Boston’s monumental collapse: Assessing the aftermath

Body language says it all during Friday's press conference. Terry Francona was the first to leave Boston, and Theo Epstein may be next. (AP/Elise Amendola)

Yankees fans everywhere can breath a sigh of relief. Order has been restored to the force. A month ago the Boston Red Sox sat comfortably in position to make the postseason. It took the worst breakdown in the history of the game to miss out, but they did it. They choked. Boy did they ever choke.

That old feeling has been lurking there, deep in the stomach of all New Englanders. The odds-on, World Series favorites didn’t just miss the playoffs, they orchestrated the most embarrassing team performance in the history of the game. The complacent attitude of the entire organization led to a complete and utter failure.

It’s like ownership signed a pact with the baseball gods. Picture Babe Ruth, Roy Hobbs and Tom Yawkey seated around a table smoking cigars. The price to Reverse the Curse was a late-season fold of epic proportions. Yes, to alleviate 86 years of suffering, a deal must have been struck. How else can you explain such a grotesque plummet?

During past collapses, at least you could easily identify the villainous parties. Calvin Schiraldi, Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner. Grady Little, Pedro Martinez and Aaron Boone. Hell, throw the beloved Johnny Pesky on there with Enos Slaughter.

At least those were playoff blunders. One night. One game. One play. Just one crushing defeat.

Not this year. No, the paper champs took 27 games to make a mockery of our national pastime. Can there ever have been such an implosion? Well strictly numbers wise, no I guess not.

How about 1978? A catastrophic regular season meltdown. I won’t make anyone relive it, as I actually didn’t live it. Let’s just say many fans will see Bucky F-ing Dent scorched across the Green Monster forever.

So, now the blame game begins. But whose name should join that list? The line of candidates seems endless. Arguments can be made for many.
The front office brass made their scapegoat apparent right away. As of Friday, Terry Francona and the Sox parted ways. After just one full day of media speculation, the dejected Tito pulled away from Fenway for the last time as the team’s skip.

Damn those eight winning seasons, five postseasons and two World Championships, it’s got to be Tito’s fault.

He mismanaged the pitching staff. Daniel Bard threw too many innings. Alfredo Aceves should have started. Erik Bedard was coddled. Tim Wakefield had too many chances at 200.

Now, the press said he lost his clubhouse. Pitchers were drinking beer in the locker room. David Ortiz was interrupting press conferences. Kevin Youkilis is a “determent” to the team (okay, allowing a grown man to throw tantrums like a Little Leaguer who just got struck out by the neighbor kid is a problem.)
Sure, there might have been miscues in his decisions, but did that result in 20 losses? Doubtful.

His decisions, or lack there of, have certainly contributed, but GM Theo Epstein should receive the brunt of the blame.

Granted the ’04 and ’07 success probably would not have come to pass without Theo obtaining the players he did. It took all of his arsenal, Thanksgiving Dinners and franchise prospects but Curt Schilling, Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett and others came to Boston vaulting the Sox to two World Championships.

Does that give him a free pass for life? I could see never having to buy a beer again from Hartford to Bar Harbor, but shouldn’t he still be held accountable?
Whose idea was it to revamp the bullpen this year with Bobby Jenks, Matt Albers, and Dan Wheeler? Jenks and Wheeler both pulled disappearing acts. Albers was serviceable at best.

Okay, fine. He may have signed Aceves, who performed admirably down the stretch, but can’t Aceves’s success be attributed to other poor moves by Theo? He squandered millions on guys like John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Lackey lasted past the sixth inning a whopping one start in September. Dice-K shut it down way back in May.

Had the staff mustered more than 71 quality starts, I don’t see Aceves winning 10 games. In the long run, is he much more valuable than say Julian Tavarez was in 2007? Perhaps a bit, but I wouldn’t pin championship hopes on a middle reliever.

How about Epstein’s midseason acquisitions? Erik Bedard was a tremendous disappointment. Shocking no one, except maybe Theo. How much worse off would they have been with Kevin Millwood or sticking with Andrew Miller?

Let’s not forget unheralded acquisition Mike Aviles. He did manage to bat over .300 in September filling in Youkilis. Unfortunately, his play at the plate will be muddied by mistakes in the field. He committed two key errors fueling the numerous late-season fielding follies displayed by the Sox.

Does the Carl Crawford contract even merit mentioning? Too bad Jayson Werth had an even worse year, otherwise it would be, hands down, the worst signing of the year. Hey, at least he has six years to redeem himself, right? Right?

Don’t be too hard on him; outside the now jettisoned manager, Crawford seems to be the only one that’s accepted responsibility in this whole mess. How noble of him. Maybe he should offer up some of $20MM as a refund to season-ticket holders.

Taking the helm with the Cubs probably looks much more appealing to Theo than taking ownership of his mistakes in Boston. In his wake, a dysfunctional clubhouse and a couple hundred million in untradeable contracts stand waiting. I can already see him riding into town perched upon a Billy Goat, Steve Bartman at his side. Beware you Lovable Losers, success comes with a price.

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