In the spring and summer, we say that mighty football is going to swallow up boring baseball.
But if we’re going to do it, then here goes: say you have a son who is eight years old. Which sport would you advise him to play if you wanted him to make the most money possible and retire with as little long-term damage to their body as possible? It’s baseball, and it’s not close. Go compare LeBron James’ contract with Max Scherzer’s. Compare an ex-NFL player’s brain and body to a retired baseball player. As long as baseball is the answer to that question, it’s place is secure in American culture.
“In Seth Mnookin's 2006 book, "Feeding the Monster,” CEO Larry Lucchino, "raised the haunting legacies of teams like Baltimore, Colorado, Cleveland, and Toronto," who won big and led the league in attendance for portions of the '90s before falling on hard times that led to diminished interest in the 2000s.”
Are you really going to compare the Red Sox and what they’ve meant to New England for over a hundred years to the Colorado Rockies franchise that didn’t exist before 1993?
And here’s perhaps the most important part of my entire response, so get your notepads ready: Bradford completely dismisses Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Blake Swihart. You know how the old adage goes: baseball teams are built up the middle - your catcher, shortstop, and center fielder. These three guys won’t be what they are in 2015 for long. Every player needs an adjustment period to the major leagues. Even Mike Trout and Bryce Harper struggled early on, and they’re the greatest talents of their generation. Bogaerts, Betts, and Swihart (and Ed Rod?!?) are poised to be bankable stars that Boston can build their team around. When was the last time we had this much legitimate homegrown talent? Let them get their reps and grow into good players and Sox Nation will love them.
“They're well aware that the new newest wave of Red Sox fans are already a confused bunch, wondering who to believe after so many ups and downs. This might just be the season their minds are made up and they decide they'd rather play lacrosse than watch the Red Sox.”
Please. The only thing more cliche than the “Baseball is dying” column is the claim that lacrosse is going to overtake baseball as America’s spring and summer sport. Name one professional lacrosse player. Google how much a professional lacrosse player makes per season and get back to me.
“If things go the other way, then the Red Sox will face the most perilous moment of John Henry's ownership. Football is already king, and the NFL's signature franchise resides 35 miles away in Foxboro. Good luck taking eyeballs away from the defending Super Bowl champs.”
Yes, New England loves their Patriots. That’s not going away any time soon. But have you noticed the Celtics and Bruins lately? The Celtics have a great young head coach, but are three players away from being exciting. The Bruins are in salary cap hell and might have to bottom out for a season or two. There’s not exactly throat-cutting competition for the second spot on the Boston scene. And oh yeah, there’s only eight home dates per year on the Patriots home calendar. And again, diehard Red Sox fans got the name “diehards” for a reason. They won’t stop paying to come to Yawkey Way, watching the exciting youngsters we have, and hearing the sounds and smelling the smells of their youth in the old building.
While there would likely be a revenue dip from two straight last-pace finishes, I can’t imagine Red Sox Nation suddenly just drying up. The Red Sox do not have to win the World Series for fans to want to watch them play. Are you so out of touch up there in the media booth that you’ve forgotten what the Red Sox diehards are actually like? Whether we make an out-of-nowhere run to a World Series title in 2013, we finish dead last and have rookie auditions for two months in 2014, or whatever the hell ends up happening in 2015, we’re going to watch.
I suppose that Henry, Lucchino, and Werner don’t much care about my loyalty. They know that fans like me will follow the team whether they are the hot and sexy thing about the town or not. What they want are the pink hats. The casual sports fans who have other options. The real catalyst that has driven the success of the Fenway Expansion/cutesy traditions at the park/scripted over the top ceremonies since this ownership group took over is Henry, Lucchino, and Werner’s ability to draw in the pink hats and take their money. If the flow of pink hats dries up some, then yeah the franchise will take a hit. Guys like the three at the top won’t like the difference between $400 million and $350 million, or whatever the numbers are. They might even consider selling. Hell, if they could complete a transaction to sell the Red Sox tomorrow, they might do it, thinking that this is the high water mark financially of the Henry-era Red Sox.
But don’t claim that real Red Sox fans from all over New England, those of us weaned on Red Sox baseball, are suddenly going to abandon Fenway Park and go play lacrosse. It’s insulting.
When the long, cold New England winters fade and the spring is slow in coming, we want to turn on our TV’s and see the Sox playing on the green Fenway lawn. When the days get long in Maine, and you’re sipping a beer on your porch as the sun goes down, you want your radio on with Joe Castiglione’s voice mingling with the buzzing of the bug lamp. We will still want to make our pilgrimages to Fenway and visit the old girl and see that she still has her imperfections (support beams in sightlines, tight chairs) and perfections (the speed and grace of the game up close, peanut vendors throwing strikes three sections away). It’s going to take more than a couple of losing seasons to get the Red Sox out of a Maine boy who grew up with the team intertwined with his life.