Monday, June 8, 2015

2 comments Rob Bradford Makes the Ridiculous Argument That the Red Sox Run the Risk of Being Irrelevant

Much like the idea that the NBA lottery needs to be fixed NOW, I think the idea sports teams need to stay relevant is a fiction created by sportswriters. It's something I believe mainly sportswriters worry about. Winning makes a team relevant. Some teams have a great tradition in the area where they are located and are able to stay relevant even when the team isn't consistently making the playoffs or winning titles. I would consider Boston to be one of those areas, but Rob Bradford would not. He thinks more than winning, a team needs to stay relevant, and the Red Sox have lost for almost two straight seasons. TWO! The horror! So Rob Bradford claims the Red Sox need to win games or they will be in trouble of not being seen as relevant. The same fans who stuck it out with the team for 80 years when they didn't win a World Series (okay, not the exact same fans, but you get the point) will give up on the team after two years of not winning games. This is ridiculous and the argument the Red Sox need to stay relevant, not just win games, is ridiculous as well.

John Henry had every right to say the words in February. 

"We play for championships," the Red Sox principal owner declared while greeting the media at the start of spring training.

Except the Red Sox don't look like they will win the World Series this year, so what's up with that? That's two straight years the Red Sox haven't won a World Series. Not winning a World Series at least every other year can make the fan base restless and cause them to focus on something other than the Red Sox.

That's how he should think. That's how the entire organization should think. Manager, coaches, players and front office. Every single person collecting a paycheck bearing Henry's signature. 

I'm sure they all think that way. Simply because the Red Sox aren't winning the division right now doesn't mean the organization isn't still trying to win titles.

In recent days, even media members have been championship-driven.

Yes, because it's important to get the perspective of those whose sole job is to write narratives, storylines, and criticize the Red Sox. The media thinks the Red Sox should win titles? Well, that changes everything then! The sports media in Boston is so well-known for being calm, patient and not quick to panic when things are going badly. Naturally, it means something a group of people who have unreasonable expectations for sports teams in the Boston area think the Red Sox should win more championships.

They should be playing for championships, not division titles. With a run differential of minus-48 – worst in the American League and third-worst in the majors – neither looks likely.

I don't hate to be that guy who points this out, but a team can play for championships and still not win their division in the age of the wild card. So the Red Sox can play for championships and not win the AL East. And also, if a team is playing to win the division then that doesn't mean that team isn't playing to win a championship as well. First things first. Try to win the division, then focus on trying to win a World Series title.

But here's the reality: the Red Sox organization is playing for something almost as pressing as titles. They're playing for relevance.

Winning brings relevance. Professional sports teams can be relevant without winning games. The whole "they are playing to be relevant" thing is something made up by sportswriters to try and raise the stakes when a team isn't winning. I find it to be mostly bullshit. Boston isn't Miami or Tampa Bay where they have trouble drawing fans to see the team play. 

To be clear, like Moe Greene said in The Godfather, we're talking business.

This isn't about the baseball side of things, which is so broken, there's no easy fix.

The Red Sox literally, LITERALLY, went from worst to first in the span of one season a few years ago. "The baseball side of things" can get fixed very quickly if a few things go right. When one minute there looks like no easy fix, that easy fix can suddenly just happen when pitchers start pitching well and the hitters start hitting the ball. It may not happen this year, but it could happen for the Red Sox next year. Trade in the drama for real sportswriting.

This organization will find itself at a crossroads this summer, trying to avoid the kind of ditch even a $200-plus million payroll or shock-and-awe transaction won't eliminate. If the Red Sox can't find a way to remain in contention for something -- anything – they'll be in danger of drowning in the kind of apathy their entire sport is desperately flailing to avoid.

(Yawns) The Red Sox didn't win a World Series for decades and it only galvanized the fan base. I'm not a fan of the "Boston fans are the best and all of the teams are irrevocably part of the city's DNA" crowd, but the Red Sox have a long history of support in Boston. This support won't go away due to a few losing seasons. 

Yet it's really, really hard to sell patience when four out five Septembers have left local sports fans banking solely on Bill Belichick.

Oh no! The Red Sox haven't won a World Series four of the last five seasons!

