Since that fateful night on September 28th last season in Baltimore, the Boston Red Sox have been criticized by fans and media mercilessly. And rightfully so. They collectively let their foot off of the gas. They didn’t have each others’ backs. Their manager lost control of a clubhouse that was filled with players who wanted the luxuries of a five-star hotel but lost the ambition to work for the right to stay at one. They won seven times in the final month of the regular season. They lost 20. They were the ’04 Yankees. They were the ’09-’10 Bruins. All choke artists. And the Red Sox painted a masterpiece.
So I’ve been fine with the unabated criticism from talk-show hosts, writers, and fellow fans. It is well-deserved, and without it, accountability is often lost. However, there have been some serious inconsistencies when it comes to the appraisal of last season’s version of the Red Sox and their relationship to the 2012 team.
Under no circumstances is it acceptable for one to trash the 2011 team for being lazy, fat, spoiled, and drunk, then, out of the opposite corner of one’s mouth, discuss, and find consolation in, the fact that yesteryear’s squad began the season miserably before ascending to the top of baseball hierarchy a couple of months later.
Fans and media members have abused last year’s team, using it as both a punching bag and a comfort pillow. Can’t have it both ways, folks. That just simply is not fair. But let’s delve deeper.
I’m going to put forth two summations of the thought process for many Red Sox fans and media members concerning two subjects: The perceived ringleader of “Beer-Gate” and the sluggish start of this year’s version of the Red Sox.
1) During interviews conducted at the beginning of Spring Training, Josh Beckett doesn’t show a tremendous amount of contrition for faltering down the stretch and participating in activities that could not be described as intelligent at the end of last season. In his first start of the season, the Texas native promptly gets flogged by the Tigers on their turf on national television, rendering the Sox 0-2. Beckett goes on to pitch well against the Rays, Rangers, Twins, and White Sox. He skips a start at the advisement of his manager due to some minor discomfort he felt in his lat muscle. He plays golf with Clay Buchholz on an off-day. His next turn in the rotation is against the Indians, and Beckett gets bruised for seven earned runs over the course two and one third innings. In his post-game presser, Beckett is defiant, angry. His off-days are his off-days. Clearly, the Texas Tough Guy has learned nothing after his choke-job September that was filled with Bud Light and chicken thighs. Trade him. For what? Anyone, anything.
2) The Red Sox start off turtle-slow in 2012? No big deal, so did the 2011 Red Sox, and they were perfectly fine. In fact, that team started the season 2-10. Remember that? The Greatest Team Ever looked awful in April and pristine in July. Keep in mind that World Series rings are handed out in October, not April. A major league baseball season is not a sprint. It’s a marathon, a grind, a war of attrition. Meaningful games are played when the NFL regular season is in its infancy, not when OTA’s are just getting underway. We know this. We lived through it last season. Things don’t look good right now, but give it a couple of months, and they’ll be fine.
You can’t have both. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
The 2011 Boston Red Sox have been portrayed over and over again as the paradigm for not-to-be as a sports franchise. They were the anti-Bruins. Overpaid, under performers, who would rather carry a cold twelve pack to the clubhouse than their team to a victory. Fans, scribes, and sports radio hosts treated this team like Mike Tyson would handle a speed bag in his prime. Beckett quickly transformed from World Series hero into the Prince of Darkness. Jon Lester and Buchholz, his minions.
And you know what? Good. Because when you’re getting your legs taken out from under you by the Orioles deep in September in must-have, gotta-win games, you deserve the inevitable backlash from a fan-base in a region that, despite all of the championships captured in other professional sports, invests more of its heart and soul in baseball than any other athletic endeavor.
But don’t turn around and look to that team for comfort. You can’t blast Beckett one day, and then argue that the Sox will be fine by the time July rolls around because that’s what occurred last season. The same guys who walked off the field at Camden Yards in late September after ripping your heart out were the same cast of characters who beat up on their competition throughout the majority of the summer.
The 2011 Boston Red Sox remain a troubling narrative. But just because they lost in historic fashion does not give people who follow the team the right to pick and choose what they want to shape their arguments. Ultimately, the team was similar to a beautiful, expensive house that was built on a foundation of straw. A storm touched down, and the home fell apart. Their demise was part fluke, part inevitable.
Criticize them. Rip them apart. They deserve it. Just don’t seek solace in the fact that the 2011 Red Sox were 11-15 after the month of April, and this year’s team was .500 when May 1st rolled around.
Last year’s team did not show us that slow starts can be overcome. They demonstrated that how you finish is all that matters.