Sat, 27 February 2016
Red Sox Spring Training 2016 is reminding me of the old days when spring training was full of nutty stories about nutso players. Back in the day when Red Sox teams were characterized by the “25 players - 25 cabs mentality,” they had spring training shenanigans that you could set your watch by.
I'm talking about pre 2004, pre Terry Francona and before the current ownership group (which to its credit has created a more accountable culture in Fenway South, at least up to this year). I thought Henry, Werner et al. had established a more professional outfit down there. Gone were the days of Roger Clemens showing up whenever he pleased, and when he did, leading Butch Hobson on a jog like a leashed puppy. I thought we'd seen the last of John Valentin throwing a hissy fit and storming out of camp when Nomar took his place at shortstop. Weren't we through with Carl Everett driving himself to games rather than taking the team bus? I thought so. For a few years spring training lacked the drama and nonsense of years past. The players and coaches were there to get ready for the season; focused professionals every one of them. No drama, no selfish acting out.
Now it seems we are back to ownership catering to the stars, making excuses for them and in the process undermining the unity of the team.
This year's cirque de Sox has rotund Pablo Sandoval looking no slimmer than last year. Ownership is not criticizing Pablo Sandoval's poor commitment to fitness. They are supporting him publicly, even saying he is in better shape than last year (17% body fat ?!?) which pushes the bounds of credibility.
What is Pablo's deal? Does he not care enough about baseball to temper his desire to thrown down Tasty Burger with a side of Shake Shack for breakfast, lunch and maybe dinner? Two years in row now, his huge gut has been photographed and put on blast. Who wants that? Anybody in their right mind is going to be at least miffed by that. By some accounts, Pablo does care and is sensitive to this kind of bad PR. Some reports had him leaving San Francisco in part because of the pressure they put on him over his weight. I think it matters to him. He would have to be a cyborg for the weight stuff to not be bothering him. So why doesn't he do something about it? He is still a young man; he can take the weight off if he works at it. And it seems he does work out and put in the time in the gym. So it must be the appetite, the massive food intake. The epic trips to Five Guys - like back up the SUV to the loading dock type epic.
Hanley Ramirez, on the other hand - he don't care. He simply does not care, and he doesn't even try to hide it. I have never seen an athlete give off the “don't give a shit” vibe in more ways and more obviously than this guy. His smirk, his body language, even his comments to the media are ridiculous, “Maybe I'll win a gold glove this year . . . .“ Could he make it more obvious he thinks this all a big joke? It's like he's a deliberate caricature of the aloof, distant, talented, millionaire athlete. He would be the last guy on the team I would want to sit down and have a beer with. He defines “unlikable” for a baseball player. I hope his attitude doesn't infect the team this year. They need their stars to be good leaders.
With the manager, a position one hopes would be a steadying influence, we have potential lame duck John Farrell. I wish the man the best. I'm thrilled he beat back cancer, and it speaks well of the Red Sox brass that they kept him on to start to the season. Some human sensitivity can be inferred from the non-firing. However, think of the bad publicity generated from firing Farrell while he was fighting cancer. No, the Sox were wise enough to take a broader view of the matter and let him start this year and see how it goes, but keep the leash very short. It's all sunshine and lollipops if the team is winning, but this is a bottom line business and this organization has too much money invested on the field to suffer another last place finish. Dombrowski and Farrell have no prior relationship. If the team struggles in April and maybe into May, Dave isn't going to wait very long to let him go.
Piling on, we of course have the David Ortiz Farewell Tour and his feud with David Price. Price actually admitted to being nervous about the first time seeing Papi at camp – wondering when and where it would happen, how would he act. He sounded like a pimply-faced teenager sweating over first seeing his crush after summer break. Now I'm not lumping Papi and his issues in with the two aforementioned clowns in a negative light. In fact, he and Price hugged it out and seem to be on the same page. Rather, this is yet another big story line going on, and it involves a big ego, a monster personality, and a lot of media coverage. Anything Papi says or does is noteworthy, even more so now that this is his last spring as an active player. Papi makes news whenever he utters a word. For the next few weeks and throughout he season this is going to be a spectacle. I hope he goes out with a big season, and produces as he has been recently, because this team does not need any distractions. I wouldn't want Big Papi's Farewell Tour to be one that robs this team of any focus.
Why have we seemingly returned to the days of spring trainings past? Is the culture of the organization changing? Is it becoming one less structured around player accountability and the dirt dog mentality, and more centered around the stars and their issues? This is not the culture that won the World Series in 2013. That was a team, T-E-A-M, team. One that worked its ass off and grinded out every run and win, and rode that attitude all the way to the top. The 2016 team would be wise to emulate that.
Category:Red Sox -- posted at: 1:04pm EDT