John Henry, Tom Werner, Sam Kennedy, and Chaim Bloom did the impossible this summer: The custodians of Boston’s once-beloved baseball franchise made the Red Sox disappear — not an easy trick considering the ball club’s 120 years of institutional relevance.
The disappearance of the Red Sox had little to do with the coronavirus. In some weird ways, COVID-19 probably helped the Red Sox. The pandemic allowed the Red Sox to give up on a season without hearing a single boo at Fenway Park. The Sox were allowed to tank in almost total anonymity. They were the falling tree in the proverbial forest; if a team tries to lose games in an empty ballpark with hardly anyone watching on TV . . . does it make a sound? Did it really happen?
In actuality, the 2020 Boston baseball season ended in February when the Sox announced their salary-dump deal to the Dodgers, sending Mookie Betts and David Price to Los Angeles in exchange for much coveted “payroll flexibility” that presumably will allow them to replenish their sorry team with real major league pitchers in 2021. When the deal was announced, poor Bloom admitted the team was going to be worse. By mid-September, he was acknowledging to the Boston Herald that “it’s possible” the Red Sox were not going with their best players as they played out the string.
The sum total of this throwaway season was a last-place, 24-36 team that projected to 65-97 over a full season. The Sox' winning percentage was their lowest since 1965. After finishing in last place exactly once in 79 seasons from 1933-2011, the John Henry Red Sox have done it four times in nine years.
By any measure, the Red Sox today are the fourth-most popular team in our town. And the Revs are gaining on the outside.
The way Boston fans currently feel about the Red Sox is best demonstrated by a little scene from “Casablanca” (written by Theo Epstein’s grandfather and great uncle) when a weasly character played by Peter Lorre says to a cafe owner (played by Humphrey Bogart), "You despise me, don’t you?''
"If I gave you any thought, I probably would,'' replies Bogey.
That pretty much sums up how Boston feels about its once-beloved baseball team in the autumn of 2020.
All of the above makes it wildly amazing that, given an opportunity to make a show of thanks and good faith to their fans, the tone-deaf Red Sox on Tuesday would not guarantee that they won’t raise ticket prices in 2021.
We tried. CEO Kennedy, baseball boss Bloom, and general manager Brian O’Halloran Zoomed with the local media Tuesday and Kennedy declined an opportunity to tell us that a ticket price boost is out of the question.
"No decisions yet on ticket prices,'' said Kennedy. "We’ll have something on that in the weeks ahead.''
Wow. Would it have been that tough to just say “thanks” and tell fans there won’t be another increase if there are fans at Fenway in 2021? They should have announced that they are slashing prices. But no. They won’t even commit to status quo. After what we just watched. Unbelievable.
In recent days, I’ve had more than one former Sox fan tell me that the MVPs of the 2020 Red Sox season were NESN color commentators Jerry Remy and Dennis Eckersley, who put on happy faces and delivered nice baseball banter as a hideous soft parade of non-major league pitchers toed the rubber for the Red Sox night after night.
Not only were the Sox bad and non-competitive, they were also interminable. If you’re going to be this bad, you could at least get it over quickly. No. Not today’s smarter-than-everybody Red Sox. Flipping the bird at their last remaining fans, for the second consecutive summer the Red Sox played longer games than any team in baseball. In 2019, Boston’s games lasted an average of seven minutes longer. This year, the average major league game took 3 hours 5 minutes. The Red Sox averaged 3:20, longer than any team in the majors again.
It is the residue of what the arrogant Red Sox teach: “Go to 3-2 on every hitter. Never allow a ball in play. Give us walks and strikeouts. Who cares if we’re unwatchable? The sheep will keep filing into Baseball’s Most Beloved Ballpark.”
Incredibly, we have not heard anything from the Red Sox owner for many months. Henry has not answered questions about his team since Feb. 17. When might we expect that next?
"John Henry and Tom Werner . . . accessibility to the media is determined by them,'' said Kennedy. " . . . It’s important to recognize they’ve also built a much larger company called Fenway Sports Group, which has interests in soccer, NASCAR, and real estate and media. So they are active in their other businesses . . . ''
Swell. This should make Sox fans feel great. Go, Liverpool!
Is Kennedy concerned about the Sox' diminishing relevance?
"It’s a fair question and I understand why you would ask,'' started Kennedy. " . . . It was a very, very difficult season. When you have a difficult season, obviously fan interest wanes.''
Bloom is certainly capable of assembling a respectable team for 2021, but a rotating roster of faceless robots will not be embraced by this audience. Tampa Bay-by-the-Charles will not play here. Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers give the Sox a strong left side of the infield, but the JBJ Love Society is going to be crushed when Jackie Bradley Jr. — the most adored .239-career hitter in baseball history — takes his free agent talents to South Beach or Southern California. That leaves you with excuse-making, Adrian Gonzalez clone, J.D. Martinez, who mysteriously lost his super powers when J.T. Watkins and in-game video went away.
What a franchise.