Hey, Red Sox Nation: daily drama is a bit much to the rest of us
Everything that surrounds Red Sox, big and small, is treated like the Hindenburg
New manager Bobby Valentine didn't take long to ignite a firestorm this season
Even well-loved players like beloved slugger David Ortiz have been stirring the pot
There aren't a lot of accessories in Flyover Country. No beaches, no mountains, few really tall buildings. In Cincinnati, there isn't a lot of history stored in museums. We are not The Hub of the Universe, the way Boston has decided it is.
But we're not nuts.
Here's what you notice, after you've lived on the East Coast for most of the first three decades of your life, then spent the next two decades elsewhere:
Elsewhere actually exists.
It's not a loud place. It doesn't obsess over itself. It's provincial. Every place is provincial. But it doesn't, you know, dwell on it.
Which gets us to the Boston Red Sox. Around here, the Boston Red Sox look like a bunch of fools. They're a klatsch of 1950s housewives playing Mah Jong and complaining about their husbands. Their followers are so self-absorbed, they think it's perfectly normal.
It's not normal. It's daytime TV, every day, weekends included. In Boston, everything is coated with the goo of melodrama. Do they actually play hardball in Fenway Park? Or simply gather to complain and speculate?
The other day, David Ortiz had something to complain about. I'm guessing he had to take a number. "I don't get no respect," Big Papi declared. "Not from the media. Not from the front office. What I do is never the right thing. You hit 54 home runs, then hit 35, it's not good enough. How many people hit 35? Never good enough, bro. That's why I don't care.''
Ortiz was mad, apparently, because he suspected he hadn't been getting enough credit as a "leader in the clubhouse.'' (What does that require in Boston? A whip and a chair, or a guest spot on Desperate Housewives?) "No matter what you do, it's not good enough. And you can only call leaders the guys who are out diving for balls on the field or calling pitches behind the plate?"
The last was apparently a reference to retired catcher Jason Varitek and all-star second baseman Dustin Pedroia. But it could have been about anyone. So never mind.
A month or so ago, the new manager, Bobby Valentine, suggested that cornerstone third baseman Kevin Youkilis wasn't trying hard enough. Lots of baseball savants believed adding the volatile Bobby V to the Boston mix was a bad move. Please don't smoke that cigar next to that pile of oily rags.
Actually, it was genius. A manager who loves himself, partnered with 25 guys who feel the same way. Still, to question Youkilis' dedication was a little much, even in Boston. "That's not the way we do things around here,'' Pedroia suggested, in rebuttal.
Because pettiness, insecurity and egotism abhor a vacuum in Boston, we had to hear about Josh Beckett playing golf. Earlier this month, he played the day after he was scratched from a start with a sore lat muscle. Then he got bombed his next time out. (Check that. He got hit really hard.)
Here's a newsflash: Pitchers play golf. In season. Especially starting pitchers. You could argue stridently that Beckett shouldn't have played when he did, if only for appearances sake. But it wasn't quite the Hindenburg. Except in Boston, where everything is the Hindenburg.
We don't behave this way elsewhere. More often than not, we allow the games to speak for themselves, and the players to describe the games. If they play well, they're not superhuman and infallible. If they don't, it wasn't because they weren't dedicated or played golf on an off day or drank beer on days they weren't pitching. It was because they had a bad day.
The games are the thing. Not the insignificance that clutters them.
In other towns not near the Hub of the Universe, last September's monumental Red Sox collapse (7-20 record, losing a nine-game lead) would have been explained as poor play at a bad time. It happens. Or players being hurt. Some might have suggested choking was involved. Not in Boston, where players are so exalted and fans so cocooned, it couldn't possibly have been as simple as that. It was three starting pitchers eating fried chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse during games in which they weren't participating.
It was the former manager, dealing with marital issues and painkillers. It was players who were mad because they had to play a doubleheader to beat an oncoming hurricane. Of course it was.
I was a kid reporter in 1986 when I walked into the Mets clubhouse after a game. The first player I saw was Keith Hernandez. All-star, MVP, a supposed key to the clubhouse vibe in that crazy season. He had a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The Mets won the World Series that year.
Ballplayers are ballplayers. Every team is going to have selfish players, overly self-absorbed players and players who don't get no respect. Even players who play golf on off days and eat chicken in the clubhouse.
Boston does not own the market on players like this. It just thinks it does.
Every team that has ever played, has played poorly at exactly the wrong time. Few find the sort of melodramatics and overall gracelessness to explain their shortcomings the way the Red Sox have. Poor Terry Francona. He won 744 games and two World Series titles in eight years managing the Red Sox. For that, he sees his life become grist for the soap opera mill. He's nothing more than a supporting actor in the baseball's longest-running melodrama. Susan Lucci could play for the Red Sox.
Do the Red Sox and their Nation do anything with dignity? No wonder Ted Williams blew off the final curtain call.
Paul Daugherty is a columnist for The Cincinnati Enquirer.
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