Sunday, October 30, 2011

On the Apotheosis of Larry Lucchino

The Red Sox have remade Fenway Park and won a pair of championships in the past eight years. And as they say, "victory has a thousand fathers and defeat is an orphan." Today, Dan Shaughnessy wrote about CEO Larry Lucchino "Controversial, brilliant, combative, and ever-lawyerly, Lucchino represents the past, present, and future of the 21st century Red Sox."

I'd look at it another way, more along the lines of Michael Lewis, "If he's such a good hitter, then why doesn't he hit better." Do Shaughnessy and Lucchino live in a parallel universe where credit is assigned for success and blame referred elsewhere? Everyone associated with the Red Sox got stained by both The Collapse and The Purge that followed.

Somehow, Lucchino stands as the Red Sox blend between The Godfather and the consigliere.  He'd probably take that as a compliment; maybe it is. I don't think that anyone would accuse him of being thin-skinned, self-effacing, or overburdened with humility. But I also doubt that a sit-down for lunch with him would be boring either.

Maybe we'd be able to ask him where he stands on the key issues of the day, like who's the closer for next year...or we can add our own 'lawyerly' answers.

Q. Who will be the closer for the Red Sox next year?

A.  Jonathan Papelbon has done an excellent job for our team and has earned the right to experience the free agent market. There are numerous high quality closers on the market this season, and we're confident that Red Sox will have solid back-end of the game pitching in 2012, whether it's Jonathan or another closer.

Q. What are your thoughts on Carl Crawford?

A. Carl has performed well in the American League for most of his career. We think that last season was more of an aberration than a fundamental change in the player's ability. We expect that Carl and the team as a whole will perform at a higher level next season.

Q. What will your role be in the selection of the next Red Sox manager?

A. We intend to have a very thorough and thoughtful process, just as we did when Tito was selected. Our new General Manager Ben Cherington will lead the process in consultation with other members of both baseball operations and ownership. We have every confidence that the next manager will be the right man to lead the Red Sox going forward.

In summary, a lawyer's job is to argue effectively for their client. If the Sox didn't feel that he were, they'd have someone else in his job.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Let's Go to Work, The Theme for 2012

Soon the Red Sox will have a new manager, a new face tasked with infusing leadership and a change of organizational culture. What will he say to the team during the transition? Let's face it, this isn't the Gettysburg Address.

"Welcome to the 2012 Boston Red Sox. Some of you were here last season and others are new faces. Some of you have played on World Series winners and others have never played a game in the majors. Some of you have been all-stars and others are fighting to keep a job. 

But all of us must recognize that we are here to win baseball games, a task that requires not only ability, but sustained concentration, dedication, and sacrifice. I'm not going to pretend that last year never happened, but as far as the 2012 standings go, what happened in 2011 is history. We are responsible for what we do here and now, and you all start with a clean slate. 

As I look around this room, I see a lot of talented players. But every manager in every clubhouse sees talent. What separates the champions from the others?

Playing good baseball over a long season isn't automatic. You need your head on straight; you know what I'm talking about. You have to be prepared physically and you have to be ready mentally to be on the field 162 games, playing against other guys who want to beat your brains in. We're not asking you to play baseball or think baseball twenty-four hours a day. But I'm telling you, when you come to the park, you're coming to work, to refine your craft and excel at the skills that got you here. 

The coaching staff and front office isn't here to be cheerleaders and rah-rah guys. We're here to provide an environment where winning baseball games and caring about winning baseball games matters. We're not going to win 162 games, but we have to play hard every day and support each other with a common goal, to become champions again. 

The twenty-five guys in uniform really matter. But if you think the 38,000 people in the stands don't, then you're wrong. You want respect? The best way to earn respect is to show respect, respect for playing the game the right way, the way you learned how to play from the time you picked up a glove, and a ball, and a bat...and haven't forgotten. 

We're here to play baseball, not to make excuses for not running out ground balls, for missing signs, running into outs, for overthrowing cutoff men, or throwing to the wrong base. Physical mistakes are part of the game, but we're going to minimize mental mistakes by paying attention to fundamentals and thinking the game. Let's go to work."

After thinking about it, that's the theme for 2012 "LET'S GO TO WORK." It's a no-nonsense statement implying direction and purpose. If the players can embrace that and 'get their heads on straight', the fans can move on.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Public Enemy Number One

We're making progress, with 'wink-wink' management transition to the Ben Cherington Era (let's hope it's anything approaching the Epstein reign). Sad to say, the Sox scuffle and the official title "The Collapse" have equal play with a highly competitive World Series.

