Wednesday, October 16, 2013

0 comments Bob Nightengale Blindly Follows the "A Lot of Red Sox Players Have Beards Which Mean They Are Playing Better Because of It" Narrative

Sportswriters love a good narrative. When they want to explain something they latch on to a narrative as hard as they can and refuse to let go. The Red Sox have been victims of this "beard narrative" ever since they made the playoffs this season and even prior to making the playoffs. A lot of Red Sox players have beards so surely that means there is a bond between them that can't be broken and that's why they have made the postseason. Not because of their baseball skill, but because of their beard bond. You would think the Red Sox were the first team to ever have players who have beards the way the media (including Sports Illustrated) have focused on their facial hair. In fact, here are the results of Googling "Red Sox beards." It's like an epidemic. What's even worse is none of these stories are that much different. Not one to miss a good narrative-building, Bob Nightengale tags along and writes one of the many columns about how the Red Sox turned the season around with the help of their beards. 

The players were piled into a cab, headed to an informal team dinner in Cleveland, when the cabbie slammed on his brakes.

Heads violently jerked forward. The car, which suddenly veered in front of them, stopped. The collision was averted.

Fortunately the beards on the faces of the Red Sox players saved them from getting hurt by cushioning the impact?

Dustin Pedroia, sitting in the front seat, exhaled and told the cabbie: "Careful buddy. You're carrying the 2013 World Series champs.''

It was April 15, the day of the Boston Marathon bombing.

Is Pedroia tall enough yet to sit in the front seat? 

It was also the day the Boston Red Sox came together.

That's absolutely disgusting Bob. Though, if the Red Sox want to repeat the success of the 1980's Lakers then this is definitely be a good step in the right direction. Now all they need is a hot tub and someone to play the part of A.C. Green standing awkwardly to the side of the room.

By the way, just when you aren't sure this column could be worse, the title is "Red Sox pass chemistry class," so that's pretty bad.

"The next day we stood on the field day for a moment of silence,'' Red Sox manager John Farrell said, recalling their game at Cleveland's Progressive Field, "and that's when I thought, 'This group has got a chance to not only be special, but to do something special. They get it. We represent something significant in our city, and guys embrace that and relish that.'

I'm still missing the ever-so-tenuous connection on how beards factor into this. By the way, the Red Sox were 8-4 and in first place on April 15, so we have a double narrative going on here. I don't doubt the Boston Marathon tragedy had an effect on the team, but it's not like the Red Sox were playing poorly prior to the bombing. The urge for the players to all grow beards is also a fun narrative, but the growing of beards by the Red Sox players after the season started coincided with them playing well, but was not the reason they played well.

"That bond now exceeds anything I've ever experienced.''

By the way, John Farrell is married and has three sons. I'm sure they are pleased to hear the bond between his current Red Sox team exceeds anything he's ever experienced.

When they returned four days later to Boston, and had a pre-game ceremony to honor the local officials and heroes, it was time for designated hitter David Ortiz to take the microphone at Fenway Park.

He uttered the line that will forever be cherished in Boston history.

It's a great story, but also irrelevant as to why the Red Sox are in the playoffs and played so well this year. Again, the Red Sox were 11-4 when Ortiz took the microphone. It makes for a great narrative that the Red Sox started playing well to be #Bostonstrong, but it's also a load of shit.

"This team,'' Ortiz told USA TODAY Sports, "is like nothing I've seen. We are so close. We have the same goal in mind.

To grow insanely long beards that allow lazy sportswriters to use the beards as a narrative and then try to trick the casual reader into believing there isn't a tenuous tie between the beards and the Red Sox winning by the sportswriter then tying the beards into the Boston Marathon bombing?

"Man, we want that World Series.''

All of the other playoff teams are pretty nonchalant about winning the World Series, which is why no other team in the playoffs have a single player with a beard, which means no other team has the bond this Red Sox team has. You know what helps the bond these Red Sox players have? Winning games. Otherwise, they are just a bunch of scruffy-looking guys playing baseball who missed the playoffs and Dan Shaughnessy would write a column about how the 2013 Red Sox team were a bunch of nice guys but they need real baseball players to win a World Series. Wait, he already wrote that column back in April. 