What's funny is another writer could have written this column about the Patriots last year at this time and said, "It's really hard to sell patience when every year since 2004 local sports fans haven't had a reason to expect a championship from the Patriots. Since then, it's other local sports teams that have carried the championship torch for the city, all while banking on Belichick's genius and Brady's ability to bring another Super Bowl to the city."

But that would be silly to write a column that is even somewhat self-aware whose sole intent basically doesn't boil down to the sentence, "Derp, they don't win enough titles like they should to stay relevant."

And that is why staying within striking distance, no matter what the record, is of the utmost important to this organization at this time.

I just LOL'd all over my shirt. Yes, it is important to EVERY SINGLE PROFESSIONAL SPORTS ORGANIZATION to win as many games as possible in order to make the playoffs. So I don't know why staying within striking distance of winning the division wouldn't be important to the Red Sox.

But wait a second, "staying within striking distance." Bradford is clearly talking about striking distance of winning the division, but I thought in his own words,

They should be playing for championships, not division titles.

Now all of a sudden in order to prove his point that the Red Sox need to stay relevant, it's fine to play for division titles. When trying to hold the Red Sox to some ridiculous standard earlier a division title wasn't good enough. But now that he's preaching "relevance" the division title chase is very, very important. Now the franchise that needs to be playing for championships, not division titles, should play for division titles. Because of "relevance."

They entered Monday four games out of first place, the same distance separating the second-place Angels from the AL West-leading Astros. They're two games closer to first than the feel-good Cubbies.

The Cubs are in the National League. I'm not entirely sure the point here, other than the Red Sox aren't out of the running to win the division. If that's Rob Bradford's point, then this entire column where he says there is no easy fix for the baseball side of things has contradicted this point. I guess it's too much to expect Bradford not to contradict himself when the original point he wants to make is so weak.

If John Farrell's team pulled the same 22-29 stunt on June 1 the last time it came off a last-place finish, in 2013, it would be nine games out of first. And if that's the case, the big winners are the New England Revolution and the NBA Draft. Nobody would care what continent the Red Sox ownership group was on, which wouldn't be a good thing for the owners of Liverpool's soccer team.

The Red Sox have to stay relevant, because if they don't then...well, fans aren't going to stop coming to games in future seasons...but it would be bad because ummm...I'm not sure why. The Red Sox haven't been very good before and they managed to stay relevant. Their ability to have a large payroll and a brand name team sort of helps that stay true. 

Think about how long it took for people to buy into that '13 club. In case you forgot, when it entered June 34-23 and in first place, fans remained leery

Who cares how long it took the fans to buy into that '13 club? Why in the hell does it matter? They bought in when the team was on its way to winning a World Series title. The whole "relevance is important" issue is really only something sportswriters care about. The Red Sox aren't going to have to worry about being irrelevant based on a few seasons of not making the playoffs. 

From 2003-11 when things got bad, Sox fans got doubly angry. You know why? Because the organization had convinced families and fans to invest so much time and money into the brand that it was only common sense that the highs were going to be higher, and the lows were going to be lower.

The highs can get no higher than winning the World Series. Okay, maybe winning a World Series over multiple seasons can make the highs higher. Still, Bradford's argument that the Red Sox were successful and this is why they won't be relevant when they aren't successful is shockingly weak. 

But thanks to the '13 World Series, the Red Sox found a way to rekindle interest.

Now the Red Sox find themselves facing something more crushing than watching someone else raise a championship trophy. They face apathy.

Want apathy? Let's talk about MLB teams that aren't in the Top 10 of MLB in home and road attendance. Talk to teams like Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Oakland and the Chicago White Sox about real fan apathy is like. But of course Rob Bradford quotes no attendance figures in here, because they don't back up his argument. So he talks in terms of "relevance," "interest," and "apathy" as if none of these terms are contained in the Red Sox attendance figures which remain in the Top 10 of the majors. When faced with facts that don't support your argument, ignore those facts. 

The car isn't turning over. And when you're talking three last-place finishes, coupled with the cost of actually attending one of these games, this could result in the kind of loss of faith a Wally on every doorstep won't immediately cure.

