By Jeff Louderback
Baseball is a “toy or hobby” for the Red Sox ownership group, former Red Sox manager Terry Francona is quoted as saying in his soon-to-be-released book “Francona: The Red Sox Years.”
Co-authored by Dan Shaugnessy, the book explains how the team’s priorities shifted from building a roster of Dirt Dawg-style players to crafting a lineup composed of marketable names.
According to excerpts of the title that were released to Sports Illustrated, the Red Sox hired marketing consultants after the 2010 season, and in a meeting with executives, front office officials and Francona, owners wanted “sexy” guys since they were concerned about decreased television ratings.
Former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said in the book that “They told us we didn’t have any marketable players. We need some sexy guys. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. ….We’d become too big. It was the farthest thing removed from what we set out to be.”
Francona said, “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.”
Essentially, what has been reported about the excerpts is not news. It was obvious that the Red Sox swayed from the approach that led to World Series titles in 2004 and 2007 in favor of “feeding the monster” and mimicking the New York Yankees.
That resulted in Epstein adding Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and John Lackey before the 2011 campaign, one that ended with the monumental September collapse. As the Red Sox learned in 2011 and the Los Angeles Angels and Miami Marlins discovered in 2012 – and what I believe the Toronto Blue Jays will see in 2013 – championships are not won on paper and adding a mixed salad of big names does not always best compose a roster.
Ideally, the current ownership group (led by John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino) would sell the Red Sox to a group that is more passionate about baseball and is more concerned about winning than TV ratings and star power.
Fortunately, this off-season, second-year general manager Ben Cherington has been given the reigns to build the roster, and admirably he has held onto top prospects like Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Rubby De La Rosa and Matt Barnes while adding useful complementary free agents to short-term deals.
The 2013 Red Sox will be a pleasant surprise and contend for a post-season spot, and they will do it just like they did in 2003 and 2004 – with a true team stocked with guys who play the game the right way.