I’m writing this as the Sox travel to Baltimore for the final series of the regular season with a buttock-clenching one game lead in the Wild Card race, having gone 5-for-23 during September. And I’m musing on those factors which Carmine doesn’t appear to address. Like how the most successful team in baseball for four months can suddenly become the second-worst when it really matters. Like how the starting pitching can implode, including ace Jon Lester and the egregious John Lackey. Like how $140 million worth of Carl Crawford can have such a below-par season, offensively and defensively, that Francona leaves him out in a key match-up against the Rays.
Carmine is not infallible. If it was, we wouldn’t have had Gagné or Penny, Beltré or Renteria, for example. These guys were not bad ball players: they just couldn’t hack it in Boston. What the old scouts looked for, as well as the ability to ‘look good in designer jeans’, was the human factor. And that is not quantifiable on a spreadsheet. The character and emotional make-up of a player, especially in a market such as Boston where scrutiny from fans and media is intense and constant, is not the subject of statistical measurement.
The sub-title of Moneyball is The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. Sabermetrics helped to even out the playing field briefly, but Billy Beane’s As have not had a winning season for five years. The game is not fair. The whole MLB structure is not fair. So is it back to payroll?
Well, the two biggest payrolls are first and second in the American League. But the Rays are only one game back, and their payroll is a mere third of Boston’s, probably a quarter of New York’s. I understand why so many neutrals are rooting for them. As the Sox know to their cost this year, they are a very, very good ball club.
But so are the Sox. Carmine plus money gave us what, on paper, looked a potential World Series-winning team. It’s still possible. I’m pretty sure, though, that if we do go all the way, it will be down to the human factor. It will be because of above-and-beyond heroics from Pedroia, because of stunning athleticism from Ellsbury, because the frustration Papi has been showing in the dugout explodes in one beautiful bases-loaded swing, because Josh and Jon reassert themselves as the aces they are. And maybe, just maybe, because John Lackey overcomes his personal and pitching problems by sheer force of will to prove to us that he is, after all, a real Red Sox.
Today’s listening: Jefferson Starship, from the Uptown Theatre, Napa, CA in July this year. Kantner, Freiberg et al are the dirt dogs of rock, grinding out the old and the new on their own Never Ending Tour. I’m enjoying their stuff as much as they clearly are.