The idea a Red Sox title will in any way help to "heal" the city of Boston is being a little bit dramatic. It may make the citizens of Boston feel better and give them a rallying cry, but I'm not sure anyone is going to feel better about the Boston Marathon bombing because the Red Sox won the World Series. 

They don't call themselves the "Idiots'' like in 2004. Nobody is "cowboying up.'' Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar and Curt Schilling are all gone.

Of course this Red Sox team doesn't call themselves "idiots" or talk about "cowboying up." They would never repeat the same narrative from a previous season. This season the narrative is to win a World Series to help heal Boston and they are doing this by growing beards. The "idiots" have been replaced by beards, but otherwise it's not that different.

Nope, all this team does is win.

The 2004 Red Sox won 98 games. The 2013 Red Sox won 97 games. It appears that the 2004 Red Sox were idiots and cowboy'd up while also winning one more game than the 2013 Red Sox. So it appears all both Red Sox teams did was win. 

I personally believe if a person says any variation of "all this team (or insert player's name here) does is win" then he/she/it should be punched in the face by a polar bear. That's just my opinion.

Grow beards.

And hang together as if it's Rush Week on fraternity row.

This is just such incredibly fucking lazy writing. There's really no way to re-write an article that has already been done 100 times before, but the whole "they are like a college fraternity" analogy has been beaten into the ground. Do better.

Just last week, there were 23 Red Sox players, and three coaches, who spent their off day in Denver hanging out at the Denver Broncos-Oakland Raiders Monday Night Football game. They walked the sidelines. They cheered from their club level seats. They went out to Morton's steakhouse for dinner after the game.

In the wee hours of the morning, guys were still in pitcher Jake Peavy's hotel suite as the recently-acquired pitcher played his guitar.

Here's my problem with a lot of modern sportswriting. The conclusion the writer draws nearly ALWAYS depends on whether that team is losing or winning. If the Red Sox didn't make the playoffs then walking the sidelines of a football game, going out for a steak, and then staying up late listening to Jake Peavy play his guitar would be Exhibit #1 of why these Red Sox aren't serious about winning baseball games and only care about having fun. Dan Shaughnessy would write an article saying this team needs to be more serious and they need a manager who will enforce rules. This is why the "chicken and beer" narrative for the 2011 collapse was so stupid. There's not a hell of a lot of difference in players drinking beer and eating chicken in the clubhouse and players choosing to stay up late and play guitar after spending the evening eating steak and going to a football game.

But no, since the Red Sox are winning games these are just bonding opportunities that the Red Sox have and not any activities that are taking away from the main goal of winning games. A lazy sportswriter's point of view ALWAYS depends on whether that team is winning or not. Nothing is a positive or a negative by itself, but is only viewed through the prism of that team's current record.

"The one guy I wish we hadn't taken was David Ortiz,'' Peavy said, grinning. "When you take him along, it's like taking a zoo animal.

That's pretty fucking racist to say, Jake. Simply because Ortiz is the only minority in the room he has to be compared to a zoo animal?

I mean, people will notice him from blocks away.

Because he's not white. We get it, Jake. You think a person of Latino descent in a nice steakhouse should be in the kitchen making your steak not sharing a steak at the table with you.

"Then we have to play security for him, create a wall around him, just to have some privacy.''

Like a cage? Like a zoo keeps a monkey in a cage? I'm really glad Atlanta didn't trade for Peavy or else Peavy would have had a field day with the fact the entire Atlanta starting outfield are minorities.

When the night finally ended, the early team bus departed six hours before game time at Coors Field.

Every seat was filled.

"Our early bus is always at 12:30,'' Farrell said, "and if you're not out there early, you're not going to get a seat on it.

"It's always full.''

The players arrive in time for the team bus. That definitely shows their commitment to winning. I almost wish the Red Sox had gone 81-81 this season just so I could read the late night guitar playing and sideline visits at a football game get turned into a negative by the Bosto media.

There's a group of at least eight players who hang together in someone's hotel room after games, drinking beer, munching down, and telling stories.

