The Curse of the Bambino? That’s old news. The Red Sox now are the cream of the crop these days in the Major Leagues, which is a long way since their days of misery and woe. With the Sox finally breaking through and winning the World Series in 2004 and repeating in 2007, they began a new era in New England. Winning, however, leads to higher standards and expectations. If not handled correctly, you can lose your identity in this transitional process.
Look at the Chicago Cubs. They are nicknamed the lovable losers because losing is the expectation on the North Side of Chicago. Cubs fans accept the fact that the Cubs are not supposed to be good, and it is OK. When you go to a cheap horror film these days, you still enjoy the movie even though you know chances are you are not really going to get scared. Mistakes and bad breaks are supposed to happen at Wrigley Field, and this is the culture that has existed there since 1908. This same ideology existed for the people of Fenway Park, but not anymore for the Red Sox after breaking through in October. They had created a new standard of winning and could finally give the New York Yankees a run for their money, literally. However this new winning environment comes with dangerous territory.
The staple of the Red Sox teams that won two World Series was grittiness, toughness and hustle. Nicknamed the idiots, led by caveman-looking Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar, this group of guys represented all hard-working class people. They were not pretty boys like Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. They sported beards, probably didn’t brush their teeth and grinded everything out like it was their last day on Earth. Instead of dating celebrities like Cameron Diaz and Jordana Brewster, most Red Sox players preferred bromances and men’s stags. You could tell. They had fun. They fought until the very end. And they won.
This hard-nosed persona however seemed to change over time. With winning comes fame and media attention. The phrase sell-out comes to mind when I think of the non-famous getting famous. Led by Terry Francona, the Red Sox became lazy and strayed away from the ways that brought them success. Those beards were being shaved making us realize why they weren’t dating those aforementioned. The inmates started to realize that they were good, and bought too much into their own hype. They lost their identity and started to run the asylum themselves.
They “shed their beard” when they lost Damon and Millar to free agency. Ironically Damon went to the Yankees, definitely not selling out (sarcasm intended). David Ortiz was still there, but steroid rumors were circling around his name like vultures to a desert carcass. Jonathan Papelbon was becoming more known for his media outrages on social topics than closing games. Josh Beckett and John Lackey had VIP access to the disabled list, finally showing the treads on their tires. Rumor had it that some of players would be drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during the games. Even for the idiots, that was dumb given this era of social media. From the naked eye, winning wasn’t as important as it used to be.
The Red Sox tried signing big free agents like Carl Crawford in a Yankee-like move, but this proved to be unsuccessful. They even invested in the Japanese phenom pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka. Sure he showed flashes of brilliance, but injuries and declining stuff yielded a poor return on investment. Injuries and blowing leads seemed to be the new theme for the Sox. The team chemistry was falling apart and it was plain for every fan to see. The team eventually fired Francona, who found a new home in broadcasting before landing another manager gig in Cleveland this year.
In an effort to bring in a new voice for this team, the Red Sox hired former Mets manager Bobby Valentine last year. But despite his last name, there was very little love shared amongst the team. Valentine is a candid fellow, and openly criticized his players to the media often, which rubbed a lot of them the wrong way. And when he went after the heart and soul of the team in Dustin Pedroia, the fans started to turn against the new leader of the pack. Combined with more losing, the Valentine experiment was aborted after only one year. He has been rumored to attend some Red Sox games this year, but wears a fake moustache and glasses to disguise himself. However, the real disguise was looming over the Red Sox organization. Their new era of a winning expectation was not working, and the machine needed to be tweaked.
The Red Sox went back to the basics. Out with the old and in with the new. They shipped out Adrian Gonzalez, Crawford and Beckett to the Dodgers. Papelbon signed with the Phillies. The got less flashy and started to revamp their team to resemble more of those idiots. They signed Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino as undervalued free agents and they have been a perfect fit in Boston. They went from having one Drew brother in J.D. to another one in Stephen. They went within the division to hire their new manager.
The new sheriff in town was John Farrell. Farrell is a strong silent type who leads by example, and is now a leading candidate for Manager of the Year. Big Papi is back, crushing home runs (and telephones), leading this team to a playoff berth with co-captain Pedoria. They have homegrown prospects in Daniel Nava, Will Middlebrooks, and Felix Doubront, contributing to the cause. Their pitching is led by ace Jon Lester, who is pitching like Sandy Koufax. Lackey must have gone on the Subway diet because he is thin, healthy and throwing cheese to the hitters. Their bullpen is comprised of a bunch of no-namers who just come in, gets outs and do their job. They acquired veteran Jake Peavy at the trade deadline, a common staple of any contending team. More symbolically, the beards are back. Johnny Gomes and Napoli are the new cavemen for the team, illustrating that tough and gritty mentality of the team is back in full force.
The Boston Red Sox have one of the best records in baseball this year. They are running away with the AL East and set up for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and another World Series title. They are playing fundamental baseball. Working the count, hustling, cheering for teammates and most importantly, having fun doing it. The players are no longer bigger than the game, but vice versa. The Red Sox are resembling those teams that broke the Curse of the Bambino. They dropped the tuxedos and Gucci sunglasses and put on their cargo jeans and working boots. They lost their identity and tried to be a group of people they were definitely not. Leave those shenanigans to the Yankees boys. They might not be the idiots we fell in love with in years past, but they are on their way to re-branding a new version of hard work, team play and scrappiness for Red Sox Nation.
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