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No Pleasure Seeing Red Sox Fail

(originally written 10/1/12)

Remember the year 2004? I do. John Kerry ran unsuccessfully for president. Former President Reagan passed away. Shaquille O'Neal became an ex-Laker, and the Desperate Housewives were born.
Oh, and something about the Red Sox getting some trophy or something...

It was very easy, if not downright vogue, to root against the Yankees in 2004. Those who didn't contain pinstripe-laden DNA and/or the ability to alphabetically recite all Yankees with plaques in Monument Park would fume with palpable chagrin anytime a Yankee so much as drew a second-inning walk in a Spring Training split-squader.

Going to six World Series out of eight (winning four) while beating up on substantially disadvantaged opponents along the way can foster such disdain.

And that was before they got Alex Rodriguez from Texas. Back in '04, Rodriguez ranked No. 1 in MLB in LWBP (league-wide boo percentage). Barry Bonds led in boo density, courtesy of generating MLB's loudest boos—but only on the road, whereas A-Rod heard them in every park he entered, including his own. 
So when the Yankees appeared poised to add yet another pennant to their extensive collection in '04, having gone up 3-0 against Boston in the ALCS, a lot of folks—including myself—could only mutter in profane disbelief: "The Yankees AGAIN?!"
Then the Red Sox miraculously won four straight games, then four more against the Cardinals in the World Series, breaking their 86-year championship drought.

Boston's cast of "Idiots," led by Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon, David Ortiz and others, became instant heroes in a snap—less household names than surrogate family members to any long-deprived Boston fan. If any member of the newly-minted "Red Sox Nation" were to find Kevin Millar going Goldilocks in their bed, they'd view it as an honor, rather than a burglary.

I was as happy for them as anyone. I'm a Giants fan, but I'm also a baseball fan—and the 2004 Sox's rise to glory was damn good for baseball. It spawned legions of fans nationwide and induced hordes of others out of their gopher holes. They began to sprout up everywhere, and I mean everywhere.

I went to an A's/Red Sox game at the Coliseum in 1999, a time when both clubs were roughly equal—in the standings if not in name recognition. I have no memory of who won, but I DO know it sounded like an A's home game, which wouldn't be the case in 2005.
Any radio listeners would swear the game was played at Fenway, given the deafening roars elicited by any Boston score, baserunner or out recorded.

Even though there is nothing wrong with fans of the road team grossly outnumbering fans of the home team, there is something very wrong with it. It's kind of like if John Stamos and Candace Cameron were to marry. You can't logically articulate why it's wrong. IT...JUST...IS. (Don't get the reference? Tough. I'm not here to talk about the past.)

Soon, a sense of entitlement seemed to follow Boston Red Sox Nation around, at least that's how I viewed it.
Whether it was constant (over)exposure, their newfound status as the team to beat, or both, or neither, I quickly began to dislike the team—namely Kevin Youkilis, who whined and argued at practically every strike called against him, the "new-school" GM Theo Epstein, who seemed as knowledgeable about the actual game of baseball as Archie Bunker was about subtlety, and eventually Jon Papelbon and his gimmicky glaring.

It got to the point where I could only speak of the Red Sox pejoratively. They received extensive SportsCenter focus while my Giants (save for the atrocious Bonds On Bonds) and most all other clubs fought for the scraps. Boston won another title in 2007, and I felt sick—because I knew more of the same was in store.

Fast-forward to 2011.
Boston seemed destined for yet another postseason run headed into September, up nine games on Tampa Bay for the AL East Wild Card. By the last day of the season, as we all know, they'd frittered it all away and were tied with Tampa. Down big against a Yankee team with zero to play for, the Rays came all the way back and won in walk-off fashion, meaning the Red Sox had to beat lowly Baltimore just to secure a one-game playoff.

They led 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth.
They lost 4-3.

You would have thought my Giants had won the World Series again—never in my life had I been so elated to see a team lose. Not even those 2010 Rangers. That was how much I'd grown to detest the team, the organization, the fan base, the reverence of their 100-year-old shack of a ballpark, the media coverage, the ridiculous Yankee-esque spending they'd embraced—all of it.

In the wake of the historical collapse, sweeping changes hit the franchise and didn't cede until August of 2012. Gone were Epstein, longtime horses Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek (a combined 31 years with Boston), Papelbon, Youkilis, Josh Beckett and even the two superstars signed for a combined 15 years and $750 billion just the previous off-season, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.

Only six members of the 2007 title team remain, and many high-profile acquisitions have failed. (Does anyone even remember that John Lackey is still under contract?) Under new field and general management the Red Sox are 63-75 as of Sept. 8, barely ahead of last-place Toronto.
While stopping short of feeling anything approaching sympathy, this franchise is such a train wreck that it's just not possible to hate them right now.

I happened to be visiting my friend Jenn, a New England transplant and Red Sox fan who had no idea about the extent to which the team had deteriorated, when Boston was scheduled to play against Oakland, but never actually showed up—going down in a 20-2 ball of flames. Adding insult to injury—the defining blow was a grand slam off the bat of Josh Reddick, cast off to Oakland in the off-season for damaged-goods reliever Andrew Bailey.

Jenn sat in total disbelief at what she saw—Boston did little right, and what they did do right still backfired. Even when the 2004-11 teams were blown out, never did they look as unprepared, inferior and daunted as they did against Oakland.

I couldn't take any pleasure in this loss, as would have been the case a year ago. (Plus, I didn't want to be ejected from my friend's home.)
David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, the faces of the franchise, obviously aren't used to losing. They'll be playing out their first meaningless September in ages, trying to help an embattled manager, who's possibly on borrowed time, keep their team playing hard, if not particularly well, til the end.

I do not envy them. I do not envy their teammates. I do not envy said manager, Bobby Valentine, or his boss, GM Ben Cherington.
But for the first time in seven years, I don't begrudge them, either...

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