BOSTON (CBS) – With the Red Sox in recent years, the biggest problem has always concerned accountability or, more specifically, the lack of it. And when the principal owner of the team steps up the way John Henry did Wednesday, well, that is a very, very big step.
“I spent at least two months looking under the hood and came to the conclusion that we needed to make changes,” Henry told reporters in Fort Myers, Florida during his annual spring, state-of-the-Sox address. “One of the things that we’ve done, and I’m fully accountable for this, is that we have perhaps overly relied on numbers.”READ MORE: Provincetown Board Of Selectmen Unanimously Approves Reinstatement Of Indoor Mask Requirement
Hey now. Did everybody catch that?
Whether you agree with the Red Sox’ way of doing things or not, that is hardly the point. Some teams emphasize analytics. Some teams emphasize traditional scouting. They both have their merits, and the trick for the Red Sox has always been to leave themselves open to as many avenues as possible, in every way imaginable, and to never, ever think they have it all figured out.
Know why? Because nobody does. Because things change, especially in baseball, where the existence of steroids made performance far more formulaic and predictable. Players never got tired. They rarely had confidence crises. They were rarely susceptible to human factors and failings because they were genetically-engineered robots like Ivan Drago.
But that, specifically, is another story for another day.
The real story is the Red Sox’ unwillingness over the years to acknowledge problems that everyone else saw. In 2011, when the Red Sox clearly had a character problem, the team’s solution was to fire Terry Francona and replace him with, of all people, the Machiavellian Bobby Valentine. Another crisis resulted, this one resulting is a complete dismantling that saw the departures of Valentine, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford.
Then the Red Sox won a highly improbable World Series – they got lucky, plain and simple – and the Sox acted as if they’d stumbled upon Grandma’s secret recipe. Larry Lucchino mocked the Yankees. The Sox botched the Jon Lester negotiations. The team spiraled right back into last place for the second time in three years.
And then you know what they did? They deemed the last-place finish – and not the World Series – a fluke. That seemed true right up until Wednesday, when Henry finally acknowledged that the 2014 Sox lacked “focus,” that the team’s continued failure did not occur “by chance.” Those are criticisms of leaders (John Farrell) and workers (players), and they have resulted, mercifully, in changes.
So Ben Cherington and Larry Lucchino are gone, and Dave Dombrowski is in. Farrell is on the hot seat. David Price has been signed to a seven-year, $217 million contract that is roughly $100 million more than what the Sox might have signed Lester for. These are all decisions made by Henry, who, dare we say, seems to be paying attention again.READ MORE: Driver Faces OUI Charges After Deadly Crash In Dedham
In the last several months, after all, Henry and his partners have effectively caved in to their fan base in Liverpool and now finally acknowledged the screams of their fan base in Boston. The Red Sox shouldn’t go too far with this – fans should never, ever make roster decisions – but both behaviors reflect things far more meaningful in the long term:
Humility. Introspection. And, of course, accountability.
Naturally, Wednesday’s press conference contained the usual lot of Red Sox nonsense. Even if Henry believes that Pablo Sandoval truly has 17 percent body fat, he shouldn’t have said it. Given those photos, any defense of Sandoval’s conditioning comes off as nonsense. Additionally, Henry suggested Wednesday that Jon Lester’s absence had nothing to do with the team’s struggles at the start of last season, and anybody who watched the Red Sox knows that simply is not true.
Pressured by the absence of an ace, Sox pitchers threw up on themselves in April, to the point where positional players like David Ortiz started peeling off the basepaths on double plays, essentially giving up. By the time the pitching stabilized, in May, the hitters had lost faith in a staff they didn’t believe in from the start. The analysts suggested the Red Sox were not “in sync.” The realists observed that the pitching demoralized the offense, which is something we’ve seen here before.
It’s not fantasy baseball, folks. It never has been. As Theo Epstein once noted, underperforming players almost always suffer from physical, emotional or psychological injury, and those last two are extremely hard to quantify.
Numbers just don’t get to the root of it.
And so, as much as Henry may not be meddling with the math in the Red Sox front office, he is, in some way, more involved. The losing got his attention this time, the way it should have in 2011, when the Sox were complaining so much about makeup games that Henry invited the players on his yacht and gave them headphones the way a neglectful parent buys his child a new toy. The diversion works for a while, but nothing really gets addressed in the long term.
Does this all mean the Red Sox are now fixed, for the short term and the long? Hell no. With or without steroids, the game is ever-changing. Adjustments must always be made. The Red Sox still have holes and problems, and they have to spend the next days, weeks and months addressing them.
But if you’re a Red Sox player, manager or coach, at least you’re showing up for work today knowing that your owner has been unhappy for some time and that he is not afraid to make significant changes, which is rather significant.MORE NEWS: Gov. Sununu Signs 'Medical Freedom' Bill To Prevent COVID Vaccine Requirements In Public Facilities
John Henry, it seems, is paying attention again.