Meanwhile, the Sox have yet to go into PR mode to repair the damages to the Good Ship Fenway. Suffice it to say, Sox loyalists (especially older ones) don't want to hear the words Narragansett or Mabel, Black Label. Damage control thus far gets limited to weak apologies and info that Jason Giambi and Roger Clemens used to share quality time in the Bomber dugout with a brewski.

With many citizens working to find a job, the Red Sox work to get compensation for Chicago's New Man About Town. Pipe dreams like Starlin Castro or the exile of John Lackey to the Windy City have been replaced by the hopes that we'll get a pinch-running prospect from the Cubs. Theo negotiating his own compensation does have a pretty incestuous feel to it.

Give us Barabbas. If we erected a stage on the Common, and asked the fandom which would be more damaging, the return of Whitey Bulger or John Lackey, no doubt the masses would cry, "Give us, Bulger." For a guy allegedly a 'great teammate' Lackey will leave with a reputation perhaps even lower than the Forgiven One, Bill Buckner. Public character assassination leaves a rotten taste in the mouth, but admittedly much of He Who Must No Longer Be Named's wounds were self-inflicted.

Safe bets. Don't expect the Red Sox to raise ticket prices. Even for the Sox that would be the "Audacity of Dope". We know that Curt Young slinking out of town wasn't greeted with any thunderstorm of tears, but we must wonder who is leaking all the goodies to the media.

Who's the boss? After an initial flood of speculation about the new managerial candidates, the wires have gone silent. And how does the first meeting between the manager and the players go?  Where's Dick Williams when you need him?

The manager can't go in with all guns blazing and turn off the audience, but he has to develop a new team culture, which is tough when it's changed from 25 players, 25 cabs to 25 limos. You could appeal to their manhood and professionalism, no, that didn't work with the last administration any more. You could go Phil Jackson with a "basketball is sharing" spinoff, but that seems unlikely.

Probably something between the Mutiny on the Bounty flogging scene and James Bond about to be lasered in two in Goldfinger would be about right. Part of the issue is to eliminate the old guard that has too many connections to The Collapse, including Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek, and maybe even David Ortiz. Can anyone see this happening to the Twins (Tom Kelly anyone?) or even the Orioles with the Showalter Way.

Someone's still got a lot of explaining to do, Lucchino. How do you treat multi-millionaire spoiled brats with kid gloves and get anywhere?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Thank Goodness

My faith in the Red Sox is restored. All is forgiven. Let bygones be bygones. Bury the hatchet. Kiss and makeup. No harm, no foul. It's all good. Boys will be boys. No problemo.

Why the change of heart? The Red Sox adamantly deny that they were drinking during the game, in the dugout!

Enough said. Mother Teresa would be proud. Pour me a double.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Prodigal Sox

What do the Red Sox 'owe' the fans...and themselves? There's not a fine line between reasonable and unreasonable. Fans expect maximum effort, physically and mentally, from THEIR team. Every member of the organization has to ask himself or herself, did I give it up or just give up?

I doubt you could find five people (of sound mind) who would question Dustin Pedroia's commitment and effort. David Ortiz said it himself, that he had never seen anyone who cared as much about baseball as the Sox second baseman. Fans will forgive, the moment that the organization and the players acknowledge that the letdown didn't "just happen".

By way of comparison, consider the most dreaded of times, 1986. No rational soul thought Bill Buckner didn't give the effort. People watched him painfully move around the diamond. Fans hated the outcome, and some hated the man, but for the wrong reason. Fast forward, to a team, not twenty-five guys in twenty-five cabs, but twenty-five limos. We perceive that players see fans as inconsequential whiners, shoeshine boys to their magnificant selves. That doesn't make it true, but perception becomes reality.

The Sox have a greater task winning back people's hearts than winning baseball games. Talent, with an appropriate dose of effort, wins a lot of athletic contests. Fans aren't bemoaning a lack of talent, we see something far worse, 'false hustle' and questionable integrity.

Owner John Henry was asked yesterday, "what could you have done differently?" He had a solid answer, "I don't know." In the long pull, perhaps what happened will reap positive rewards as the organizational culture changes into one with hungrier players. The fans come expecting not only winning baseball but PASSIONATE baseball. We feel betrayed and a half-hearted apologia will not soothe the collective animus of the nation.

