Friday, August 24, 2012

It Could Be Worse: We Could Be Red Sox Fans

The Yankees are not in a good spot right now.  But it could be worse.

Philadelphia native (and, presumably, Phillies fan) Bill Cosby told a story about how, when he was first doing standup in Las Vegas clubs, he got to gambling one day, and was losing.  He was down to the last $200 that he could sign for.  So he went to the roulette wheel, and with $200 worth of chips, covered every spot on the wheel.  That meant that, wherever the ball landed, he would not only get his money back, but he would win whatever anyone else had bet on the wheel.  "It can't get any worse," he told himself.

What do you think happened? The ball spun out of the wheel and landed on the floor.  Nobody won.  His last $200 was gone.

Moral of the story? Coz says, "Don't ever say, 'It can't get any worse.'  It can always get worse."

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The Yankees have had some bad teams over the years: 103 losses in 1908, 102 losses in 1912, 7th place out of 8 in 1925, 10th out of 10 in 1966, 9th the following year, 6th out of 7 in 1982 (just one year after a Pennant, mind you),  6th out of 6 in 1990.  These kinds of seasons have not happened since 1992, the last season in which the Yankees entered September without a shot at the Playoffs.  For most teams, coming close to the Playoffs and just missing would be a decent season.  For most teams, reaching the Playoffs and losing in the Division Series (baseball's quarterfinals) would be a good season.  For Yankee Fans, World Championship or bust, such seasons are busts.

The Yankees have also had some embarrassing moments.  Some of these moments have been kept quiet during the careers of the figures in question: The carousings of Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio palling around with Mafia figures.

Some have become public: The animus between original owners Frank Farrell and Bill Devery, the shenanigans of Hal Chase in the early 1910s, State Senator (and future Mayor) Jimmy Walker (who certainly had no place to lecture someone on sobriety, alcoholic or romantic) publicly chastising the Babe in 1922, Jake Powell's infamous racist radio interview in 1938, Larry MacPhail's drunken tirade at the 1947 World Championship victory party, the trading of Vic Power after the 1953 season and the ridiculous, false reason behind it, the Copacabana Incident of 1957, the way Roger Maris was treated in 1961 and onward, the Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich family swap of 1973, George Steinbrenner's tangential involvement in Watergate that nearly got him sent to federal prison, the three-way feud between George, Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson, Billy's boozing continuing to be a problem literally until the moment of his death in 1989, the way George treated other managers, George's banishment (later reduced to a suspension) in 1990, the late-night antics of David Wells, the personal life of Alex Rodriguez, the various controversies surrounding Roger Clemens, the way Joe Torre was pushed out in 2007, and, of course, the most embarrassing of all, the home runs that turn out not to be after being declared as such by Mel Allen, Phil Rizzuto and, in this generation, John Sterling.

(In Mel's case, I'm not old enough to remember him messing up, "Going, going, gone!", and am relying on anecdotes.  In the Scooter's case, I kid because I love, and he admitted it when he goofed: "No, why don't I just shut up!" In Sterling's case, I like the guy, but he's done it too many times, getting my hopes up with, "That ball is high! It is far! It is... " and instead of "gone!" following it up with "a foul ball!" or "caught at the wall!")

Other teams have had embarrassing, and even despicable moments.  In 1993, the Mets were bad.  Not as bad as they were in their early days, 1962 to 1965, or even in the late 1970s, when M. Donald Grant had broken up the team that won Pennants in 1969 and 1973 (plus the World Series in the former and very nearly again in the latter), and the team was so bad and so uninteresting that only 9,740 fans came out per home game in 1979, and Shea Stadium was nicknamed "Grant's Tomb."

But Vince Coleman, once the golden boy speedster of Whitey Herzog's St. Louis Cardinals, threw a firecracker in the Dodger Stadium parking lot, and it hit a toddler girl.  Bret Saberhagen, a World Series MVP with the Kansas City Royals and a 2-time Cy Young Award winner, squirted bleach at reporters, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase "Bleacher Bum."

No, there was no drunken trashing of the plane on the flight home, as there was in 1986 when the Mets won the Pennant in Houston.  And as far as I know, none of them were drunken drivers, although Dwight Gooden was still on the team in 1993 -- compared to most of them, he was, at the time, well-behaved.  But the '93 Mets weren't just bad on the field, they were juvenile delinquents.  And, unlike in '86, they weren't good enough to get away with it in '93.  (The Phillies were that good in '93, and did get away with a lot -- and it wasn't just Lenny Dykstra, the man who links the '86 Mets to the '93 Phils.)

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But the Boston Red Sox...

In 1969, Red Sox pitcher Steve Renko said, "Some teams go everywhere together.  We get off the plane and go to 25 separate cabs." In the next few years, this would lead Peter Gammons, then making his name in the Boston Globe, to write, "Twenty-five men came to the ballpark, played a game, and took twenty-five cabs home." In other words, the Sox may have been a team, but they had no togetherness.  This may have been an exaggeration.

Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal wrote last week that the current Red Sox are more like "25 players, 25 strollers." As in, they're babies.

In 1940, several Cleveland Indians players complained to team owner Alva Bradley about manager Oscar "Ossie" Vitt.  (In 1937, Vitt had managed a Yankee farm team, the Newark Bears, to one of the greatest performances in minor league history.  As a big-league skipper, he wasn't nearly so good.) Mel Harder, a great pitcher who was personally insulted by Vitt, told Bradley, "We think we have a good chance to win the pennant, but we'll never win it with Vitt as manager. If we can get rid of him, we can win. We feel sure about that." Whatever points they had to make were lost when Bradley blabbed to the local media, and the team became known as the Cleveland Crybabies.  They missed the Pennant by 1 game -- no Divisional play or Wild Cards in those days.