Rob Bradford a few paragraphs ago: "The Red Sox are only a few games out of winning their close division."

Rob Bradford now: "The Red Sox are going to be in last place again."

Keep moving the goal around so it fits the point you want to make. And by the way, those three last place finishes are surrounded by a World Series title, a 90 win season, an 89 win season, two 95 win seasons, and another World Series title. So Bradford has absolutely no point.

In Seth Mnookin's 2006 book, "Feeding the Monster," he detailed a meeting after the 2005 season in which, "one of the team's financial advisors warned that a single 85-win season could cost the organization as much as $20 to $30 million in lost ticket and advertising revenue." At the same meeting, CEO Larry Lucchino, "raised the haunting legacies of teams like Baltimore, Colorado, Cleveland, and Toronto," who won big and led the league in attendance for portions of the '90s before falling on hard times that led to diminished interest in the 2000s.

Fortunately for the Red Sox, those 85 win seasons haven't been the norm over the past decade. Also, how much does a World Series victory or playoff appearance bring in? Because those have been prevalent for the Red Sox as well. And let's be somewhat honest, the Orioles had a terrible owner everyone hated and the team didn't win, the Rockies and Blue Jays don't have near the history in the local area the Red Sox have, and the Indians' had diminishing attendance due to the team losing games and not allowing fans to get engaged with players they knew would be traded. Nowhere among those four teams is there a large market team with the massive spending ability of the Red Sox that also has a strong, historic attachment to the local area.

It seems impossible to believe the same could happen to the Red Sox, but it's an issue they worried about 10 years ago, when they were coming off a World Series and three straight 95-win seasons.

Just because the Red Sox worried about this issue doesn't mean it was a real issue to worry about. Owners and CEO's worry about shit all the time that don't become reality. I would be more persuaded if it weren't for the fact this worry from Lucchino came a decade ago. It's old evidence of a concern that didn't turn out to be a real, genuine concern when the Red Sox actually failed to win 85 games. 

They're well aware that the new newest wave of Red Sox fans are already a confused bunch, wondering who to believe after so many ups and downs. This might just be the season their minds are made up and they decide they'd rather play lacrosse than watch the Red Sox. 

Or the fans may just tune out for one season and be right back ready to cheer for the Red Sox at the beginning of the 2016 season. If fans are so fickle as to run away when the Red Sox are losing, doesn't this mean they could come right back if the Red Sox have a good start to the 2016 season? 

The clock is ticking. If the Sox remain four games out when Patriots preseason starts -- no matter what the record – then they might have dodged a bullet.

Four games out, not five games, of the division title. If the Red Sox are five games out of winning a division title when Patriots preseason starts, they will become irrelevant. This is the same division title that the franchise shouldn't be playing to achieve according to Rob Bradford. 

If things go the other way, then the Red Sox will face the most perilous moment of John Henry's ownership. Football is already king, and the NFL's signature franchise resides 35 miles away in Foxboro. Good luck taking eyeballs away from the defending Super Bowl champs.

Could he be more dramatic about all of this? Good luck to any MLB franchise taking eyeballs away from the football team in the area (excepting a few MLB teams). Football is king in most cities. This may sound shocking, because it's only happened for as long as the Patriots and Red Sox have existed, but fans of the Red Sox and the Patriots can pay attention to both teams at the same time. Yes, it's true. This isn't an "either/or" proposition. If the Red Sox stink for one season then that doesn't mean the team will be irrelevant. This is a ridiculous argument for why the Red Sox are on the threshold of not becoming relevant. 

The days are dire for the Red Sox, not just on the field, but in a much broader sense. They're fighting to remain relevant, and right now, they're losing.

In a broader sense, the argument for "relevance" is a losing argument. Fans care about winning and winning helps fans get engaged with the team. A team like the Red Sox that has such a vast history with the local area isn't going to have worry about relevance when not having success over a 2-3 year span. Cut the drama just for the purposes of pageviews.


Murray said...

They have been writing "Patriots haven't won in 10 years. And making the playoffs every year isn't good enough!!" Columns just about every year down here

Bengoodfella said...

Murray, do you think they will wait another year to write a "Patriots haven't won anything" column or just pretend last year's Super Bowl never happened?