With the Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins taking up a good chunk of the local spotlight, the Boston Red Sox have largely been afforded the opportunity to work through their early season struggles without the harsh glare of the local media and fawning masses focused on them. But even despite a 4-8 start, including Tuesday night's 18-3 beatdown against the defending American League Champion Texas Rangers, the Sox just can't seem to help but continue to put themselves in the spotlight for reasons unrelated to baseball. Rather than focusing on the play on the field, the team continues to better resemble a day time soap opera.
After the almost unthinkable (at least in the minds of those who started following the team in 2003) collapse in the final month of last season, you would have thought that the Red Sox would have preferred to sort out their laundry list of problems in private. Instead, the team took to the local airwaves and newspapers slamming now former manager Terry Francona for his permissive attitude towards the team and effectively making him the scapegoat for all that was wrong with Red Sox nation. Rumor has it that John Henry even attempted to pin the Kennedy assassination on him, but the Globe refused to run the piece.
It didn't stop with Francona, though.
Later on, it was the players' fault. It was said that they were undisciplined, unmotivated, spoiled, petulant children, more interested in drinking beer and playing 'Halo 3' then winning baseball games. The men most often implicated in the now infamous "chicken and beer" scandal were starting pitchers Josh Beckett and John Lackey. Both of whom bore a great deal of the responsibility for the teams poor play down the stretch. Last but not certainly not least, now former GM Theo Epstein, dubbed as recently as 2010 as the best young mind in baseball, was widely criticized via hindsight for the lavish contracts handed out to under-performing players like Lackey, Carl Crawford, and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Finally, right around the time the New England Patriots were getting set to play the New York Giants in the Super Bowl this past February, the nonsense stopped. Bobby Valentine was the new manager, Ben Cherington was the new GM and the team had receded into the background for the time being. It was a short lived hiatus for "As Red Sox Nation Turns" though, as spring training began and the conversation immediately moved back to the end of last season. Then the new baseball season started, and the new soap opera storylines are in full swing.
It began with the "trade" of former GM Theo Epstein to the Chicago Cubs. The ownership hemmed and hawed about not being able to get enough in return, while at the same time ignoring the fact that they murdered any trade value he might have had when they smeared him to the press both publicly and privately (seriously, you can't make this stuff up). Eventually, a deal was reached that satisfied both parties when minor league pitcher Chris Carpenter was sent to the Sox in exchange for Epstein in a negotiation so stupid and pointless that commissioner Bud Selig had to step in and tell Larry Lucchino & Henry to stop acting like a couple of six year olds. As we later learned, Carpenter, of course, had an elbow problem that the Sox medical team didn't discover until after the deal was already signed and agreed upon. At this point, Henry and Lucchino went back to the Cubs and tried to get a do over and a new player, but the Cubs quickly decreed "no gives-ies backs-ies" and basically stopped taking calls from Sox ownership on the matter. For their part, Henry, Lucchino and the rest of the cast of the Three Stooges have sworn revenge for their own idiotic mistake of not catching the injury during Carpenters initial physical.
Next was Josh Beckett's assertion that he was completely unaware of all the criticism he faced following the end of last season, saying that he lives essentially like your stereotypical mountain man. He lives off the land and has no electronic devices in his house in Texas (presumably a log cabin complete with outhouse) with which to peruse the news. After that absurd claim, he then curiously went on to describe how he and several other players (presumably the guilty parties) were investigating the "snitch" in the clubhouse who narced them out for, you know, not doing their jobs. Personally, I can almost picture he and John Lackey using a magnifying glass and dusting for prints with a powdered doughnut ala Inspector Closeau of Pink Panther fame.
And finally, the most recent transgression saw new manager Bobby Valentine, a man with a history of ripping players to the media going out and ... wait for it ... ripping players to the media! On Sunday night, Valentine criticized Kevin Youkilis for not playing hard during the teams early season struggles.
"I don't think he's as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason," Valentine said.
Youkilis, like many other Sox players who were so coddled under Francona and largely allowed to run wild in recent seasons without the results to back it up, was flabbergasted that Valentine had the gall question him about his .200 average through his first nine games of the season while making a just a smidgen over minimum wage ($12 million).
"I’m more confused than anything because everyone knows I go out and play the game as hard as I can,'' Youkilis countered.
Like an elementary teacher mediating an argument between two boys on the playground, Ben Cherington has since stepped in and sat the two of them down to have them talk about what's bothering them. The meeting no doubt ended with a handshake and a warning that, the next time this happens, he'll call their parents.
Between these outstanding storylines, and the less significant ones, like John Henry's complaining about the lack of celebrities being willing to show up for Fenway Park's 100th Anniversary event on Friday, to the potential end of the "in name only" sellout streak at the old ballpark, "As Red Sox Nation Turns" is sure to keep you watching all the way until the end of the season sometime in September or October.
Oh ... and there's also the matter of the 150 games still to be played on the field.