Saturday, August 16, 2008

Soul Survivor: Where Do We Stand?

Where is the soul of Red Sox Nation? Recent events encourage examination and questions about where we stand?

Above all, the Red Sox are a business, a very successful business, on the field and at the box office. A pair of championships in four years after a lifetime of almost mythical disappointments testifies to the success of baseball operations. Revenues and 'value' among ticket prices, seating capacity expansion, NESN, and other revenue generating operations (merchandising). MLB generated 6.08 billion dollars of revenue in 2007, with the Red Sox reporting 234 million dollars in gross revenue in 2006. The Red Sox approach an All-Time record for consecutive sellouts, which any economist would tell you means that ticket prices aren't maximizing revenue.

The team has increased seating capacity within the tiny footprint at Fenway, and worked to improve the venue as a site for concerts, fund-raising, and private events.

Baseball operations has strengthened productivity (work smarter, not harder) via the rational employment of Bill James and sabermetrics and enhanced the drafting and development of young players. In addition to a ripening crop of minor leaguers, the Sox have developed a new generation of young players and pitchers, Youkilis, Pedroia, Lowrie, Ellsbury, Lester, Papelbon, Buchholz, Masterson, and Delcarmen to name some. "Price is what you pay. Value is what you get." Low-salaried young talent has allowed big-market teams to 'overpay' for established stars.

The recently successful Jimmy Fund telethon helps show the important role of the Red Sox in community action. The two day event raised over four million dollars for research and treatment of cancer in children. The Red Sox boast a pair of cancer survivors in Mike Lowell and Jon Lester. The Red Sox foundation describes its mission: Our primary focus is in serving the health, education, recreation, and social service needs of children and families in need across New England.

But seldom does any business enjoy universal praise and problem-free operation.
Aging veterans have often departed amidst rancor, bitterness, and controversy. The 'entitlement mentality' becomes pervasive in the narcissistic world of entertainers. While some say "it's not about the money", Roger Clemens, Mo Vaughn, Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, and Mike Greenwell all left under something less than mutual satisfaction. Others will surely follow.

Ramirez' exile in particular deserves discussion. Absent the Sox' willingness to exercise his option, Manny wasn't Manny, he simply became either scarce or a rock in the shoe. We'll never know whether he went on strike against Mariano Rivera, but we all saw him sit out critical games, and perform with low intensity at times on the bases and in the field. An honest day's work for a king's salary simply became meaningless. He then had the unmitigated gall to criticize the organization, suggesting an organized smear campaign against him.

If you work in a business whose most productive employee simply chooses when, where, and how to work, morale and overall satisfaction necessarily declines. Jason Bay's arrival coinciding with the Sox' improvement represents addition by subtraction, regardless of the professional stature of the former leftfielder.

The Mitchell Report by and large gave the Red Sox if not a free pass, then a discount rate on their role of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. The front office acquired Eric Gagne amidst suspicion of substance use, and fans' indifference to Gagne related to underachievement not juicing. The Sox recently acquired Paul Byrd, whose acknowledged use of HGH "wasn't intended to cheat." If not, then what was it? While we vilify the Jason Giambis of the world for their juicing, we prepare to scream our lungs out for a new and fungible piece of the pitching puzzle.

We live in a society where "if you ain't cheating, you ain't trying." In the wake of Enron, Worldcom, and the collapse, we have overleveraging, Bear Stearns, the auction rate security scandal, and hedonics. "Whatever it takes" means just that, win at any cost. Even in a sport whose hallmark is individual achievement, teamwork and chemistry matter.

Can fans 'demand' an ethical business, based on competitive practices, honesty, and competence? Whether we can, we probably won't. Warren Buffett has reminded us that the key elements to success are intelligence, energy, and integrity? He notes that without the latter, the former are dangerous. We cannot and must not embrace business practices of low ethical character. Do we win with character or characters? We can not accept winning without professionalism or tawdry ethics within the franchise. That's never a way to run the Nation.


dicecca112 said...

Very well written and intelligent blog.

Matt Mozzone said...

Well written. I have been worried about the RedSox fan base since it started expanding so rapidly. I love how much attention the team has gotten, but fans should be skeptical in their fanhood just as a good citizen remains skeptical of their government.

Anonymous said...

we get it. You're smart

D&T: said...

Nice overview, nothing really new here, but it basically encapsulates the current Sox situ; A Wikipedia entry really. Only quibble: On Byrd (+ Petite, Giambi), We would never boo any of them for their HGH use (The porn stash and gold thong, well those were different stories) since they actually acknowledged said use in the wake of the Mitchell report. Sure they could have come clean earlier, but the public admission and apology really does go a long way with us and many others, so to rag on Paul,as you do, is unwarranted and detracts slightly from what you wrote, in our opinion.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the previous poster. Booing Giambi and Pettite is misguided. We should have respect for those that came forward and admitted their usage. Bonds and Clemens, on the other hand, deserve all the contempt we can heap on them. I am not sure about Byrd. It looks like he was "outed" and clings to a improbable explanation. He admits using them, but denies his intent, which is not very plausible given how he obtained them.

Anonymous said...

To the precious two posters:

Giambi admitted something, but nothing specific. And he is supposed to be praised for that? I don't think so. He and Pettitte got free passes. You are very naive.