I'm sure the marketing crew is working overtime to develop a campaign for absolution. What shibboleths get tossed around in times like these:
  • We owe you one.
  • Our fans make a difference.
  • Never again.
  • We know we blew it.
  • We will earn your trust.
  • We understand how you feel.
  • We'll show that we care as much as you do.
  • Something to prove.
  • More than a game...a way of life.
  • Family forgives.
  • We care.
I'm leaning to 'we will earn your trust'. But it's going to take a lot more than a slogan.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Focus on Goodwill: It's a Matter of Trust

Goodwill is a surplus of value that an organization or company holds above purchased value. Goodwill is "franchise value". We have to remember that as John Wooden said, "character is what you really are and reputation is what people say you are."

The Red Sox, currently of questionable character, despite all the good things that they've done for the community, have to rebuild their goodwill and convince people that the Sox deserve their loyalty AND their money.

Once again, management has taken the brunt of the criticism for behavior that ostensibly rests at the feet of players. Nobody says that players can't eat or drink alcohol. Maybe some players, like Mickey Mantle, functioned at a 'good' level even when intoxicated. But as Billy Joel would say, "it's a matter of trust", and the Sox need to come out and 1) accept responsibility, 2) promise organizational culture change, and 3) follow-through on it.

Nothing But the Truth: Clubhouse Drinking, Back to the Future

Drinking before or during a game isn't against the law for adults, but is it conducive to optimal performance? We know that alcohol impairs higher order brain function, and one would think that would apply to doing "the hardest thing in sports, hitting a round ball with a round bat."

Years ago, a Red Sox writer (not employed by Red Sox) spotted a Red Sox player drinking hard liquor before a game. The story was never written, never published. The player told the writer, "I am never going to talk with you again." Life went on, and the Red Sox and the player continued to have success.

More than anything else, education is about affecting change in behavior. I don't believe that players succeed or fail because they're not trying hard enough. You can't pitch better by gripping the ball tighter or hit better by holding the bat tighter. To succeed in baseball you need the right combination of God-given talents and inspiration-driven practice...and some luck.

Red Sox fans simply must ask whether management and players have done everything possible to allow the team and players to succeed. Have they looked in the mirror and said my prior is having the best quality process to yield the best outcome. If they haven't, then they must ask themselves, am I prepared to do make that commitment. If not, then those individuals must go, move on.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


They've taken your money. They've stolen your soul. They don't care about you. Your interest has gone to almost nothing. They have no principle? No, it's not Wall Street and the American banking community. It's the disorganization of the Boston Red Sox...the collective Sergeant Schultz of MLB.

Occupy Fenway...or maybe it should mean a grand shunning?

Will the Sox top brass (TPTB) look to be the Puppet Masters with their selection of in-house candidate Ben Cherington and GOK for manager? Hey, it's their money.

Can the attitude of the Whiny Little Pitchers be adjusted?

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Occupy Fenway

A movement spreads across the United States, without leadership, without remorse, and without specific demands. Ordinary Americans protest the squandering of our future by "The Powers That Be".

What could be more fitting than the epicenter at Fenway Park? The Henry, Dean Werner, and Lucchino money printers have globalized away Red Sox Nation with NASCAR and the other football, and now promise to get their collective eye back on the ball, importing conditioning to the Red Sox Way Weigh.

From champs twice in four years to epic collapse chumps, with the Red Sox fiscal policy of money for Lugo, Lackey, Crawford, and Drew looking as sound as Greek bailouts. The General Manager dons the gorilla suit for new reasons now, as rumor has it that he'll slink out of the Hub and become a Cub.

You can't really blame the players for drinking before, during, and after games. It really did get that bad. Now we hear that players don't want to take infield practice. That's kid stuff. Why play ball like Japanese professionals, who spend endless hours on fundamentals? What chance would they have in a World Baseball tournament against American professionals?

But enough with the misdirection already. Occupy Fenway. But who would notice, with the yachts, the soccer, auto racing, and of course, the Stanley Cup Champions back at the Garden...and on NESN? Still, it might be worth a try. But trying hasn't been big at Fenway lately.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Cliches, Mean Reversion, and a New Sheriff in Town

Nobody reading this column is in the Red Sox clubhouse. We don't know what really goes on amid the 'sanctity' of the locker room, where stale beer and frayed nerves are all that remains from the 2011 season.

