The Evil Empire isn’t in New York. It’s here in our own backyard.
A Red Sox team that collapsed under the weight of expectations, excuses and country-fried indolence in September was simply adopting the persona of its employers -- unlikeable.
If the 2004 Red Sox were memorialized by the movie “Fever Pitch” then the current Sox’ cinematic portrayal would be “Horrible Bosses.”
From milquetoast principal owner John W. Henry to chuckling chairman Tom Werner to imperious team president and CEO Larry Lucchino, who sees a “kick me” sign on the back of every employee who departs Yawkey Way, the approval rating of this ownership group is lower than the old Filene’s Basement. The Occupy Boston protests should move from the Greenway to the Green Monster, because this ownership suddenly has a despicable mien.
They have lost their way and the franchise is headed in the wrong direction with general manager Theo Epstein absconding to Chicago.
In a span of 12 days this team has undergone more bloodletting than Curt Schilling’s famous stocking, as both the most successful manager and general manager in its modern history have departed. How is that good for business, if your business is winning baseball games and not monetizing the unwavering fealty of the Fenway Faithful at will?
Manager Terry Francona jumped before he was pushed, but Epstein took his plunge willingly and had a golden parachute to pull courtesy of the Cubbies. If Hall of Fame baseball writer/Epstein confidant Peter Gammons is to be believed, Epstein didn’t want to return, and he didn’t want to be this team’s general manager long-term. That is troubling.
No matter who the general manager and manager are, you have an organizational fatal flaw -- to borrow a favorite Epstein phrase -- if you’ve cultivated an environment in which talented people feel unhappy, underappreciated and unsupported. You don’t need Carmine to figure out that one.
Even ownership’s favorite son, David Ortiz, is questioning if he wants to collect his paycheck from these guys.
You can’t blame him when Henry, the Punxsutawney Phil of owners, goes on WEEI last week and says that he doesn’t “engage in encouragement,” when asked about Francona saying he didn’t feel he had the full backing of ownership.
“I don’t engage in encouragement,” Henry said. “My way of encouraging the manager is generally, if we win, I’ll go down and say hello.”
How magnanimous of you, Mr. Henry. No one wants to work for a disengaged, dispassionate boss who deems it beneath him to offer face-to-face encouragement to his employees. I wouldn’t have blamed Theo if he simply tweeted Henry that he didn’t want to be “GM of the BRS.” That’s far more expedient than another gorilla suit getaway.
By the way, stay tuned for the inevitable Theo rip job from the Sox’ inner sanctum. Having your reputation dragged through Boston’s dirty water on your way out of town is a rite of passage under this ownership. From Grady Little to Nomar Garciaparra to Pedro Martinez to Johnny Damon to Manny Ramirez to now Francona’s personal problems being dredged up, it’s the go-to play in the Sox’ public relations playbook.
Regardless of how many wash cycles the Sox run Epstein’s departure through, he will be missed.
There are those who will contend that Epstein’s departure for Wrigleyville is addition by subtraction. They’ll point to a bloated payroll littered with free agent busts and a breakdown in his player development machine. They’ll cite the fact that he never could find a long-term answer at shortstop (Epstein has no such problem in Chicago with Starlin Castro installed).
Epstein certainly isn’t going out on top, after back-to-back third-place finishes and a historic September freefall, but that shouldn’t mar his body of work here during nine years, which included one large curse kicked to the curb, two World Series titles, three American League Championship appearances and six playoff appearances.
Yes, Epstein can come off as condescending on occasion. He was very fortunate in finding a face-of-the-franchise player (Ortiz). He has made poor free agent decisions of late, not done a good enough job drafting and developing players, hasn’t won a playoff game in three years and won his championships in part because of players he inherited.
Wait, that all sounds familiar, Patriots fans.
I doubt anyone is running Patriots coach Bill Belichick out of town. Belichick is an amazing all-in-one package of genius coach and astute team builder, but combined Theo and Tito were a comparable model of success.
The idea Epstein is easily replaceable is a message dipped in organizational arrogance, the fragrance of choice for Sox ownership.
Perhaps, Henry was right six years ago when he pronounced the first time Epstein departed as GM that “maybe I’m not fit to be principal owner of the Boston Red Sox” in the wake of the power struggle between Epstein and Lucchino that hastened Theo’s three-month holiday.
It was a startling bit of sincerity from an earnest and heartbroken owner. Now, it appears prescient.
The irony is that the 2005 version of Henry was absolutely fit to be principal owner because he was as emotionally invested in the team as the fans. That no longer appears to be the case, with a new wife, infant daughter and soccer team (Liverpool FC) tugging on his heart strings.
For all the talk about being stewards of a civic treasure and sharing a sacred oath with the fans, it’s clear that the treacherous trio of Henry, Werner and Lucchino now value building a brand more than a baseball team. Winning isn’t their business. It’s simply better for business.
This was best exemplified by Henry declaring Lucchino a “tremendous revenue generator” in the WEEI sit-down.
The revenue generator trumps the World Series-winning GM. That says it all about the Sox.
Good luck, Ben Cherington. You have your work cut out working for these guys.
Gasper’s column originally appeared on Boston.com