Sports

Dysfunction, thy name is Red Sox

by Chip Ainsworth

When things go bad, people will use the word dysfunction without knowing its meaning. They know it’s not good and that’s about it. Dysfunctional is something that functions, but functions in pain.

This year’s Red Sox team is a good example of dysfunction. So was the year after the Red Sox won the World Series in 2005. That’s when the Red Sox had become, in the words of a Red Sox executive quoted by author Seth Mnookin, “The biggest bunch of prima donnas ever assembled.”

It was the season that Curt Schilling had nine saves and a 5.69 ERA as the team’s closer, pitcher Matt Clement was hit in the head by a line drive, and pictures of pretty coeds sitting in the laps of Derek Lowe and Bronson Arroyo were making the rounds on the Internet.

In the Red Sox dugout before a game on July 26, David Ortiz said of Ray’s starting pitcher Mark Hendrickson, “Man, that guy’s got some nasty stuff.” Schilling responded, “Yeah, that’s why Manny took the day off,” and Ortiz broke up the ensuing fight with Sox slugger Manny Ramirez.

It was the year that, according to Mnookin’s book “Feeding the Monster,” Theo Epstein nearly pulled off a three-team trade that would’ve sent the moody Ramirez to the Mets in exchange for Mike Cameron, Aubrey Huff and a can’t-miss prospect named Lastings Milledge (who did miss, appearing in just two games for the White Sox this season).

Although they made the playoffs in 2005, the Red Sox were swept three straight by the eventual World Series champion Chicago White Sox. Afterward turmoil ensued and Epstein resigned. He ducked out of Fenway Park wearing a gorilla suit while owner John Henry tearfully bade him farewell during a televised press conference. “There’s no crying in baseball,” said Henry, using a line from the Tom Hanks movie A League of Their Own.

Epstein was rehired two months later, but the rift between he and team president Larry Lucchino never lessened. Both wanted control of the roster (it was Lucchino, not Epstein, who got Josh Beckett from Florida for Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez). They unhappily coexisted for six years until this apocalyptic September when first Terry Francona and now Epstein took the fall. This time there was no whiff of a world championship for Epstein to cash in on, no media references to him being the boy genius. Lucchino pulled rank and Epstein has moved on to the Chicago Cubs.

Meanwhile the fallout from the historic Collapse of 2011 continues. Last month ESPN reported the Red Sox would lose $15 million by not making the playoffs, and the club will be hard pressed to justify raising ticket prices in the wake of their historic downfall. Jonathan Papelbon will likely file for free agency (perhaps Philadelphia bound), and the brass can only hope that Carl Crawford’s dismal first year in Boston was an aberration.

Newer fans are shocked by the dysfunction, but old-timers who’ve suffered through the train wrecks of seasons before the advent of Red Sox Nation past are used to it. Some, including myself, even sort of like it like this way.

****

Attendance for all Major League Baseball teams was up by half a percent this year to 73.4 million, an increase of 451,000 over last season.

Philadelphia led the majors by averaging 45,440 at Citizens Bank Park, followed by the Yankees (45,107), Giants (41,818) and Twins (39,112).

The Red Sox managed to jam 7,558 more fans into the broom closets and crawl spaces to finish eighth-best (37,703).

Seventeen of MLB’s 30 clubs showed gains, led by Cleveland with 446,023 more fans than last season, followed by the Rangers (441,778), Giants (349,860), Pirates (327,030) and Brewers (294,842).

The Dodgers had the most precipitous decline, losing 627,181 fans under the mismanagement of owner Frank McCourt. Sadly Tampa Bay took the second-worst hit at the gate this season despite winning the wild card on the final day. The Rays drew 314,257 fewer fans to Tropicana Field than a year ago and owner Stuart Sternberg is threatening to move his club to Newark or some other place where a talented team is appreciated. Blame it on the Tampa traffic or the indoor stadium, but people simply don’t support pro sports in the Sunshine State.

Of the 12 bottom feeders, the Rays were the only team with a winning record.

_____

Chip Ainsworth, a columnist for The Recorder of Greenfield, Mass., has covered high school, college, and professional sports in New England and beyond for four decades. Chip is the 2011 first-place winner for sports commentary, small newspaper category, in the annual New England Associated Press News Executives Association competition. He has won the award numerous times.

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