October 4, 2012

All over for Sox ... and just beginning

Wasn't this season in Boston just the worst? Actually, for the first time in 47 years, it was. But changes are coming.

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The expressionless face, the herky-jerky motion, the deliberate pace that slows the pace of a baseball game to painful extremes.

click image to enlarge

Teammates console starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, center, before Matsuzaka was pulled during the third inning of the Red Sox game against the New York Yankees on Wednesday.

AP

HOW LOW CAN IT GO?

In 1932, the Boston Red Sox finished with a record of 43-111, 64 games behind the World Series-winning New York Yankees. Manager Shano Collins quit on June 19 with the team at 11-44. Marty McManus finished the season, and lasted only one more.

The Red Sox were outscored 915-566, used 18 pitchers, who combined for a worst-in-the-league earned run average of 5.06, committed 233 errors, went 27-50 at Fenway Park and 16-61 on the road. The season’s total home attendance was 182,150, which still ranks as the lowest in franchise history.

Before the 1932 season, Harry Frazee sold the franchise to J.A. Robert Quinn. Before the 1933 season, Quinn sold it to Thomas A. Yawkey, 30-year-old heir to a lumber fortune.

Daisuke Matsuzaka took the mound for the final Boston Red Sox game of 2012 Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.

How fitting.

A failed pitcher, but only one of many failed investments for a once-proud franchise that has failed miserably this season.

And the manager of this shipwrecked team, Bobby Valentine, is expected to be fired, as soon as today. He will be the second manager fired in two years by the Boston ownership. The owners dumped the successful Terry Francona last year, in a panic move, then watched their team sink much further.

Boston, after its 14-2 loss to New York on Wednesday, finished 69-93, the worst Red Sox record in 47 years. Those 1965 Sox were 62-100.

Ownership, led by John Henry, took over this team in 2002. The Red Sox were perpetual underdogs then, but they won a World Series title in 2004. Did they get a little heady, a bit full of themselves?

Let's revisit Matsuzaka. He first put on a Red Sox uniform in the 2007 World Championship season and has since been part of Boston's steady decline, leading to this year's last-place finish.

He represents a Boston franchise that went from making wise moves to simply spending a lot of money and grabbing headlines (and TV ratings?). And it seems the more money the Red Sox spent, the dumber they became.

To obtain Matsuzaka from his Japanese league team, the Red Sox spent $103 million -- $51 million to his old team and $52 million to Matsuzaka over a six-year contract.

Matsuzaka was part of the 2007 World Series winning team, although his contribution in the playoffs (a 5.02 ERA in the post season) is debatable.

Matsuzaka pitched well in 2008, but was shaky in the playoffs (4.50 ERA) as the Red Sox came within one game of reaching the World Series.

They haven't been close since. But they have spent money trying to get back.

Before the 2011 season, Boston General Manager Theo Epstein made a Matsuzaka-like splash, signing Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142-million contract, and Adrian Gonzalez to $154 million over seven years.

Having a handful of high-priced players can help a team, but it seemed to become Boston's focus.

Those players did not lift Boston to the top -- Crawford, for example, struggled when he wasn't on the disabled list, and Matsuzaka has won a total of 17 games the past four years.

Epstein once predicted that Boston would become a "player-development machine," and Portland Sea Dogs fans saw those efforts as players such as Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard performed at Hadlock Field and later shined at Fenway Park.

But fewer young players have been given a chance, with third baseman Will Middlebrooks and pitcher Felix Doubront the exceptions.

Sea Dogs fans have watched promising prospects come through and then end up on other teams. Pitchers Justin Masterson, Stephen Fife and Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and catcher Tim Federowicz are all performing for other teams.

Rizzo, traded in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, looks like a budding star, hitting 15 home runs in 87 games this year for the Cubs.

The big news on Wednesday featured the Oakland A's winning their division title. Oakland has four former Red Sox on its team, three of whom played in Portland: outfielders Josh Reddick and Brandon Moss and catcher George Kottaras. Reddick hit 32 home runs this year, more than any Boston player.

So, how can Boston get back to developing players and becoming a winner again?

The Red Sox took the first step Aug. 25 when they traded Gonzalez, Crawford and pitcher Josh Beckett to the Dodgers for a group of players, including four prospects.

On Wednesday, Boston announced the hiring of Eddie Bane as a "special assistant to player personnel." Bane, 60, is highly regarded and was the director of scouting with the Angels when they drafted and signed future All-Stars such as Mike Trout and Jered Weaver.

Another move is expected this week with the firing of Valentine. Boston needs a leader, not a distraction; someone who communicates within the system, not just with sound bites on radio interviews.

Finally, General Manager Ben Cherington will look to improve the roster. He needs to find the balance of bringing in some players while developing talent Boston already has.

This improvement may come in ripples, a good player here, a winning pitcher there.

Because if this Red Sox organization has learned anything, it's to forget the big splash. Just get better. 

Staff writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases

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