Monday, August 13, 2012

Why the Sox Suck in 2012

Photos: Three out of about a dozen I took at Fenway, August 7, 2012.  Fenway's always beautiful.

I know this isn't my sports blog, but I haven't written there in awhile, and this is a very important issue, as it pertains not just to this sports team, but in many ways to our reality as a whole.  Read it and maybe you'll see what I mean.

The Sox suck this year because the team is essentially mismanaged (the manager's fault), misguided (the administration's fault), underperforming (the players' fault, though there have been an unbelievable number of injuries, but more on that later), and misappropriated (players are assuming roles they shouldn't be).  In other words, it's like most offices and businesses out there.  See if your workplace compares:

1.  Bobby Valentine, the manager, hasn't managed a team since 2002, and it shows.  I don't blame him for taking the job, but it's a mystery why someone with no big-league experience in ten years (which is an eternity in professional sports) is offered the job in the first place.  Ten years ago there was much less reliance on numbers; baseball today is mostly guided by data-driven decisions based on specific situations.  I'll go more into this in a moment, but a guy who hasn't managed in ten years can't be expected to learn all of the changes in the game--of which there have been a great many--during a tumultuous season in the most fan-driven and media-scrutinized job in all of baseball.  It's unfair to ask it of the guy, and that says a lot, because I dislike him immensely as a person (extremely narcissistic) and as a manager (does not make the simple, basic managerial decisions very well, and tends to chastise his players to the media), and yet I still have to say that he can't possibly be expected to learn all of this on the go in a chaotic environment in an already-impossible job.

How many of my readers have a manager/supervisor/boss who's completely out of his element, due to years away from the job, or to a lack of essential knowledge of the job?  And with bad people-skills, too?

2.  The Red Sox administration this year is essentially in Chicago right now, misguiding the Cubs.  Ben Cherington was the Asst. G.M. for a long time, and he's now the Sox's G.M., but he's working with a team that Theo Epstein put together.  Cherington is therefore stuck with long contracts and underperforming players that is both hurting the play on the field and strapping their resources to get better players in the future.  Basically, he inherited an impossible situation made worse by an unknowledgeable and bad manager and severely underperforming players.  Just after Epstein made the great trade for Adrian Gonzalez, he blundered badly by signing Carl Crawford to a long, ridiculous contract, and John Lackey, too.  It's like he was a gambler who won the jackpot, and in his excitement and hubris, bet all the money on two bets and lost it all.  Those decisions were the opposite of the baseball decisions that made the Sox great for so long: spending affordable money on smart, productive, workman-like players who were solid defensively, worked the count, had great on-base percentages, and kept the lineup moving.  But he also got players who could handle the chaos of the Boston fans and media, and that's not your typical player.  Carl Crawford, it seems, is the prototype of a player who cannot handle this circus.  He does not thrive in it; in fact, it clearly hurts him, both on the field and in his head.  He's said so.  Does that matter if he's making $120 million?  Yes, it definitely does.  Quieter places like Tampa Bay are perfect for him; he'll flourish where he's not under the microscope.  That's just the type of player he is, and the administration needs to know that his mental makeup is just as important, if not more so, than his makeup as a player.  He'll excel again if he's traded to Minnesota, Oakland, Kansas City, Seattle, or someplace like that.  He's simply a bad fit for his environment.

They also fired a great manager who, as we're now seeing, managed not just the team very well, but also the individual players.  It was said that they wouldn't play for him in the second half last year, but that says more about Beckett and Lester than it did about him.  I know managers are hired to be fired, and that you can't fire all the players, but you can certainly discipline two of them.  Had that happened, Francona would be around, he'd be managing the team and the individual players better, and they'd be winning.  I'm reminded of Joe Morgan, popular and good Sox manager of another era, who said, after he was fired, that the team wasn't as good as the administration thought it was.  He was right, because they fell off the planet after he was fired.  I see the same here.  Morgan, and now Francona, were clearly the glue that held their teams together.  Firing Francona was a travesty that the team is now paying dearly for.  

Sound familiar?  How many of us work for an administration short on an understanding of human nature, or the psyches of its employees--or simply doesn't care?  How many of us work with someone who's normally great, with a solid reputation and stat sheet, but is a poor fit for the environment he's been placed in?  And how many of us have seen a good, popular leader go just because of one bad stretch that he didn't cause, that was made much worse after he left?

