Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Asbestos Pants

It hasn't taken Terry Francona long to enter the fray concerning the free-for-all that has been the Red Sox clubhouse. He has the opportunity to wear two hats, his ESPN Commentator hat, and the jilted manager cap.  Everyone recognizes that with more freedom (alcohol, curfew, miscellaneous rules) comes great responsibility. Invariably, if one asks adults to behave in a mature, considerate, responsible manner, we sometimes err. Of course, the old saying, "it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission also applies."

When we look historically at the adults called professional ballplayers, referencing timeless classics like Jim Bouton's "Ball Four", we know that baseball clubhouses involve not semantics, but some antics.

“Throw him low smoke and we'll go pound some Budweiser.”

As the new Skipper, you can't take the "boys will be boys" approach. Red Sox management made the traditional "managerial alternans" choice, of a 'task-oriented' leader from a 'relationship oriented' one. That happens because, while nice guys may not always finish last, narcissistic multimillionaire athletes tend to walk over, not around them.

Bobby Valentine has already mused that he may have to confront some residual anger. So, wearing my Sox jacket, contemplating my Beckett-autographed Wheaties box, I wonder whom he might be thinking about.

Terry Francona took some heat from Major League Baseball about its dress code, demanding that he be in full uniform under his outer attire. Cup check? Well, Bobby Valentine probably has to come to the park not with body armor yet, but at least with asbestos pants.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Nothing Like a Cold Bier

Beergate simply won't die. I really hate the 'gate' suffix, but it fits here, because like it or not, it helped contribute to the perception that Terry Francona got the 'gate'.

I'm not very sympathetic to so-called professionals whose immaturity or lack of discipline got exposed, and who then cry foul. Once again, it's not the behavior that's the problem, it's revealing it.

I can't imagine that patrons would be happy to hear that their surgeon drank in the doctor's lounge during a 'case', even if it were unlikely that he'd get called into surgery. Rumors of pregame drinking (position player) still exist, although that player's no longer a member of Ye Olde Towne Team.

Baseball, like many other professions, is a 'bottom-line' business. You can eat, drink, or carouse your way out of a team. If you have a problem with alcohol, then you'd better perform at a high level when you're not drinking. Sometimes character issues make it unlikely that a player can ever come back to a team. There's no point in naming names, because many of you know the player often mentioned as returning to the Sox, who never makes it here.

Would we be better off had the Sox simply won a couple more games, made the playoffs, and had ignorance proven bliss? How many times have you watched some atrocity, be it Bucky Dent or some other walkoff play and said, "I'll never watch them again." Sure, that's like Steve Howe giving up drugs as a player. It could have happened.

Nobody expects ballplayers to be saints. That's not their job. But if a lack of conditioning, a lack of concentration, and a lack of caring for the welfare of their team because of excessive distractions compromises the bottom line, blaming the media or the fans really doesn't cut it.

Few people are blessed with the athleticism and ability of professional athletes. Many fans make sacrifices so they and their families can go to a ballgame, paying high prices to watch their heroes. They shower these athletes with adulation. Is it unfair to ask for 'best effort' in return?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sentiment and Hope

Tim Wakefield, author of two hundred career wins, the third highest win total of any Red Sox pitcher, and apparently a very good man, retires.  Other than dying, the best way to earn great praise is to retire.

Make no mistake, examining Wakefield's entire body of work, from his illustrious beginnings in 1995 for the Sox, to post-season contributions, and charity work, he has a great, supportable narrative. But the past two seasons, he became more of a liability than an asset, especially when the Sox ran him out there time after time (eight) in pursuit of victory two-hundred. One can argue that the horrendous start, the Wakefield 200 tour, and the September collapse all had roles. Similarly, let none of us forget the Jacksonian "what have you done for me lately" attitude that baseball fans live. I never felt that he was out there just picking up a paycheck.

Maybe that's harsh, in light of the 'good soldier' ethic that might have entitled Wakefield to a few private moments of selfishness for desiring individual milestones. Don't we want our athletes to seek greatness?

It's hard for athletes past their prime to walk away, especially when they know that on a given day, they can still compete at a high level. Watching Kevin Garnett hasn't become as painful as it must be for him to see his declining consistency. And Wakefield wouldn't have been looking for a payday anywhere near that of Garnett.

So, I'm happy for Wakefield, with a memorable career, an All-Star appearance, the former 'active' leader in career wins, and a handful of Cy Young votes in 1995. He should have a wonderful retirement with his beautiful family. If he desires to have an extended career in broadcasting or other baseball-related field, I'm all for it. But I am not sad to see him leave the playing field.