I’m not sure there’s enough space here to detail all of the affirming lessons found in Apple TV’s “Ted Lasso,” a fish-out-of-water tale starring Jason Sudeikis as an American football coach hired to lead a Premier League futbol team for cynical reasons initially unbeknownst to him.
This is not a suggestion; it’s a public service announcement: Watch this delightful and necessary show if you haven’t. It will make you want to be a better person. It has replaced “The Office” and “Schitt’s Creek” as the program playing pretty much on an endless loop in this household. I want Roy Kent to be my life coach.
One of the broader themes of “Lasso” is that honesty and kindness are not mutually exclusive. That’s synopsized in a pivotal scene in the sixth episode, when he references a Walt Whitman line that shapes his world view: “Be curious, not judgmental.”
And it struck me recently, as that endless loop played in our living room, that it doesn’t apply to just a football coach leading a soccer team. It applies to how we should process the way this pleasant surprise of a local baseball team has been built.
The Red Sox are hitting the halfway point of the season Wednesday night. Another win over the Royals would mean they are on a 100-win pace. At 49-31 and holding a two-game lead over the Rays in the American League East, they have been the feel-good hit of the summer, and nothing short of a revelation after going 24-36 in the dismal, abbreviated 2020 season.
We’ve known for a while that they’re legitimately good. They might be more than that. They might be special.
There are shades of 2013 here, especially in the way chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom found high-quality contributors at low prices. Hunter Renfroe 2020 is Mike Napoli 2013, you know? In his short time here, Bloom and his staff have shown a knack for finding talent in unexpected places.
That’s where that Lasso lesson comes in. When Bloom, oh, signs a once-touted infielder who has failed to grip a steady role in the major leagues (Christian Arroyo), or spends a Rule 5 pick on a pitcher with a scar on his elbow (Garrett Whitlock), or attempts to add depth to the bullpen by bringing over a veteran righthander from Japan (Hirokazu Sawamura), or picks up a power-hitting outfielder with some dismal recent results on the back of his baseball card (Renfroe), the instinct should not be to wonder cynically about what he could possibly see in these discards and unknowns.
It should be to seek out what he sees, to have fun in solving that mystery. Be curious about these moves, not judgmental. Because more often than not, they will reveal something palpable that will benefit the Red Sox.
The 2021 Red Sox have been bolstered by so many players — good players — who were overlooked, unwanted, or somewhere in between. It’s the story of the season, really.
Whitlock (1.52 ERA) and Adam Ottavino (2.73 ERA, 1.57 in 23 innings since May 4), relievers who were stolen and gifted from the Yankees, respectively, might be the consensus favorite examples of Bloom’s creative roster-bolstering. Or maybe your favorite is Arroyo, the scrappy second baseman who has crushed some crucial late home runs for a team that has come from behind 27 times this season.
Or maybe your favorite find is Sawamura (2.56 ERA), or intense starting pitcher Nick Pivetta (six wins, 4.43 ERA), or even human energy bar Kiké Hernández, a player signed for a little more money (two years, $14 million) than he might have seemed to warrant, but who has an .880 OPS over the last 19 games and has been worth every penny.
To me, Renfroe is the best example. He looks like Mike Trout, and last year hit like Trout will at around age 55. In 139 plate appearances for the Rays last year, Renfroe hit .156. The year before, with the Padres, he batted .216. He had power — two years ago, he hit 33 homers — but his stats suggested a player who was about to get reacquainted with some Triple A ballparks.
Here’s what we didn’t know, or at least I didn’t know: Renfroe is an outstanding outfielder with a shotgun arm. He has 11 assists already this season, and plays right field with fearlessness and energy reminiscent of Shane Victorino in ’13.
He’s also a more prolific power hitter at age 29 than many have noticed. Renfroe hit the 23rd-most home runs all time through the first 400 games of a career with 89; players in his vicinity include Willie Mays (94), Albert Pujols (94), Mike Piazza (92), Harmon Killebrew (87), and Ernie Banks (87). He by no means is a player of their magnitude, even if he arguably has been the Red Sox’ best hitter since May 1 (.308/.360/.544 with 10 homers in 50 games). But in at least one category, he’s in their company, and who among us would have known that?
This praise of the unheralded does not double as a suggestion that these players are the lone reason for the Red Sox’ remarkable success. Saluting this team without mentioning holdover stalwarts Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, and Rafael Devers would be akin to praising the “Moneyball” Oakland A’s of nearly 20 years ago without acknowledging Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, and Mark Mulder.
It also must be noted that not every move has worked. Spin-rate darling Garrett Richards has Red Sox fans longing for the days of John Wasdin ever since MLB took away the sticky stuff. Franchy Cordero is raking in Worcester, but the pitchers at that level may not be as adept at exposing the holes (plural) in his swing as big-league craftsman are.
Marwin Gonzalez is versatile, but his .561 OPS so far suggests a production level on par with 1992 Herm Winningham (.557), 2000 Donnie Sadler (.565), and 2017 Josh Rutledge (.558), none of whom will be nominated for Red Sox Hall of Fame induction soon.
That was the real marvel about the ’13 Red Sox (and, if you want to cross-reference sports, the 2001 Patriots): The vast majority of unheralded moves paid off in an enormous way. We don’t need a deep dive into team-building analytics to know that Bloom has his own impressive hit rate lately, and it’s a significant reason why the Red Sox arrive at the halfway mark as a team to believe in.
The next time he brings in someone we know little about — hey, this Yacksel Rios kid looks kind of intriguing, no? — the default response should not be to judge the player’s pedigree with skepticism, but to be curious about what Bloom sees.
Chances are that the innings ahead will reveal that there’s something to like in the latest uncelebrated arrival, and he will help this Red Sox season continue to unfold like a television show that grows more satisfying with each episode.