Every season begets outliers, overachievement and underperformance. For every Jacoby Ellsbury leading the league in total bases, there's a sad story of injury (J.D. Drew) or unrequited glove (Carl Crawford). Mark Belanger hit .287 in 1969 for the Orioles who went to the World Series. His career average was .228. George Scott hit .303 in the Impossible Dream season of 1967 with 19 homers, and .171 with 3 homers the following season. Statistical aberration happens all too often on the diamond.

Ellsbury is more likely to be mortal next season and Crawford probable to revert to All-Star form. What will the triad of Beckett, Buchholz, and Lester do? We can't know, but we should probably worry about starters 4-7 more than one through three.

Ask yourself about your job. Do your supervisors countenance drinking in your workplace? Do the senior workers routinely take advantage of their position whenever possible? I hope that's not a bad example.

We can't know who are the heroes and who are the zeros.  Do the greybeards add stability or headaches? Jason Varitek's attention to pregame detail was once legendary. Does that fire still burn and has that work ethic translated to the younger players? David Ortiz is one 'face of the Red Sox'. Is he the gentle giant who keeps things loose or a disgruntled soldier ROAD (retired on active duty)? Tim Wakefield took a long time to win his 200th game this season. Did sending him out there act as a net positive or a net negative in the wins and losses column?

Few baseball players will succeed absent 'good' statistics. I don't recall instances where players should have moved the runner along and failed because of personal agendas. Occasionally, players advanced runners with bunts that seemed out of place. Certainly nobody had sacrifice hit clauses.  There was talk of players placing personal goals ahead of team goals. Was that about Wakefield or someone else? Certainly Ortiz would have liked to have had 100 RBI, and that didn't happen. Was that an underlying theme in the clubhouse?

Just because we don't know the facts doesn't mean they don't exist. What is the Red Sox way? Is it more like the Red Sox Weigh? Which GM selects the new sheriff to clean up the town? Is there an unwritten timetable around the World Series?

The only question that should be on the plate of ownership, the GM, and the new manager should be "what must be done to return the team to contending form"?  This year turned into pretending. If some players have acted as spoiled children, then adult leadership needs to apply the discipline required. If the Sox clubhouse became Pleasure Island, then no wonder they all looked like jackasses in the end.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

How Moneyball Ruined Baseball

The wanting comes from not having. Red Sox fans suffered almost a century without a championship, and then got two within four seasons. They had some luck and pluck, and of course, the 'run prevention' before it became a design, with outstanding pitching from Schilling, Martinez, Lowe, and Lester, and more.

Baseball started to retreat into oblivion in America with the LaRussan Gambit, the left-right, four pitchers in an inning tedium that helped the Oakland A's become a power. But it's reached its nadir in interest (and watchability) not because of steroids or science (instructional and game video), but because of mathematics.

Who are the best pitchers on your team, generally? The starters, with not only power, but an assortment of pitches, and of course, pitching skill. If were all about stuff, then Andrew Miller would be a premium starter. So just as in Michael Lewis' "Blind Side", the left tackle position became critical to defeat the blind side rushers like Lawrence Taylor, baseball's stat geeks (like the Red Sox' own Bill James) developed a COUNTER for premium starting pitching.

Baseball no longer sought only sluggers, but players who could 'work the count', have quality at bats, and wear down the opponent's starters, fighting a war of attrition, away from the best pitchers into the soft underbelly of the enemy bullpen. If you're not happy with the Matt Albers and Franklin Morales of the Sox pen, then similarly most teams feel likewise about their pen pals.

Granted, the hitters who can foul off innumerable pitches or show 'plate discipline' are in limited supply. We can recall the Rod Carew or Wade Boggs or Johnny Damon who could have those 6, 8, 10 pitch at bats, but now 'taking pitches' has become an art form. The Sox have a plethora of hitters who can drive pitch counts to astronomical heights, the Yankees have the Jeter, Swisher, Teixeira types in their lineup who do the same.

And what you get is boredom, disinterest, and games that routinely go past four hours. Has the national pastime seen it's time pass?

Baseball has the potential for plenty of exciting plays, with steals, hit-and-runs, electric double plays, and home run robbing catches. But watching guys take an ever-increasing number of pitches?  Tony LaRussa and Billy Beane, pioneers of modern baseball, or its destroyers?

