The excerpt is damning, the quotes disparaging and yet to those of us who have followed Red Sox Nation closely these last few years it is hardly surprising. In the book to be released next week Terry Francona tells us,
“I don’t think they love baseball. I think they like baseball. It’s revenue, and I know that’s their right and their interest because they’re owners…it’s still more of a toy or hobby for them. It’s not their blood. They’re going to come in and out of baseball. It’s different for me. Baseball is my life.”
That sounds a lot like what many people have been saying of this ownership group in recent years, including myself. This is an outtake from an article I wrote in in November of 2012,
“First it was a pocketed group, the most cynical of us, feeling the ownership and management’s intentions had changed from perennial World Series contenders to money hungry revenue chasing hounds. Now however even the most optimistic fans I know, my sister and mother, are losing faith.”
Or this one from October 2012,
“…when did the financial concerns become such an issue and why? The team has its own cable network, the highest average ticket prices in the league and merchandise and concession prices that I personally feel are exorbitant. They host 81 Red Sox games and numerous other revenue generating events at Fenway Park every year, if the bottom line is now their sole concern, maybe the ownership group shouldn’t have set the precedent that it wasn’t a concern when they were winning 2 World Series. Or is that the point? Are the 2 World Series Championships good enough for these owners? Well if it is, then its time to sell. As far away as this team often felt during my childhood, the goal always was a World Series. The baseball people were ill equipped to make it happen, but they weren’t happy with mediocrity and simply selling out the park and padding their wallets.”
Even this one from December 2011,
“Oh Red Sox management you think you are so fucking clever, but I am onto your bull shit shenanigans. Since you folks first arrived on Yawkey Way in the early oughts, it has all been about victories. To get to those victories you have need to increase revenues. As many of those revenue streams can be seen on field and in game presentation that has been a necessary evil to cope with the deluge of marketing. And to be honest why wouldn’t you flood us with marketing propaganda, its effective. Here and now as we all prepare for spring training 2012 , in our various ways, you may have the pink hats fooled, but the evidence suggests that you don’t care about winning in 2012, at least not as much as you did in 2004, 2007 or 2009. You will never admit it, but you are rebuilding.”
While there is a certain level of satisfaction in knowing that I saw through the pretension that was thrust upon Red Sox Nation, ultimately there is a far greater level of sadness, that the team I love above all others has become a revenue generating shell game for the owners.
Where do we go from here? I love baseball, I love the history that lies on Yawkey Way, these are both as much a part of my personality as my red hair or sleeveless t-shirts, but my disillusion with the greed and desire to build a consumer friendly product, in lieu of a baseball team, has become untenable Spring training is 25 days away and I find myself far more interested in the Washington Nationals than I am the Boston Red Sox.
The Nationals are a very young, exciting team built around high profile draft picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper and many folks have climbed aboard their bandwagon. Their brand of baseball is fast and exciting and their players are young and fresh so it is logical that they have attracted the attention of many folks who enjoy the game. While it isn’t entirely true, there is the appearance of purity when it comes to the Nationals. A purity that they play for fun, and to win, not for the all mighty dollar sign.
The Red Sox now have the appearance of exactly the opposite, a greedy, money hungry entity that cares more about the profitable nature of the business than it does about the wins on the field. In no way do they strike me as a team anymore, team defined as the ownership down through the bullpen catcher, all with the singular goal of winning the World Series. They now strike me as a corporate entity where each move is assessed based on its ability to affect the bottom line and the profitability of their ratings shares on NESN or their concession sales at Fenway Park.
There is a naivete in thinking that a sports franchise is something more than a business, and that the goal for the owners, who assume the risks entailed in operating such a franchise, should be anything but profit, but as I grew up baseball was fraught with mystique and purity. I want the aspirations of the team I cheer for to be championship aspirations. I want to feel confident that their decisions on baseball are based on the integrity of winning games. I want to trust that my interest in the club, winning baseball games, are not only shared by them, but embraced by the people who are the caretakers of my favorite franchise. Until I feel that I can trust in their aspirations to win baseball games and return to championship contention, I will be watching, but in a guarded way, afraid of getting my dreams crushed by the realization that I care more about the health of a franchise in a competitive way than the people that own the team.
There is a lesson built into the film, Field of Dreams, that has helped perpetuate baseball’s mystique for the last 25 years, “If you build it, they will come.” Its metaphorically spelled out with Kevin Costner building a baseball field into a magical corn field in Iowa. In reality the film is talking about the purity of the game and that when you build a winning team people will watch. You don’t just need Shoeless Joe, you also need Moonlight Graham. James Earl Jones sums it up best with a monologue as author Terrence Mann,
“Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”
Its part of our past, John, Tom and Larry. It reminds us of all of that once was good and it could be again. Oh…people will come John, Tom and Larry. People most definitely will come. But for a baseball team, not a contrived entity.