I wrote this Chin Music column before the start of the season for Boston Baseball. After dropping three to the Orioles... I think we know now. Read on...
This year we’ll finally know.
Although the Henry group purchased the team in 2002, this will be the first year their efforts can truly be assessed on their own, the first time we’ll be able to tell if Theo is truly talented or just a fortunate son, if John Henry is a genius or just rode the wave that lifted all boats for more than two decades, if Larry Lucchino is Geppetto, pulling all the right strings like a master, or Pinochio, or whether Terry Francona is more Bill Carrigan or Butch Hobson.
This year, for the first time, they have a clean slate, and the responsibility for success or failure is theirs alone. For the first few years after they purchased the team, the lineup was still dominated by stars either drafted or acquired by former general manager Dan Duquette, without which this team never would have never won anything. Like every other team in baseball during the era, the roster was enhanced by players either directly tainted by the games’ PED scandal*, such as Manny Ramirez or David Ortiz, or by others as still unnamed but who are nevertheless under suspicion, guys who did nothing either before or after their time with the Red Sox, but who, remarkably, came to Boston, put together one or two years that were completely out of character and then dropped from sight, either never to return or vastly diminished as soon as drug testing was instituted.
Those are two sizable shadows across the recent history of this franchise, so despite two world championships*, some fine draft picks (Papelbon, Pedroia, Lester, Bard, etc.) and savvy acquisitions such as Curt Schilling, there have been, to be honest, an equal number of question marks – those two world championships*, mishandled draft picks or failures like Craig Hansen, and questionable acquisitions like Daisuke Matsusaka, who the Red Sox believed was one of the “best pitchers in the world,” but who recently has not even been the best pitcher in Fort Myers. What is unarguable is that since the Red Sox have been purchased by John Henry they have been able to buy and sell their way out of mistakes (Julio Lugo, Edgar Renteria etc.) just as the Yankees have.
That is what makes this year so intriguing. The Duquette guys are, for the most part, gone, and the few that remain, such as Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield, are relatively insignificant to the fortunes of the 2010 Red Sox – the less we see of each in 2010, the better. And the PED guys are, also, presumably either gone or drug tested into sobriety and relative insignificance – as I write this David Ortiz is hitting .216 in the spring, with an OBP of .293, a slugging percentage of .378 and the most strikeouts on the team – Tug Hulett has more total bases, and might see more at bats. And although we here in Boston seem to be convinced that the Red Sox farm system is without peer, more objective analysts such as Baseball America view the system as distinctly middle of the pack, particularly after the horrible misfortune to befall prospect Ryan Westmoreland.
The Red Sox themselves seem to realize that this year is different, and have responded with a different approach, eschewing the higher priced free agents for lesser luminaries who are supposed better values, preferring defense and pitching over offense, and an overall emphasis on doing more with less. The approach will, of course, be best assessed by win and losses, but as the season grows long and the shadows short, what Theo/John/Larry and Terry et al say about that performance may be even more telling.
When you are winning, you really don’t have to say much of anything, but there are always a million euphemisms for “we suck.” In that respect the words and phrases to look out for are “competing,” “maximum effort” “tip your cap to him,” “marketplace” “the economy” and “evil empire.” If the aforementioned four start using these phrases, particularly in combination, such as “In this economy the marketplace favors the evil empire” or “You’ve got to tip your cap to him, because we’re out there competing and giving maximum effort,” there will be no need either to check the standings or to check the standing of Theo, John Henry, Larry Lucchino or Terry Francona.
Because now we’ll know.