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The Big Shot

Jackie McMullen did a great job of laying out the warts on the 2011 Red Sox. Can you really die from a thousand paper cuts?

The Red Sox fired Terry Francona (don't reinvent history) because the players tuned him out. Replacing one man is easier than twenty-five. And understanding the complex personalities in twenty-first century baseball won't be solved by a whiz kid.

If you believe that leadership matters, then you'll need a strong manager, and that may depend on what direction ownership goes with the GM. In other words, there's a trickle-down leadership theory. If you get an uber-strong manager, you won't get an inflexible, power-crazed GM, probably something more of a puppet for you know whom.

The team needs to decide what the new 'core' is.

Dustin Pedroia should be named Captain, and the Sox need to get 'hungrier', however you do that. The question is whether they have to clean house or just sanitize a sunshine-free clubhouse.

Can you rehabilitate the clubhouse without getting rid of the greybeards and disaffected? I don't think so, and that means not resigning Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek. Loyalty is a two-way street, and there's no $ in loyalty.

1B - Gonzalez...does he really need attitude adjustment or just more happiness?
2B - Pedroia...the heart and soul of the team
SS -  Will a Lowrie/Iglesias platoon allow a decision to come down?
3B - Youkilis. A terrific player wearing down from injury and a questionable influence (per the MSM).
LF - Crawford will be better. He can't be more mediocre.
CF - Ellsbury. The Anointed One. Will he even think of staying if there's a rift with unspecified players and him?
RF - Open competition between Kalish and Reddick. Are the Sox too left-handed? Doubt the Sox will want to spend here with pitching needs.
C -  Saltalamacchia and Lavarnway - can Lavarnway fit in the DH picture?
DH - Maybe the hardest question of all. Ortiz has remained productive and a face of the franchise...and with a big salary for a DH.
Utility - Aviles played well. He seems like a keeper.

SP - Beckett, Lester, Buchholz
SP4 - Lackey - bad contract, bad attitude, bad guy or misunderstood? If the Sox could trade his bad contract for somebody else's bad contract, then everyone might be less miserable
SP4a - This will probably be a TOP priority of free agency
SP5 - Can Weiland, Doubront, or Alex Wilson step up?
SP6 - Sox clearly have to know that they need far more pitching depth.

Setup - Bard, far from a lost cause
Closer - High priority after managerial issue


  • GM decision
  • Manager
  • DH
  • Closer
  • Starting pitching 
  • Right-field
  • Shortstop
Off-the books:
  • J.D. Drew  14 Million
  • Tim Wakefield  1.5 Million
  • Jason Varitek  2 Million
  • Marco Scutaro 6 Million
  • ? David Ortiz  12.5 million
Salary rising:
  • Gonzalez (a lot)
  • Pedroia (2.5 M)
  • Ellsbury (TBA)
  • Lester  (2 M)

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Arms Race

You hear a lot of talk about Tampa making the playoffs as though it were some incredible statistical aberration. The substantial part of the problem follows the in-house development of the Rays' rotation, compared to the outhouse performance of the Red Sox rotation. The Sox allowed 123 more runs than the Rays this year. We used to hear about run prevention, now the Sox lead the league in 'spin'.

The Rays can run out David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, and Matt Moore.

The Red Sox "Big Three" of Josh Beckett, John Lester, and Clay Buchholz either struggled or were MIA down the stretch, although Lester's final game quality start shouldn't be dismissed. Running a lackluster Lackey, an aged Wakefield, and unproven Weiland out there proved to be a mound of trouble. If being a great guy were qualifications, then we should see if the Dali Lama were available for the Sox rotation.

Nobody's saying Felix Doubront, Anthony Ranaudo, Weiland, or Alex Wilson are ready to step in at a level approaching the Tampa staff. That's the crux of the problem, the Sox are losing the arms race.

If you want to get somewhere, then you better have a plan on how to get there. Currently, the Sox have talent, but suffer organizational disarray and dysfunction. The Red Sox way? What is that? The Sox need to articulate a new plan, a new code, something beyond 'throw money at it'. Their charitable endeavors and media empire be praised, Sox fans want to see a better product on the field.

It's hard to stand tall, if there's nothing you stand for.

Maybe the Dali Lama put it simply, “Open your arms to change, but don't let go of your values.”