Feb 01, 2024, 06:29AM

Hopeless in Boston

The Red Sox are now the Pittsburgh Pirates.

David rubenstein reportedly talks purchase orioles.webp?ixlib=rails 2.1

Since I’m a one-sport guy, the conclusion of the NFL season on Feb. 11 is a date to circle. I won’t watch the Super Bowl and don’t care who wins—if Baltimore’s Ravens had defeated the Chiefs last Sunday, I would’ve passively rooted for them, only because it’d lift the spirits of a lot of Baltimoreans, and that’s always a benefit for the bleak city in which I live—or what advertising hits or misses. (A stray thought: is the old saw, a derivation of the cliché about purchasing Playboy, that “I only watch the Super Bowl for the commercials” still bandied about? My guess is no: since TV was turned upside-down—for better or worse—Americans have an aversion to ads of any kind.)

I watch and pull for the Boston Red Sox—since the early-1960s—and like most of the team’s fans, some apoplectic a few weeks before spring training commences, my expectations are low, figuring another last-place finish is in the cards. Majority owner John Henry (whose management scrums have delivered four World Championships this century, a not insignificant accomplishment that some choose to gloss over in this year of no expectations) has mandated a reduction in spending, a gambit his mouthpieces Tom Werner and Sam Kennedy have explained away as focusing on the club’s young players’ development, which comes off as a barrel of tainted lobster rolls to me.

Unlike the Los Angeles Dodgers—a distant second after the Yankees for my most-hated team—who’ve acquired so many star players (with very creative contracts that might be a blueprint for the future) that I wonder if MLB gave them a waiver on the 40-man roster, and have happily blown past the luxury tax, Henry’s gone the cheapskate route. I swear he’s emulating the Baltimore Orioles, whose 101-win season last year with a minuscule payroll was astonishing, especially since that team’s CEO, John Angelos, figuratively (or maybe not!) is one step away from The Crook’s Hall of Fame, spends more time shaking down Maryland’s Gov. Wes Moore for taxpayer money than improving his team, which is a candidate for regression in 2024. Could be that Henry (when he’s concentrating on baseball), Werner, Kennedy, new GM Craig Breslow and manager Alex Cora—and why wasn’t he, like Chaim Bloom, fired last year?—have studied the O’s and figured that’s a sound, if controversial, strategy.

(It was reported Tuesday night that the Angelos family has agreed to sell the Orioles—pending MLB approval, which could take several months—to Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein for $1.725 billion. Ares co-founder Michael Arougheti is part of the investment team, and O’s legend Cal Ripken Jr. is slated to take some role. It’s assumed that when/if the complicated deal is completed, the Orioles will be removed from cheapskate status.)

It's all a mystery to me. The Sox are a valuable franchise and ownership willfully conceding the season and taking hits in attendance, merchandise sales and low ratings at their TV station NESN doesn’t appear, on the surface, to make much sense. But I’m not a billionaire like Henry, so perhaps, charitably, he has a long-term financial plan for the Sox—just one component, but supposedly the jewel, of his Fenway Sports Group.

Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to the 162 games the Sox will play, although with eyes wide open and operating under the premise of Bob Dylan’s 1965 line, “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” I want to see Rafael Devers hit 50 homers, along with Triston Casas’ 35, Trevor Story living up to his ill-advised six-year contract, Jarren Duran hitting .290 and stealing 60 bases, and Brayan Bello’s 16 wins and a 2.98 ERA. And new acquisition Lucas Giolito’s redemptive Cy Young award. That’s the laughing gas taking effect, but even if all the above occurs, the Sox will likely finish in the cellar again.

That’s unsettling, but what the hell: baseball (as long as the Yankees suck) has a six-month rhythm I adhere to and that won’t change. I can’t stand NESN’s play-by-play announcer Dave O’Brien—bland bloviation—but get a kick out of “color” commentator Kevin Youkilis, who talks about food more than baseball, and Lou Merloni’s a smart analyst unafraid to criticize the home team. It’s very sad that the genial Tim Wakefield passed away last year and won’t be on the NESN team, just like Jerry Remy’s departure in 2021. I hope management affixes “Wake” patches on the players’ uniforms as a measure of dignity that has so far (the Sox might still acquire a starting pitcher and right-handed bat!) hasn’t been demonstrated in assembling a competitive team.

Longtime Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy—still employed by the daily that Henry owns, despite his very loud and nasty barbs directed at the Sox in general, sometime individual players and always ownership—spoke for Red Sox Nation on Jan. 26th. That Cranky Dan might’ve hit his Mt. Ortiz of popularity in New England defines the pervading gloom of the fans. He wrote: “Team chairman Tom Werner, CEO Sam Kennedy, and Breslow appeared at your [it was a “Dear John” device] fan event in Springfield last weekend, and Kennedy acknowledged that the team’s payroll probably would drop again this season, while Werner said, ‘We spend a lot of time talking about the experience at Fenway. We think our record is probably the most important thing, but there are other things that make going to Fenway a special place.’ Nonsense. Real fans want more wins and less ‘Sweet Caroline.’”

Again, the Sox plan baffles me—and it won’t be much fun chatting about the team with my son Booker or longtime friend Rick—but I’ll bear witness to an ignominious season, and if it’s a Mariners-Braves World Series next October, that’s okay by me.

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023


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