So I found myself standing on the upper deck of the Tobin Bridge Monday night, the lights not yet dim at Camden Yards after another Red Sox loss to the vaunted Baltimore Orioles , when the oddest question started slipping through my mind.
Am I really that upset?
The rest of the world thinks I should be. Talk radio explodes with callers cursing the gods of baseball for doing this to Boston all over again. The New York Times, owned by my corporate master, is giddily describing Boston’s “hard-luck loser legacy,’’ and I hope they’re not referring to the Globe. Even The Wall Street Journal said that all of Boston is, and I quote, “freaking.’’
There’s just one small problem with all this: I’m not cursing, I’m not “freaking,’’ and I don’t much feel like a loser because this collection of overpaid underachievers hasn’t exactly gotten the job done at Fenway Park. In some ways, in many ways, the epic September collapse is exactly what we needed to realize just how far the Red Sox have gone astray.
Let me put it another way: If you’re whining, moaning, wailing, or crying, get yourself a grip. This store-bought team never reflected Boston. It never paid homage to what the city and the Red Sox have traditionally been. This team, in short, never had a story and never had a narrative arc. If it did, it would read as follows: We should win more games because we spent more money.
That’s not Boston. It’s not who or what we are. New Englanders, by nature, are a thrifty lot, that thriftiness being the byproduct of our Pilgrim heritage or our Irish angst, or maybe both. We don’t like waste. We generally avoid glitz. Rather, we revel in overcoming obstacles, quieting doubters, achieving goals that many people, even ourselves, might have considered out of reach. It’s why this collapse has been far more fascinating than frustrating.
Think about it. We live in a perfectly miserable climate four months of the year, but that weather gives us a greater appreciation for what summer and autumn bring. We toiled in the fields of baseball futility for 86 years hoping the Red Sox would win, and when they finally did, in 2004, it felt all the sweeter for the wait.
But the Red Sox of 2011 is basically a suit that never fit. Beacon Hill doesn’t waste as much money as this team, what with J.D. Drew ($14 million a year), John Lackey ($17 million), Carl Crawford ($20 million), and Daisuke Matsuzaka ($8.7 million plus a $51 million posting fee), and that doesn’t even include the oldies but goodies like Edgar Renteria, Julio Lugo, and Mike Cameron.
Not to press the point, but three basically inconsequential players - Drew, Lackey, and Crawford - make more per year than the entire roster for the Tampa Bay Rays .
What’s frustrating is this team had, in fact, a natural, charismatic core of homegrown talent, between Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, and Daniel Bard, as well as David Ortiz, plucked off the bargain table years ago and now as Boston as the Pru.
But the insatiable appetite for more, bigger, better, ruined it all this year. In our blind zeal for success, we created a monster of a team without any deep or broad appeal, as one blogger noted, “the worst team money can buy.’’
If the players had any adversity to overcome, it was how the imported superstars would manage all that undeserved money in a volatile stock market. Maybe that’s what’s distracted them this month.
The reality is, anything can still happen in these final hours of the regular season, and maybe this self-inflicted crisis is exactly what the players need to rise from the depths and create a memorable October. God knows, they have the talent.
But barring that, these Red Sox, unintentionally and inadvertently, did their fan base an invaluable favor. They reminded us who we are by showing us what we’re not.Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.