2012 has been a particularly bad year for high-priced athletes and big money contracts. Many of these premiere athletes have under-performed, if they have performed at all. The vulnerability of athletes to injury, and the unpredictably of sports, in general,, makes competitive sports an interesting endeavor to follow, but also a frustrating exercise of devout “fanaticism”.
The same is true of two former “front runners” in the MLB this year. Two teams expected to compete for a World Series championship this year were the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies. However, as the season comes to a close, both teams are out of the playoff picture in their respective divisions. Thanks to an end of the season surge, the Phillies almost contended for the NL Wild Card spot. However the Red Sox entered a free fall, reminiscent of years of futility in the 80’s and 90’s.
So what’s gone wrong?
It’s not just a slew of injuries holding these teams from performing at their peak levels. There is something more profound going on here.
Most teams go through natural cyclical periods of ups and downs regarding wins and losses. However, teams like the Phillies, Red Sox and Yankees have been able to buck this trend, and spend their way into free agency nirvana. In addition, their respective General Managers have been able to finagle deals with teams not so fortunate to have the cash or foresight to keep many of their better players. These financially resourceful teams have outspent all other teams by a large margin, yet all three have been struggling so far this year. Only the Bronx Bombers have been able to thrive with a resurgence of strong core players.
The Phillies have two key injuries lingering from last year, extending well into this year. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, were both expected back, from their injuries, but have experienced complications leading to a prolonged inactive status. The Phils thought they could just pitch their way through it, and stay afloat until the heart of their batting order returned. The pitching however, has been their Achilles Heel (sorry Ryan). Cliff Lee remains winless through the first two months of the season, and Roy Halladay seems to have lost his immortal status to become an average everyday guy. Only Cole Hammels has dominated so far, and even he raised a few eyebrows earlier with conflict resolution issues.
As for Boston, who had hoped to celebrate the centennial of Fenway Park with another pennant this year, they are still hung over from last year’s Autumnal meltdown. The Alka-Seltzer seems to be taking much longer than expected. In addition, Bobby Valentine has not found an effective way to handle this diverse range of characters. Perhaps he’s still picking up the apple cart he tipped over when he made those “misconstrued” remarks about Keviin Youkilis. The way Dustin Pedroia reacted to the whole situation with his “…but that’s not the way we go about our stuff around here” remark has many fans believing that there is still an indelible mark on this franchise.
Perhaps the Phillies and Red Sox are suffering from something even more serious then injuries, personnel overhauls and inconsistent, revamped bullpens. Call it living in denial, or delusional, or whatever other adjective you can come up with…but it certainly is something more underlying than injuries or bad breaks. It’s more like a blind arrogance.
The Red Sox 2011 collapse, including the “Beer and Fried Chicken scandal” has been well documented. Terry Franconia and Sox management lost control by condoning the extra-curricular activities that were going on inside the clubhouse. It was a classic case of the players “I’ll do whatever I want” attitude, demonstrating the emotional immaturity of these overpaid athletes with sky-high egos, and too much time on their hands. There are probably some regrets here, but life in the MLB goes on and players and managers rarely suffer equivalent consequences for their indiscretions.
So perhaps last place is the penance they must serve to the baseball gods, until they can make the sacrifices necessary to appease them. There’s still time for redemption in this long season, but a new sense of devotion and dedicated service must be in place. Perhaps then, baseball will be restored to its natural order.