“Lost in the cacophony of the last few weeks is the fact that the Boston Red Sox remain one of the preeminent organizations in baseball, with an extremely bright future. Ben will head the same scouting and baseball operations staff that engineered much of the club’s success the last nine years. There is tremendous talent on the major league club and significant depth in the farm system after a decade of strong drafts. ... In Fort Myers next spring, a rededicated, revitalized, reborn Red Sox team will take the field for its first workout of 2012. ... Thank you for all the incredible support this last decade. I will never forget it.” -- Theo Epstein's OpEd in Tuesday's Boston Globe
Over the last 24 hours, I haven't quite been able to put my finger on what's bugging me about the manner of Theo's departure. Ever since he officially took the Cubs job ... hell, ever since we knew he was leaving, he's been nothing but gracious, magnanimous and forthright. And what's wrong with that?
And then after giving it some thought, it hit me. The problem is that I'm still in no mood for graciousness, magnanimity and forthrightishness. I'm still stuck in “I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore” mode, while Epstein has moved on the happy ending where we all hug and learn a life lesson. And in no way am I ready for that yet.
I've been a huge supporter of Theo, and I don't begrudge the man leaving. But it's easy for him to wave goodbye to Red Sox fans from the high road. A hell of a lot easier than being where the rest of are. Down on the low road where he left us, covered in grease and mud and trying to dig the tires out of the rut we're stuck in.
Look, I'm not an ingrate by any means. We all lived through those championships and will never forget what they meant to us and our dead ancestors who never saw one and our kids who'll grow up saying they did. And for that, Theo's ticket is eternally punched. I know I speak for everyone when I say he should never have to pay for a drink or a meal or a parking ticket in this town forever.
But the time to write epic poems about our glorious victories and sit around the fire toasting Theo's honored memory isn't now. For all he accomplished, he's walking away from the smoldering ruins of a historic collapse. And while the stench of the fumes might not make their way to 1050 West Addison St., Chicago, they're going to be in the air here for a long time. So pardon me if I'm in no mood to listen to him talk about the good times just yet.
And believe me, that Theo Epstein Fan Club meeting disguised as a press conference they held in Chicago yesterday didn't help my state of mind any. William Shatner doesn't get that fawned over at Comic-Con. It made Rick Pitino's greeting at the Garden when he took over the Celtics look like the McCarthy hearings. I'm pretty sure the toughest question he faced was “Remember in 2004 when you broke the Curse? That was awesome ...” Usually to see a group that big give a tongue bath to anyone you've got to watch a Bibi Jones video. But Theo's off on the North Side getting hero-worshipped, and we're stuck with the Dysfunctional Family Circus that was created on his watch.
I'm sure I'll get over it in time. Everyone gets forgiven eventually. No one in modern times ever walked away from as big a mess as Richard Nixon. The economy a shambles. The Middle East in flames. The Soviets stockpiling nukes, not to mention Red October and Ivan Drago. A guy taking over the Oval Office no one ever voted for. But ol' Dick cut and ran back to Yorba Linda, his tail between his legs. Eventually America forgave him, but only after years of shame and humiliation. Epstein asking us to let bygones be bygones four weeks after the biggest collapse in baseball history while he takes $18 million from the Cubs is the equivalent of Nixon flying Marine One straight to his new gig as the Prince of Monaco and saying “No hard feelings” on the way.
I wish I shared Theo Epstein's optimism, I really do. But I can't shake the feeling that the situation he left behind is worse than the post-Watergate mess Nixon bailed on.
I'm afraid a better historical analogy would be 12th century England, the time known as The Anarchy. It began when the White Ship struck a rock and sank off the coast of Normandy while carrying the only legitimate heir to the throne of King Henry I. What followed was 19 years of succession crises, power struggles, civil war, unrest, and political upheaval. Which sounds a lot like Yawkey Way in the last month. Though I doubt Stephen of England went to the papers and accused Empress Matilda of having a painkiller addiction. I do know that the sailors on the White Ship were believed to be drunk on duty, which sort of makes the whole thing seem eerily familiar.
And here is the thing I'm struggling with most. That Theo is walking away from such a mess that it's got me comparing the Red Sox to violent medieval civil wars, political scandals, Communist witch hunts, Rick Pitino and skanky porn actresses. This isn't me. Usually on all things that pertain to this club I'm shamelessly, biasedly homerish and I always have been. But the 2011 collapse and it's terrible aftermath have turned me into something I'm not.
My whole life I had to listen to old farts -- relatives, guys in bars, friend's fathers, old-timers at work -- prattle on like they hated the Red Sox. And they took perverse joy when they lost. “Aah, they're a bunch of fat cats. Lazy. Overpaid. They don't care about the fans. They should trade the whole lot of them. Fire the manager. Buncha bums. Blah bitty blah blah ...” Just before they go on some rant about walking to school with a baked potato in their pocket or some damned thing. And I never understood it. They were my team and I loved them and never got why anyone who hated them so much would bother.
Well, the members of this particular Sox team have done the impossible. They've turned me into that guy. I mean, “hate” is a strong word. But I can never remember being as cheesed off by any edition of this club as I am at this bunch. They can talk -- as Theo and Jon Lester have -- about how reports of the players' lousy attitude have been “exaggerated.” But I can't watch the World Series and see the Texas Rangers hanging all over each other on the top step of the dugout, living and dying with every pitch, without remembering the Sox players down the stretch, slumping back on the bench like bratty kids waiting to get called into the principal's office. It's going to take a lot to forgive that.
Again, I'm not an ingrate. At least I don't think I am. No fans in sports put up with what we do to support our team, and it's not being ungrateful or privileged to demand they be competitive every year. We put up with the high prices, the lousy seats, the traffic jams, the parking lot gouging, the “Sweet Caroline” nonsense, the Pinkhattism, the $250 souvenir Fenway Park anniversary commemorative bricks. We watch the NESN original programming. Well, no one does that, but we do the rest of that stuff.
And therefore we've paid for the right to demand a team that competes for a championship every year. This isn't the other pro sports where there's a level financial playing field. We pay more for baseball because we care more. So we deserve a team that doesn't quit as this one did. That respects us and the game and gives a maximum effort. And when it doesn't, we have the right to demand that the man who put it together fix the problem.
If he chooses not to, fine. He's got the right to quit. But on the way out the door don't tell us how swell everything is and expect us to say thanks for all the good times. Not yet anyway. That day will come. But I for one am not feeling especially gracious, magnanimous and forthright right about now.
Direct all feeback to Jerry via Twitter @JerryThornton1