And somehow drinking this beer doesn't get in the way of them playing baseball. It's funny how this happens in 2013, but drinking beer was the total cause for the Red Sox collapse in 2011. These types of narratives are what sportswriters love to cling to in order to explain events related to a team, aren't they?

And, yes, they're certainly not afraid to make fun of themselves, with newcomer Ryan Dempster brining boxes of Popeye's chicken to Fenway Park in September, yelling out:

"I've got the chicken, now who's got the beer?''

Yes, they're willing to go there, mocking their 2011 collapse when newspaper reports surfaced that pitchers were indulging in beer and chicken during games.

Because the Red Sox are in the playoffs this joke is cutesy and fun, but I'll be damned if Dempster's call-back to the 2011 season wouldn't be seen as a lack of focus and concern with winning baseball games if the Red Sox weren't playing well.

"The media obviously wants to feed on the negative,'' Gomes says, "so you have to talk about your negatives. You have to talk about your oh-for-four. You have to talk about your blown save.

"When you do that, everything is fine. As soon as you start running from your negatives, that's when it's going to get a little hairy.''

And of course when the Red Sox are playing well the media lets the players get away with talking about the negatives, while when things are going bad the Boston media leeches onto the negative and won't let go until these players have been driven from the organization (see: Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez...both players who couldn't handle the large city of Boston, but somehow get along fine in the gigantic city of Los Angeles).

Well, in this clubhouse, real hairy.


There's more hair on their faces these days than their head, with players actually overheard last week talking about beard conditioners and styles of beard combs.

Just like those limp-wristed homos! Right, Jake Peavy?

"I made the mistake of having mine trimmed,'' Ross said, "and when Nap[oli] saw me, he looked like I shot his dog. So I kept growing it. And so did everyone else. It's really caught on. It's hilarious.

I mean, it sure sounds hilarious. I'm laughing on the inside.

You know when someone tells a story and it's clear you had to be there? Yeah...

"When you're growing your beard out when you're in last place, people don't find it as intimidating as when you win.''

Nobody finds it intimidating when you are in first place either. It's just a cheap way for the sports media to grasp on to a team full of players with beards to further a narrative.

They spent 159 days in first place, becoming the first team in franchise history to go from worst to first, and winning more games from one season to the next since 1946.

Nevermind the Red Sox playing well during the 2013 season predated the team members growing beards, they became a great team because opposing teams were afraid of them because they have beards. This is Bob Nightengale's story and he is sticking to it.

The Red Sox, who brought in six new free-agent faces and strong clubhouse personalities, had a chemistry makeover that could become the biggest trendsetter in baseball since the one-inning save.

Baseball players wearing beards, who would have ever thought it could happen? Yes, the Red Sox started playing well this season so they had a chemistry makeover, but more importantly, they had a talent makeover. Talent wins baseball games.

"For people to tell me that clubhouse chemistry and personality doesn't matter,'' Peavy told USA TODAY Sports, "is an absolute joke. I'll fight you with every last dying breath on that.

Clubhouse chemistry and personality do matter. Players have to get along and it's easier to get along when (repeat after me) that team is winning baseball games. When a team is winning baseball games chemistry is great because everyone is happy. When a team is not winning baseball games all of a sudden a little personality may become grating and the small little issues one player has with another player becomes a bigger deal.

"You look at that San Francisco Giants team that won the two World Series, and try to tell me that clubhouse chemistry doesn't matter. I promise you there's a direct correlation on how much this team cares about each other off the field, and how hard this team plays together on the field.

And it's easier to care about each other off the field when the team is winning games. Chemistry isn't overrated, but using beards and chemistry as the reason a team is winning is overrated. Chemistry suddenly disappears when a team struggles.

"I've lived it. I witnessed it. And I'm experiencing it right now.

Peavy has pitched in two games and 9.2 innings in the postseason prior to playing for the Red Sox. I'm not so sure he has witnessed it.

"We've got a special chance now to show everyone ourselves.''

That is true. Because the Red Sox team is talented, not because the Red Sox team has beards.