3. The veteran players are simply, and excessively, underperforming.  Beckett and Lester should win 18-20 games each, and eat up a ton of innings.  Before the middle of last year, that's who they were and that's what they did.  Since then, they just plain suck.  They're so bad, I can't even tell you why, except they're not throwing as hard, and they're walking too many guys and they're leaving their pitches up and over the plate.  That's why every bad pitcher is bad, so I don't know what else to say.  I'm suspecting, though, that Terry Francona managed his team better than the administration thought.  I said that above and I'll say it again.

And the other guys?  Bad fits.  Cody Ross is a swing-for-the-fences guy who'll win some games with a heroic longball, like at the end of July, but he'll finish with just 80-90 RBIs, a below-.500 slugging percentage and few walks.  He doesn't keep the line moving.  Saltalamacchia is the same, but worse.  Worse than that, he doesn't call or catch a good game.  (Jason Varitek is very badly missed.  Salty caught most of the games during the collapse last year and during this terrible year.)  Sweeney is a singles hitter who will hit .280-.300, but not walk, or hit for extra bases, and now he's probably done for the year because his fist got into a fight with a wall, and the wall won.  (He apparently doesn't hit for extra bases in the head, either.)  Ellsbury is often injured and was again this year.  When he's healthy, he's great.  Ditto for Pedroia; his thumb is still bothering him.  Same for Ortiz, and his heel.  Youkillis was done; replacing him with Middlebrooks is fine with me (and now he's on the DL for a long time with a fractured wrist), but it was excessively mishandled by the manager and the front office, both of which lost this year's fans (and a few of its players) by how they dealt with him.  Aceves is doing the best he can, but he's a great 7th and 8th inning guy forced to be the closer because Bailey, a great closer, has been on the DL all year.  That's misappropriation.  Injuries have killed this year, sure, but there was just as much of that last year, when they missed the playoffs by one game.  Despite all the drama at the end, they clearly would've made the playoffs last year but for the injuries; you can't say that about this year.

And the whole team is basically being blown up because of the personalities of just three or four guys, out of the hundreds involved in its daily operation.  I'm thinking specifically of Valentine, Beckett and Lester.

Injuries are being used as an excuse to hide all of the above.  How about it?  Does that sound familiar too?


  1. I speak from experience when I say if a team is poorly managed, the lack of productivity will trickle down from administration all the way to the staff. If the manager isn't put his best effort forward and figuring out ways to improve performance then moral will be low and frankly nobody will care.

    If children are acting up and spoiled, you look to the parents. If students are failing and not learning you look to the teacher (and parents..or the student themselves.), if a company is performing sub par then you look to the manager or director. Who is in charge of these people? Who is taking responsibility for what's going wrong in the work place? Well certainly it works the same with baseball. Perhaps the manager is not solely the person to blame, but it's wise to start there. Then figure out who else is not doing their job or not cut out for it in the first place. Or who simply doesn't care anymore.

    People skills are of the utmost importance when dealing with a team or a company with many personnel. Without basic knowledge of how to communicate problems and trouble shoot then it will remain a sinking ship.

    By the way, The Mets seem to be sucking too.

    1. All very true, and even more so the past couple of games. It's come out now that last month many of the Sox players--even Gonzalez, who never whines or complains--asked for a meeting with the administration so that they could air their grievances about Bobby Valentine. The ones I've heard don't impress me much--that he left Lester in a game to give up 11 runs, for example (the ace of the staff, which he's supposed to be, is supposed to suck up innings and save the bullpen from deleting itself in a now-lost game; and Toronto management used to leave Hentgen, Halladay and its other aces in there to give up a ton of runs for just this reason--and, besides, instead of blaming the manager, how about blaming yourself for giving up 11 runs amidst your other crappy performances all of this year and half of last?); but there are so many other, better reasons to complain about Bobby Valentine, such as his inherent narcissistic and belligerent nature, how he alienates the players, how he clearly mismanages during the ballgame (but not by leaving an ace starter in too long), how he doesn't make even the simplest of moves or decisions during a game...

      I could go on. And though the Mets are not doing well lately, they are still in much better shape than are the Sox. And the Sox just traded Shoppach to the Mets, so they can replace him with a stalwart in the organization who can't hit or call a good game (Lavarnway), and so they can run a veteran out there who's even worse than that (Saltalamacchia).

      Please, don't get me started. (Too late.)

    2. He sounds reminiscent of Tom Hanks' character in "A League of their Own" who was a useless, egotistical manager who slept while the players made their own decisions. It appears the entire team needs an overhaul. And it's like you said if the REAL issue is not being discussed at meetings with administration then what's the point?

      Well I'm glad to hear there's more than a smidgen of hope left for The Mets. (Go NY!)