A Red Sox Return to the Past

Ballparks, Draft, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

You, like the Red Sox, wanted to travel through time. Not as the basis of a morality play in a Twilight Zone episode, nor a movie whose theme is to appreciate the small things you have rather than lamenting what you don’t have due to opportunities missed. You just want to go back in time to a “better” place.

And you do. Your eyes open and, instead of the cold winter of Boston you’re in Florida. Walking toward the Red Sox spring training facility, there are several puddles on the ground from a morning rainstorm, but the clouds have given way to a bright blue sky and glowing sunshine.

You hear someone nearby say the words, “Let’s go see the idiots,” and immediately feel a twinge of joy, remembering Johnny Damon, Pedro Martinez, Kevin Millar—the heroes of 2004.

You pass a newsstand and glance at the headlines to prove to yourself that it’s actually real. You see:

“Red Sox new acquisitions bring positive vibe to clubhouse and power to lineup”

“Who among the Red Sox proven and talented short relievers will close?”

“President Bush declares U.S. will not bow to terrorist dictators”

“Young players indicate bright Boston future”

“Yankees have more questions than Red Sox”

You breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that your desire to reach back to what was—like that of the 2013 Red Sox—worked. You approach the park and see the sign.

“Welcome to Red Sox spring training…” and your heart stops when you read the words: “Winter Haven, Fla.”

Winter Haven. Wait a second…

The Red Sox haven’t held their spring training in Winter Haven since 1992. They moved to Fort Myers in 1993.

Oh no…

You rush back to the newsstand and grab the paper The Lakeland Ledger and look at the date. March 24….1990.

Oh my God. I went back too far.

You rush toward the spring training facility with your mind calculating the ramifications. President Bush is the first President George Bush; the Red Sox, coming off a disappointing season in 1989, signed Jeff Reardon to join Lee Smith as the second closer; the word “idiot” wasn’t said as a term of endearment, he actually thinks they’re idiots; you arrive at the outer fields and see the minor leaguers and, oh dear Lord, in a Red Sox uniform is Jeff Bagwell, traded late in the 1990 season for Larry Andersen to help win a division championship; Bagwell was third in line at third base behind Wade Boggs and Scott Cooper and was expendable…so they thought. Cooper, Carlos Quintana, Mo Vaughn and John Valentin are four of the minor leaguers who were meant to lead a Red Sox return to prominence. The memories of the disasters come flooding back.

1990 will yield a division championship—having experienced the immediate future following that 1990 season, you see. And you know. More clubhouse “attitude” with Jack Clark. More wasted money and terrible results. Multiple pitchers who can close. A new manager who has a Boston history, minor league bona fides, support of the players and media and a tough guy persona, Butch Hobson. You remember the hope and desperation; the fear of knowing deep inside with an inherent negativity from history—1967, 1975, 1978. And you know.

Then you flash to the most horrifying words to a Red Sox fan, “GM Lou Gorman,” and it sends you into a screaming fit of hysterics that draws a crowd; you’re lying on the ground; people are telling you to calm down, that help is on the way; hovering on the outside of the group is a tall, swaggering man wearing a sportcoat, white pants and sunglasses. He casts a bearing of disinterest and says, “Somebody call the nutsquad for this guy,” you recognize the foghorn voice and gruff, old-school, matter of fact tone to be that of Ted Williams.

Your fear rises.

Medical staff congregates around you. Flashing lights enter your peripheral vision. Wild eyed and shaking, you find yourself restrained and placed in the back of an ambulance. Overhearing the driver say, “The Red Sox can do that to anyone.”

This is not 2004!!!!!!!!

“Would you shut up back there?!?” To his partner, he says, “I can’t stand the screamers.”

The siren wails as you scan for an escape. Pulling hard at the restraints, your resistance is futile. Then you remember. You close your eyes and repeat the words the time-bending shaman instructed you to say following his warning. The entire text enters your vision verbatim:

“He who seeks the future must look into the past. He who seeks the past understands the future. Neither is what you want. Neither is what you expect. Your key to freedom when understanding has reached you are the following three words: ‘Pesky Papi Theo.’ Then you will be home.”

You say the words. Your world spins and you awaken…to find yourself back in 2012. You’re home and relieved…for the moment. Then it hits you. Christmas is coming as is a brand new year to replace the hell of 2012 with Bobby Valentine, the year that was meant to replace the hell of the 2011 collapse. Valentine, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez—all symbols of the passionless and dysfunctional collection of bubblegum cards the front office mistakenly believed would maintain their annual trip to the playoffs on sheer numbers and talent alone. They didn’t. They’re gone, but your calm is transitory. Terry Francona is in Cleveland and Theo Epstein is in Chicago. Nothing’s changed, but everything’s changed. As happy to be home as you are, you look at the headlines. You read of the credit given to the Red Sox GM Ben Cherington for altering a toxic clubhouse with “winning” personalities; for hiring the “right” manager; or “fixing” a shoddy starting rotation and questionable bullpen; for getting back to basics.

