Fair-Weather Fenway

They should play “The Thrill is Gone”  instead of “Sweet Caroline” at Fenway Park.

Prior to the 2012 MLB season, I predicted the Boston Red Sox would finish in last place in the AL East:

But the biggest story in the 2012 season will come out of Boston. Later this month, Fenway Park will commemorate its 100th anniversary. This month also marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and I believe the Red Sox season will bear a great deal of resemblance to it. I suppose we can be grateful that no women and children will be involved.

Well, the Red Sox aren’t in last place in the AL East. (That distinction belongs to the Toronto Blue Jays.) But they might as well be. As of this writing, the Red Sox are 62-74 and stand 15 games back of the New York Yankees. They went 9-20 in August and have lost seven straight through Labor Day. The collapse of September 2011 was merely the tip of the iceberg:

It may very well have been time for Terry Francona to move on. Even with two World Series titles under his belt, all good things must come to an end. But hiring Bobby Valentine reeks of desperation. The Red Sox collapse has only just begun and making Valentine the captain of the ship means they are accelerating towards the iceberg. Valentine and new Red Sox GM Ben Cherington have already butted heads over whether to put Daniel Bard in the starting rotation or whether Jose Iglesias or Mike Aviles should be the starting shortstop. If they’re having problems before the first pitch of the 2012 season, then imagine how things could be in the dog days of August.

Although there will be much reverie when Fenway Park marks its 100th anniversary, as a Red Sox fan it pains me to say there will be little joy at Yawkey Way this season. 

The Red Sox began taking on water in spring training. Not only did they hit the iceberg but they have done so repeatedly with no rescue boats much less a life preserver in sight. Whether it was Bobby Valentine publicly questioning Kevin Youkilis’ desire, Josh Beckett’s ill-advised golf outing, the Daniel Bard fiasco, saddling poor Bob McClure with an “assistant pitching coach” (who is now the pitching coach) or having only four Red Sox players bothering to show up for Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky’s funeral, even the Green Monster could no longer act as a levy. After trading Beckett, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, outfielder Carl Crawford, and infielder Nick Punto to the Los Angeles Dodgers for underachieving first baseman James Loney and a couple of baseball a weekend ago, the Red Sox finally sunk.

Now there is sliver of optimism in the mega-trade. The Red Sox now have a quarter of a billion they no longer have to pay AGon, Crawford, and Beckett. But the Red Sox have already proved they aren’t too big to fail. They can have all the money in the world. It isn’t going to do them any good as long as Bobby V. remains captain of the ship. Sure, he can’t be blamed entirely for all that has gone wrong this season. But every time I see him in the dugout he looks like he’d rather be somewhere else. When I see him interviewed by Jenny Dell after yet another loss, he can’t look at her and it isn’t hard to look at Ms. Dell. His hair turns grayer with each passing game. Perhaps he would like to be back in the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball booth where Terry Francona is now ensconced. I’m sure most of the Red Sox clubhouse would be happy if the two were once again to trade places.

When I told friends and colleagues of my prospectus for the Red Sox in 2012, they invariably scoffed. Sure they had a bad break in 2011 but they would be stronger in 2012. However, slowly but surely, the reality has dawned on them and others around New England that this isn’t their year. These sentiments have accelerated during their 9-20 August which included extra inning losses to both the Los Angeles Angels and the Kansas City Royals in which they blew a six run lead. Throw in a dugout confrontation between Dustin Pedroia and Alfredo Aceves not to mention Red Sox ownerhip making a road trip to Seattle. John Henry doesn’t fly to the Pacific Northwest to tell Bobby Valentine what a great job he is doing.  You know all has written off when Red Sox Nation would rather watch pre-season Patriots football.

Fenway Park’s consecutive sold-out games streak (a streak that began in 2003) ought to have ended at 781 games last Monday during an afternoon game against the Royals at 781 games,. Of course, there is an argument that this streak already ended earlier this season by the increasingly empty seats in plain view at Yawkey Way. The Red Sox might also want to stop playing “Sweet Caroline” in the middle of the 8th inning. Things aren’t “so good, so good, so good” anymore. These days the only people who want to hear it are Neil Diamond and his accountant. At this point, the Sox would probably be better served playing B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.”

Indeed, Red Sox Nation has become Fair-weather Fenway. There’s no greater proof of that as with the reaction I get from both colleagues and strangers to my Red Sox cap. A year ago, that cap would have cost me $25. In June, it cost me $6. Although only 2½ months old, it looks like it was worn for a decade by Trot Nixon. These days they ask me, “Are you still wearin’ that thing?”

Well, I seem to remember a certain lyric in “Take Me Out to The Ballgame” which says, “Root, root, root for the home team/If they don’t win it’s a shame.” And yes, the 2012 Boston Red Sox are a shame. But I will still root, root, root for them for better or for worse. Which means the cap stays on — even if I buy new one before this season is over.

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