By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author
A NOT-SO-GOOD YEAR FOR THE SOX
Question: What’s the difference between the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Red
Sox earned run average?
Answer: The Dow Jones is going down.
It is true that the Dow Jones is somewhere around 26,000 and the Sox’ ERA is hovering
at about 4.75, but doesn’t it seem on some days like they should be reversed? This is a
trend that was briefly interrupted the other night, when Chris Sale’s evil twin failed to
show up for a game against the Los Angeles Angels, causing Sale himself to make an
emergency start. The result: 8 innings pitched; 13 strike outs; and 0 runs allowed.
Overall, though, this is just one of those years when nothing seems to go right for the Red
Sox. Second guessing is something that Sox fans do best, and we’re getting plenty of
practice this summer. It’s easy to point the finger of blame, but how can the same people
who were geniuses just a year ago suddenly morph into incompetent doofuses one short
When Sale (not the evil twin) put his signature on a new contract last March, the news
was greeted with applause and pom poms. The team had locked him up for the
foreseeable future. There were bows and handshakes all around. His record record in two
seasons with Red Sox was 29 wins against only 12 losses, and he had compiled an earned
run average of just 2.56. He had made the American League all-star team for seven years
in a row. But that was then. This now. He and his dastardly brother have compiled a
record this season of just 6-11 with an ERA of 4.41, and that includes last Thursday’s
gem. He has shown flashes of his former brilliance, but little or no consistency. His
brother keeps sneaking into the clubhouse ahead of him and stealing his uniform. And the
new deal doesn’t even kick in until next season when the annual salary balloons from
fifteen to thirty million dollars. And the Sox have him, and hopefully not his brother,
Who’s to blame for what’s gone wrong? Who’s to say? It’s certainly not a lack of effort
or commitment on Sale’s part. His coaches can’t suddenly be feeding him misinformation
about the opposition. It’s true that in the past two years he has worn down late in the year,
but that’s not been an issue thus far this season.
The fact is that in baseball at its highest level there is a fine line between excellence and
mediocrity. And the Red Sox, for some unfathomable reason, have lost their edge.
They’re just mediocre so far this year.
Take, for example, the case of Rick Porcello, the former Cy Young winner was coming
off an excellent year in 2018 when he went 17-7. Thus far this season he’s a so-so 10-9
with an ugly ERA north of 5.55. It’s not because he isn’t trying. He takes good care of
himself. Plus, this is his free-agent year, when there is serious money on the table. At the
rate he is going, one can envision Porcello sitting home by the telephone as next season
opens, hoping for someone to offer him something in the vicinity of the twenty one
million dollars he’s being paid this year.
The Red Sox tried mightily to sign Mookie Betts to a long term deal last winter when he
was coming off a monster year. He was MVP and won the batting title with an average of
.346. Mookie, however, preferred to test the free agent market in 2020. That decision
could cost him millions of dollars. He heated up for awhile, but his average is still more
than sixty points lower than a year ago and his power numbers, despite a three home run
game not long ago, are down.
Xander Bogaerts, on the other hand, signed up for a deal beginning next year that will
pay him an average salary of twenty million dollars a year for six years. So far, at least, it
looks like a bargain. Bogaerts has been hitting the cover off the ball all year long, his
defense has been, as usual, excellent, and he has emerged as a real leader.
Collectively, though, this just ain’t the Red Sox’s year. Even if they right the ship in time
to squeeze into a playoff spot, they just don’t smell like a post-season contender. They
have undeniable talent and there have been no reports of clubhouse dissension or of late
night carousing (although, given that they are a group of young guys in their twenties and
early thirties, one can assume that there is always an element of that). 2018 seems like a
long, long time ago, doesn’t it?
It has been said that in baseball, as in all walks of life, true greatness is what happens
when not many people are watching. When Edison was spending long days and evenings
in his lab, unlocking the secrets of the incandescent light bulb, when Michelangelo was
lying on his back on the scaffolding, painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, when Ted
Williams was taking those hours and hours of extra batting practice, not many people
were watching. Based on those criteria the Red Sox, as well as they did in 2018, are not a
truly great team. They are not nearly on a par with the Yankees of the twenties, the
Celtics of the sixties, or the present-day Patriots. That said, they are young and talented,
and they’ve won it all it once. They’re stumbling this year, though, and we’ll find out
soon enough if they have it in them to, in the words of a pretty good song, pick
themselves up, dust themselves off, and start all over again.
Meanwhile, as the Sox search for answers to their problems, they seem to think they’ll
find them by looking into their caps. There has been a sudden rash of players checking
their caps for information. Infielders check their caps before positioning themselves
defensively. Outfielders, in contrast, pull index cards from their hip pockets. It’s the
pitchers, especially the relievers, who are most dependent on the inside of their hats.
Apparently the team has developed a new system of changing the catchers’ signals when
there are runners on second base (which seems to be a lot of the time), and the secret to
that system is apparently found inside the pitchers’ caps. Has it helped any? Well, I have
a baseball cap, and I looked at the inside it the other day. All it said was seven and an
eighth, which seems to be a good set up line for another earned run gag.