Three months ago, Dustin Pedroia chopped a Ken Giles offering to the AL MVP in Game 4 of the ALDS. It was corralled, scooped, and thrown to first, sadly signifying the end of Boston’s 2017 campaign.
Less than an hour later, WEEI’s phone lines were lit up.
“Fire Farrell!” The pitchfork wielding fanatics wailed.
“Trade Pedroia!” Screamed callers, demanding Dombrowski to rid Boston of the $56 million owed to him.
And while one of those two things did happen, it hardly scratched the surface of a growing concern within the fan base, the media, and most importantly, the clubhouse:
These Sox have holes – they lack leadership.
The 2004, 2007, and 2013 clubs aid us in understanding the importance of captaincy, control, and governance, and how it pertains to winning.
2004: Jason Varitek ignited a flame that torched the Yanks and the rest of baseball when he gifted A-Rod with a face full of leather. This was merely a precursor to one of the most exciting regular season walk off hits I’ve ever seen, when Bill Mueller crushed a 3-1 Mo Rivera meatball into the Fenway stands for an electric 11-10 win.
While players like Mueller and Tek were more of the lead-by-example variety, the lively Kevin Millar was a deflector and redirector of the invasive Boston media. Millar’s role made it that much easier for guys like Keith Foulke and Johnny Damon to put their heads down and work.
2007: The ’07 roster was comprised of a crew that weren’t known for their stalwart personalities, ranging from infielders Kevin Youkilis and Julio Lugo, to the stone-faced J.D. Drew. And in a more unusual case, this group found leadership in pitching. With Mike Timlin to go along with Red Sox hall of famers Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield, the boys of summer were more like AARP card holders of summer. All three pitchers were 40-41 years young, and Curt was never one to shy away from the camera or the mic. And while age may wear a player down, it certainly doesn’t hurt in the locker room supremacy department.
Also in ’07, a major team influence was entering his third year with the Sox. Alex Cora was a career .243 hitter and hardly a mainstay in the nightly box score, but Dustin Pedroia credits him for his development into a Silver Slugger MVP winner. Little did Cora know, he was on his way to winning a World Series with a team he’d be managing 11 years later.
2013: All of Boston will opine that the blue collared approach and demeanor of newcomers Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, and Shane Victorino set a landscape of influence amongst the roster. And as effective as that trio was at policing their fellow Red Stockings, it was Red Sox legend David Ortiz, who in his eleventh season with the team, gave a mic-drop worthy deliverance to not just Red Sox Nation, but the rest of the nation as well: we won’t be shaken by violent acts of the cowardly, but instead will stand together to face it together.
Has a trend emerged? There has been no shortage of leadership amongst the championship rosters of the last 15 years, and while the offseason is far from over (some of us are wondering if it’s even began), I’ve been underwhelmed by the front office’s maneuvering to instill a presence within the team. It’s canon that John Farrell had no clubhouse control, and really, the Sox had nowhere to go but up. So by adding Alex Cora to the staff, the unity of the team grew in a snap of the fingers. I emphasize the word team here, because that’s what it takes to hang banners along the outskirts of Fenway Park’s Yawkey Way entrance. And Cora has had no shortage of supporters.
“He’ll connect with every player,” purported Eduardo Perez, a player-turned-analyst for ESPN.
Also corroborating encouragement for the first Sox manager ever to hail from Puerto Rico was Jason Varitek. One of the few owners in the Sox storied history who’s jersey sported the mark of a captain’s ‘C’, V-Tek had this to add: “even back then, I knew he’d make a great manager.”
Cora gives Boston cause for optimism, if winning nearly 190 games over the last two years isn’t reason enough. And while we hope that newcomers Tim Hyers, Ron Roenicke, Tom Goodwin, and the rest of Boston’s new coaching staff will ingrain ascendancy amongst the players, will it be enough?
The coterie of guys that went to battle together in 2017 didn’t exactly bestow confidence amongst themselves, or the fan base for that matter. Clear leadership issues pathetically plagued them all season long. As fans, we attempted to shrug off Pedroia’s disenchanting “can I go home now” remarks for the media, and David Price’s team-applauded tirade unleashed on 1992 MVP Dennis Eckersley. Yet, with spring training impatiently waiting to crest it’s head and dispel Boston’s coldest winter in decades, a scarcity of roster turnover tells us that it’s the same core group who fell short of glory this past October.
Alas, baseball is a peculiar sport. One year ago today Rafy Devers was a minor leaguer, Andrew Benintendi was a rookie, and Mitch Moreland had yet to sport the home whites. Pablo Sandoval was literally weighing down the roster, Price was running the show, and Chris Sale had yet to wow the masses. Perhaps one year will make all the difference needed, and the newcomers of 2017 will turn Boston’s Achilles heel into the robust strength it once was in ’04, ’07, and ’13.
The blueprint for success is laid out in front of the 2018 Boston Red Sox. And I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m not interested in seeing the upcoming season end on a weak ground ball to second base.