COMMENTARY| It's amazing how quickly a fall from grace can happen in the world of sports. For instance, take the ownership of the Boston Red Sox. John Henry and company came to Fenway in 2002. A year later Boston was a game away from the World Series. A year after that the Red Sox were winning their first championship in 86 years. Another ring came just three years after that. And throughout those seasons the team remained competitive.
The ownership group has done yeoman's work off the field as well. Fenway Park received a facelift to allow it to live on past its 100th birthday. The ownership group brought European soccer matches to the park, as well as NHL and college hockey games. Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, and many others have rocked the ballpark. And they have continued the tradition of the Jimmy Fund, which raises millions of dollars to support cancer patients as they fight the disease.
Henry, Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino and the rest of the brass could do no wrong.
Then came the collapse of 2011. Since then it has been a Greek tragedy.
From Henry's coddling of the players, to the unceremonious exit of Terry Francona, there has been a downward spiral of negative publicity and media scrutiny. Fans are even to the point of blaming Henry's Liverpool and NASCAR ventures as reasons for the team's struggles.
As the 2012 season rolled on, matters only got worse. It was so bad that the Red Sox' famed sellout streak started to take some heat.
Things appeared to come to a head with the release of excerpts from Francona's new tell-all book.
"I don't think they love baseball," Francona says in the excerpt. "I think they like baseball…It's not their blood."
Francona went on to say in the book that Werner tried to get Francona to have his team win "in a more exciting fashion."
These comments haven't necessarily shaken up Red Sox Nation. They just added more fuel to the fire. So how could an ownership group, who could do no wrong, fall so dramatically? It's simple, really. The team isn't winning.
Since September of 2011, the Red Sox have a record of 76-113. This stretch includes one of the worst collapses in the history of baseball, when Boston blew a nine game lead in the final month of the season. It also includes a 69-93 record in 2012, the worst season for the franchise since 1965. In addition to that, the team had to deal with some of their most popular players, including Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz, missing significant amounts of time. The Red Sox finished in last place, but truly were out of it by the All-Star break.
It's easy to look at the last two seasons and say, "Oh, well, better luck next time"… if this was 1996. But, this isn't your daddy's Red Sox team anymore. This is a new era, when winning is demanded. Is it fair? Yes, it really is considering the amount of money and resources put into making a competitive baseball team.
Even trading away big time contracts in Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett doesn't make this a small market club. Boston will still have one of the highest payrolls, so expectations remain high.
Unfortunately, it's hard to imagine that winning will be a common trait this season. While the team should be able to score and has a rebuilt bullpen, there are still many questions about the starting pitching. Not one starter was under a 4.00 ERA last season, and there's nothing really behind the first six guys. There's going to be quite a bit of pressure on the starters to get the job done…and stay healthy.
While the media and fans have pulled an abrupt 180 on the ownership (for a lot of legit reasons), the fact still remains it all could easily be swept under the rug with simply having a winning baseball team.
Winning cures all.
Chris Sedenka is a Yahoo! Contributor in Sports covering the Boston Red Sox. You can listen to his daily radio show on 96.3FM in Portland, ME or at thebigjab.com. He is also the voice of the Maine Red Claws of the NBA D-League.
You can follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisSedenka.
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