Two days ahead of the season opener in Detroit, Tom Jensen has some advice for Bobby Valentine, the new Red Sox manager: get off to a fast start, because your popularity pool is shallow.
He also has news for those Red Sox pitchers who fiddled - with chicken and beer - while Fenway Park burned: Ron Paul has higher favorables than you boys.
Jensen lives in North Carolina and is an Atlanta Braves fan, and so you might ask, who cares what Tom Jensen thinks? But unlike every loudmouth in this town, Jensen has more than an opinion when it comes to the Red Sox. He has empirical evidence.
Jensen is director of Public Policy Polling in Raleigh. His company was polling statewide on this deadly dull presidential campaign, so he decided to liven things up and ask Massachusetts voters about something they really care about: the Olde Towne Team.
“What’s amazing is that 81 percent of the state’s voters say they root for the Red Sox,’’ said Jensen. “That’s unheard of in any other part of the country. You couldn’t do a poll like this in other states because you wouldn’t be able to find a big enough sample. In Ohio, you’d be lucky to get 10 percent of voters identifying themselves as Indians fans.’’
An earlier poll by Jensen’s firm found that when asked to identify their favorite team 45 percent of Massachusetts voters picked the Red Sox, followed by the Patriots at 24 percent, the Celtics at 11, and the Bruins at 8.
Jensen said the most revealing finding in the poll was that fired skipper Terry Francona remains more popular than the guy who replaced him. It’s not that Valentine’s negatives are bad - only 6 percent see him negatively - it’s just that even after presiding over the biggest September collapse by a franchise that holds the franchise on September collapses, Francona is preferred to Valentine 39 to 28 percent.
The poll suggests Red Sox fans put the blame for the collapse squarely on players who didn’t perform, not the manager who supposedly lost control of the clubhouse.
When asked to name their favorite player, the nod went to center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, (29 percent) who put up MVP-like numbers last year; 25 percent went for Dustin Pedroia, the team’s sparkplug; and 16 percent for the aging but still popular David Ortiz.
The favorability numbers for part of the chicken-and-brew crew - Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz - registered at 5, 4, and 2 percent, suggesting they may get boos during their first starts at Fenway next week.
If it’s any consolation to the Popeye’s brigade, Adrian Gonzalez’s favorables (2 percent) are also in the cellar after he suggested that making the playoffs simply wasn’t in God’s plan.
While the majority of fans would rather have Francona still calling the shots, Valentine’s decision to ban alcohol from the clubhouse is wildly popular: 72 percent support it, while only 10 percent oppose.
Clearly, Red Sox fans are not opposed to eating chicken on principle: 35 percent think the team should retire Wade Boggs’s number, while 29 percent say no, and 36 aren’t sure. That said, Boggs ate his chicken before games.
Those who follow baseball for a living think the Red Sox will finish second or third in the division behind Tampa Bay and the, ugh, Yankees. A certain Mr. Shaughnessy I know says fourth, but he’s just being a wise guy.
The poll found rabid optimism among the Fenway Faithful: 43 percent think the Sox will make the playoffs; 19 percent pick them to win the American League.
Like love, optimism can be blind. No less than 20 percent believe the Red Sox will win the World Series. Which, come to think about it, is the same percentage of people who believe that President Obama was born in Africa.