Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Boston Sports Guy at opening day

Mullet, at The House That Dewey Built, went after some comments in the latest Bill Simmons (AKA Boston SportsGuy) column. And he's absolutely right.
The emphasis is mine, but the words are his. Pedro’s absence was unconscionable and unforgivable? Does it take Simmons or his editors at Page 2 too long to click over to their baseball page ... to see that Pedro Martinez and the New York Mets had their home opener on Monday as well? I don’t know, maybe it was best for Pedro to join his teammates for his first appearance in Shea Stadium as a member of the Mets, a team that will be paying him $53 million dollars?

As much as I love Pedro, and I truly do love the guy, I’ll admit that there are plenty of legitimate reasons to harp on him. This simply isn’t one of them.

Absolutely correct.

But there were a couple of other things that irritated me in the column. Let me say up front that I'm not the BSG fan that a lot of people are. I've been reading him, off and on, since the early days of the AOL only BSG, and I think the same thing now that I thought then - there are occasional clever remarks, he's sometimes very funny, but there's far, far too much that isn't entertaining, enlightening or educational. He needs an editor.

And there were several things in the opening day column that were either irritating or just wrong.

On Monday afternoon, we finally had the chance to pay our respects to last year's team.

You know, it's funny, but I thought we'd already done that. I have vivid memories of a drizzling October day and hundreds of thousands (at least) of screaming fans watching a long parade of the 2004 Boston Red Sox in duck boats, "pay[ing] our respects".

When I met some friends at a bar called Dillon's on Boylston Street, both bartenders were wearing Red Sox gear and the waitress was sporting an "I BELIEVE" shirt. These are the things that happen when your team wins the World Series.
These are the things that happen when you live in Boston. Was yesterday the first time those bartenders wore Red Sox gear and "I BELIEVE" T-shirts? I don't think so. There were a lot of them around when they were down 3-1 in the 2004 ALCS, for example.

Then he demonstrates why he's just a fan and not actually in position to make roster decisions.
For instance, the front office made the incredible decision to tinker with a championship team, revamping the starting rotation, changing shortstops, overhauling the bench and threatening last year's unique chemistry.

In the first place, "last year's unique chemistry" was over. Every team, every year, has it's own personality. 98% [fabricated statistic alert] of the Red Sox/Patriots comparisons I've heard since 2001 are utterly nonsensical, because of the fundamental differences in the games, seasons and roster construction restrictions. But this is a legitimate comparison - every team, every year, has it's own personality.

Secondly, circumstances made the "incredible decision to tinker with a championship team". Derek Lowe was a free agent who was mediocre in 2003 and awful in 2004, two excellent October starts notwithstanding. Pedro Martinez was a free agent that they tried to retain, only to have someone make a silly offer. They could have re-signed Orlando Cabrera, I suppose, but the evidence that he was an irreplaceable part, particularly since they upgraded with a better player, escapes me. I suppose that they could have kept Dave Roberts on the bench and miserable instead of upgrading the back-up infielder and getting a better outfielder and hitter back. They kept Mirabelli. They paid obeisance to the chemistry issue by overpaying Varitek. I think it's legitimate to suggest that they might have done a better job in replacing the starting pitching, though as I've made clear, I think they're fine, but the rest of the roster looks even better than last year.

One of the biggest and easiest mistakes to make is falling in love with players that win a championship for you. You end up locked into old guys on the down-hill slide, and overpaying for replacement parts. The Red Sox did an excellent balancing act this off-season, identifying the key guys (Varitek) and not overpaying for the replaceable ones (Cabrera, Lowe).

We watched everyone move to center field, the conquering brigade, with Ortiz and Pesky walking arm in arm. They raised the 2004 flag together, a red triangle whipping happily in the wind.

I'll cut him slack on this, because he may not have been able to tell from his seat, but Ortiz and Pesky didn't raise the flag, as he seems to be saying here. It was Pesky and Yaz.

Regardless, she's entering a world where the Red Sox aren't considered lovable losers, where we can watch playoff games without enduring dozens upon dozens of Babe Ruth references, where 35,000 people aren't secretly expecting the worst possible outcome in every big game.

In reverse order, I suspect that 35,000 people will still be secretly expecting the worst possible outcome, only possibly now with more hope that it won't come.

We will, at least for the next couple of years, have to continue enduring dozens upon dozens of Babe Ruth references, though the beginning of the end is in sight for that. Assuming that they win again fairly quickly, of course. If 10 years from now, they haven't got another one, I'm not convinced that the media won't go back to it.

And lastly, one of my pet peeves, the Red Sox haven't ever been "lovable losers." Never. When they were losers (before 1967), they weren't lovable. Fenway Park was empty. Since 1966, they've been one of the most successful teams in baseball. Consistently. Since 1966, they've got more >.500 finishes than any other team in baseball. They've got a better cumulative winning percentage than anyone except the Yankees. There are only 5 teams with a higher average finish in their division. They've been anything but losers - they've just (painfully) failed to win the World Series. Until last year. The Cubs have had 14 winning seasons in the last 40. The Cubs have consistently filled their stadium despite an average finish of 4th in their division. The Cubs have been "lovable losers". The Mets have been "lovable losers", back in the 1960s. The Red Sox, for the past 40 years, have not. Ever. They've been lovable, and they've been losers, but never, ever at the same time.



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