Last week, supposedly, a bunch of Red Sox players went to team management and complained about manager Bobby Valentine, who has already run Kevin Youkilis, one of the most popular players among Sox fans, out of town.  (And that decision has backfired.)

This is after the Sox' monumental collapse last September, when they led the AL East most of the way, and ended up not making the Playoffs at all thanks to a calamitous last 3 games in Tampa Bay, especially the last night.

Manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein were made the scapegoats, but the biggest problem players -- such as pitchers Josh Beckett and John Lackey -- were allowed to stay, because their contracts were too fat to be moved.  So was that of outfielder Carl Crawford, who just had to be shut down for the season due to another injury.

Here's what I wrote last December 1, about the Sox' decision to hire Bobby V:

Now, he's going to manage the Boston Red Sox, a team with quite a few strengths, but also a lot of problems, including big egos, big stomachs, big injuries, and big psychological issues.

And while it's true that, if you can handle the media in New York, you can handle the media anywhere, the truth is that the New York media already knew and liked him from his playing days with the Mets; the Boston media does not really know him all that well, and, as is usually the case with outsiders in that oh-so-insular city, is unlikely to give him the benefit of the doubt.

And speaking of Boston being an insular city, what do you think the Boston fans will think of Bobby Valentine? Suppose the Red Sox get off to a start like they had this season. Will they give him a pass, saying, "Give him a chance, he inherited a mess and he needs time to straighten it out"?


Even if they do, which would only be fair, suppose the Sox have a finish resembling the one they had this season. Results do matter. Will the Chowdaheads say, "Give him a break, he's only had one full season"? Or will they throw him to the wolves?

Silly question: Sox fans can be rather wolfish themselves -- and that's a quality that many of them not only admit that they have, but they tend to enjoy it!

To paraphrase David Byrne, Bobby Valentine may ask himself, "How did I get here? This is not my beautiful ballpark! This is not my beautiful team!"


Now, the chickens have come home to roost, and Bobby V lives in the chicken shack.  And his team is laying eggs.  At least if he were a farmer, he could use the eggs.

How long before he starts muttering, like Wilford Brimley, the old, bedraggled manager in The Natural, "I shoulda been a farmer... "?

Now we find out that only 4 Red Sox players went to the funeral of Sox legend Johnny Pesky.

To his credit, David Ortiz, whom I have slammed in this blog as much as I've slammed any person, not only went, but said the right thing about it to Sox station WEEI: "The funeral is the last goodbye you give to a friend. There's no way you're a friend with somebody, that person passes away and you're not going to show up to his funeral." 

The Sox aren't just losing, they're an unholy mess, both on the field and off.  To borrow a line from Met fan Jerry Seinfeld, "The whole system's breaking down!"

The blog Obnoxious Boston Fan (see link to the left) tells as much of the sordid story as the Globe's length limit will allow.

It's hard for me to feel sorry for New England sports fans.  Their behavior since 1999, the first time the Yankees and Red Sox played each other in the postseason (unless you count the 1978 Boston Tie Party), has ranged from ridiculous at the least to outright despicable at the most.

But I'm not sure even they deserve this.  Losing, yeah.  A team that, intentionally or not, embarrasses them at every turn? 

True, the Yankees are in a tough situation right now, made tougher by the fact that, as rumored yesterday, Ivan Nova has, indeed, gone on the Disabled List; and also by the Tampa Bay Rays winning last night, cutting the Yanks' AL East lead to just 2 1/2 games.

Injured players such as CC Sabathia (pitching tonight against the Indians in Cleveland), Alex Rodriguez, and, possibly before the season runs out, Andy Pettitte, are coming back.

The Yankees are in a tough spot, but I'd rather be 2 1/2 up than 2 1/2 back.

The Red Sox? With all that payroll, they're 7 games under .500, 13 1/2 games out of first, and 8 1/2 games out of a Playoff berth.

Last night, they lost at home to the Whatever They're Calling Themselves This Season Angels of Anaheim, 14-13.  The Sox led 6-0 after 2 innings, tied the game in the 9th, scored in the bottom of the 10th to get themselves to within 1, but couldn't finish the job.

Someone told me that this was the first time in the 112-year history of the club that the Red Sox scored 13 runs in a game and still lost.  That may be true.  I thought I remembered an August 2009 game where the Yankees clobbered them at Fenway on a Friday night, 20-13.  But the score that night was "only" 20-11.  And the Sox won the next day, 14-1.  But the Yanks claimed the finale, 8-4.

Now we find out that Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez -- who was considered an AL MVP candidate exactly one year ago -- have been placed on waivers.  I wonder if anyone will pick them up?

*

Yes, the Yanks are in a slump now.  But as the Coz taught us, it can always get worse.

And this time, I don't even have to cite the current Mets.  Even if they did just get swept at home in 4 straight by a Colorado Rockies team that came into the series on a pace to lose 100 games.

At least the Mets figured out, finally, after 2010, that they had to blow it all up and start over.  And, as bad as they are now, they are better off than they were 2 years ago.

The Red Sox? They still need to blow it all up.  While Ortiz is still there, there's no more Manny, no more Tek, no more Trot, no more Pedro, no more Youk, nor more Paps.  No more Theo, no more Tito.

The Era of Big Papi is over.

And, unless payroll becomes a problem for the Rays, or the Baltimore Orioles can prove themselves more than one-year wonders, it will be the Rays that battle the Yankees for AL East supremacy for some time to come.

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