Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Ghost of Accountability

Describing the Boston Red Sox as a franchise with the Death of Accountability misrepresents reality. The players have collectively never owned accountability. In 1967 and 1975, the Sox got beaten by better teams, those with Bob Gibson and Lou Brock and the Big Red Machine. Let's forget about late-season baserunning in 1972. In 1986, it's hard not to represent defeat as the ugliest word in sports, choking. 2003 had a unique form of torture, and since then it's been Shangri-La, even when it isn't.

Collective failure always belongs to ownership, the general manager, or the manager. Terry Francona wasn't the first to take the fall. Does anyone remember Grady Little?

It's never the players who are responsible for their play or their behavior. They're our guys, in psychology, cloaked in endowment effect...the coffee cup that you would sell at a yard sale for two dollars is only worth a dollar if you had to buy it. It's our cup, and dammit, it's special.

That doesn't mean that individual accountability never existed. Hall of Famer Jim Rice, described as surly by many media types, worked hard to become a more than adequate defender, and took responsibility for the bad days in defeat.

But for the most part, players live by the "easier to ask forgiveness than permission" philosophy. Perhaps our society based on the individual breeds contempt for the greater good. We don't like homelessness or poverty, but we don't want higher taxes. We're not really accountable. We love beer and chicken in the clubhouse...but the new NESN Sox slogan is EVERY GAME MATTERS, not EAT MORE CHICKEN.

The latest frontal assault on our fanatic sensibilities is the "empty pockets" theory of baseball. Although the Red Sox have emptied the fans' pockets, they have no dollars for the bullpen because a third of the payroll is on the DL. And because certain players want foremost to 'get paid', they all but refuse to go to the pen, where payrolls top out below the glamour and greenbacks of the fifth starter.

Heck, you win twelve games in the majors and you're J. Paul Getty. A career record of 113-105 earns the Bronson Arroyos of the world average salaries of far over 10 million dollars (read the fine print). That's not a knock on Boston's favorite pitcher guitarist, that's the going rate.

Players talk about knowing their role. At the plate, you're up there to produce, sometimes with Doctor Longball, and other times moving the runner over. If you're on 'the bump', you get guys out, whether you're in the front, middle, or back end.

But in 2012 it's more about you than about the team. I'm sympathetic to a player's preferences, but you play for the team, not the other way around. In Ball Four, Jim Bouton closed, "You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time."  We can't have the death of accountability here, because it's been dead so long we're seeing the ghost of accountability. 

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