But what basics are they? The basics of 2003-2004 or the basics of 1989-1991?

It’s not simply a matter of adhering to the fundamentals, but adhering to the right fundamentals.

John Farrell, Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, Mike Napoli (maybe), Joel Hanrahan—a return to what built the new Red Sox in the first place—all reminiscent from the glory of less than a decade ago. Except you traveled to the true mirror of the 2013 Red Sox and see 1990. You see the name Bagwell in today’s headlines, but it’s not as a prospect; it’s for his possible entry into baseball’s Hall of Fame with the insignia of the Houston Astros on his hat. Peter Gammons was enthusiastic then; Peter Gammons is enthusiastic now.

The terror continues.

The early 1990s were another era of so near, yet so far; of hopping from one strategy to another and desperately waiting for one to work. Of maddening trades of youth for age; of signing that “last piece” giving the team what they “need,” be it a new starting pitcher; a new closer; a galvanizing personality in the clubhouse; a center fielder; a new manager—something.

You went back too far. And so have the Red Sox. The results and fallout will be identical with many years to go before truly returning to the glory days that seem so far away.

You wanted to see the future and you saw the past. They’re identical. They’re a nightmare. Except you can’t wake up from it or utter a phrase to go elsewhere. It’s real. And there’s no escape from reality. It has to play itself out. And it will.

It will.

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Showalter-Duquette Philosophies Mesh Neatly For The Orioles

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The histories of Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette (provided the negotiations for Duquette to take over as Orioles GM don’t fall apart) bode well for the club to improve to respectability and contention within the next three years.

Showalter’s and Duquette’s preferences in building an organization center around having a big-time starter at the top of the rotation to gobble innings and be the anchor; having a lineup led by one basher and other, less-recognizable boppers; and a versatile array of background players who know their roles rather than the one star who has too much say-so in team matters; both like having relatively inexpensive and replaceable to fill in around stars.

With the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Rangers, Showalter had that one starter he could count on to front the rotation and provide quality every fifth day. Jimmy Key wasn’t a prototypical ace when the Yankees signed him, but that’s what he was for his tenure under Showalter; he had Randy Johnson with the Diamondbacks; and rode Kenny Rogers with the Rangers.

Duquette had Pedro Martinez with the Expos and Red Sox—and acquired him twice in masterful trades for which he surrendered very little. He loaded his lineup with Mo Vaughn and Nomar Garciaparra to function as the centerpieces while acquiring underappreciated and patient mashers like Jose Canseco and using John Valentin and Tim Naehring whose on base skills weren’t widely known or paid for.

Duquette liked power/on base men before it became trendy.

Showalter favored having the egoless grinders filling his lineup and made it a point to get rid of Alex Rodriguez because he was too much of a diva and ate up a vast chunk of the payroll which could’ve been allocated for multiple pieces. Duquette had the nerve to let both Roger Clemens and Vaughn leave as free agents and was right in both cases.

The philosophies parallel and provide a window into what they’ll do moving forward.

The Orioles don’t have that veteran arm at the top of the rotation and that’s the first order of business. Nick Markakis could be a chip to get that arm. I don’t get the impression that the Giants are going to trade Matt Cain and the idea that they’ll trade Tim Lincecum is ridiculous, but that’s the type of arm the Orioles are going to pursue.

Would the Phillies listen on Cole Hamels? Why not ask?

Gio Gonzalez from the Athletics might be on the block. Mat Latos was born in nearby Virginia (for what that’s worth since he went to high school in Florida), would the Padres be desperate enough for a power bat that they’d consider dealing him?

Duquette and Showalter are going to get a big time starting pitcher from somewhere.

As for a power bat, there are several available. Prince Fielder might hit 60 home runs playing for the Orioles; they could bring in the always underrated Josh Willingham to replace Markakis if they trade him; and sign Edwin Jackson for another 200-inning arm.

Showalter and Duquette find closers rather than pay for them, so a younger pitcher or trying to get a Grant Balfour along with Gonzalez would be an inexpensive, hard-throwing option who’s never gotten a legitimate chance to be a semi-full time closer.

Because of the known strategies of both Showalter and Duquette, they’re going to work well together, be gutsy and aggressive and make the Orioles exponentially better by 2013 as long as there’s no interference from ownership.

Showalter was a desperation hire and was given large influence in club construction; Duquette appears to be an “oh, him” selection after others refused the job or backed out of interviews.

But it’s a good combination that’s going to work.

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