Red Sox Rise A Surprise - And Expected
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
When you stop to think about it, what the Boston Red Sox accomplished this year is pretty remarkable.
Worst-to-first in the American League East, 69 wins to 97-plus…and an American League pennant with a third World Series appearance in 10 years. On the surface of it, it’s more than just remarkable.
It’s also expected.
Wait a minute. Does this mean getting back to the World Series is something we should expect? Not quite – but success is a relative term. Ultimate success usually means winning something in the end, and being the last player or team left standing. But success can be measured in many other ways, and that’s something Red Sox Nation has come to expect of its’ beloved brand. Success is measured here in loyalty.
The tail end of 2011, and the entire 2012 season were such complete disasters on and off of the field, it seemed even the most die-hard fans had had enough. Attendance dropped, the sell-out streak (wink, wink) at Fenway came to a halt, broadcast ratings took a nose-dive…and for a while, it appeared the Red Sox were primed for a deep, arduous fall from grace within sports-conscious New England. The Bruins were back, the Patriots were still the Patriots, and the Celtics (at the time) still had a “Big Three or Four.”
Not much room for a bunch of whining, beer-drinking, chicken-eating overpaid louts getting paid to play this kids’ game of baseball.
That’s what I love, and have loved most about sports fans in this region. They appreciate outstanding performance, sure…but they also have a sense of loyalty and expect the same in return from their pro athletes – as they got through the years from guys named Yastrzemski, Tiant, Orr, Grogan, Bruschi, Russell and Bird. Remember when Ray Bourque left for Colorado? It hurt, sure…but few really felt he was being disloyal – because he had a chance to go win a Stanley Cup, when at the time, the Bruins were far from competing for it themselves.
“Go ahead Ray, we’ll miss you…but you deserve it.”
Those collective words weren’t meant for guys like former Sox pitcher Josh Beckett, outfielders J.D. Drew and Carl Crawford. Talented as they might have been, they never really lived up to their own hype or abilities, whether through injury, illness or just plain inability. Beckett and Drew won here in ’07. But they never embraced loyalty while here, and fans never felt the appreciation for their efforts – because it became clear they played for a paycheck. They weren’t playing for the fans, relating to the fans or even talking to the fans…which is something most New England pros realized they needed to do long ago.
Loyalty is a two-way street around here. Fans care. They want their players to care, too. If an athlete is going one way, he (or she) had best make room on the bandwagon, and enjoy the ride with the fans. When the road hits a bump, the relationship with fans can help smooth over the rough spots during a season.
That never really materialized for guys like Beckett, Drew or Crawford.
You can certainly make the argument that because of the ill-will generated in part by their performances and attitudes during the latter stages of their tenure, as well as others in that clubhouse, that decades of loyalty became spoiled in the suddenly-tainted air surrounding Fenway Park. Fans and media alike really wanted nothing to do with the Red Sox just a few short months ago, until everything changed.
Ownership sensed it. They had to. All of a sudden, tickets were available again. Management knew it. Some players they liked, but others HAD TO GO. Attitudes changed, the personnel had to change and the trickle-down effect from manager John Farrell – brought in because of his previous work with players and his command of their respect and loyalty while coaching under Terry Francona – helped complete the makeover. All he asked of his players initially was that they “be on time, and be professional.”
The Red Sox let go of the bad seed, and cultivated those who valued winning – and also those who recognized the value of loyalty. Which makes this season – and this current elevator ride back to the top of the American League – remarkable.
No one saw this kind of success coming so quickly. But it’s here.
And it’s expected.
Follow John on Twitter, @JRBroadcaster
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