Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Narratives: for people who hate thinking

No TMQR right now although I may post something on Friday.  In the meantime, I want to point out that like most Boston sports fans, Jackie MacMullen HATES thinking.

It was the ideal confluence of personalities, 

Because they won the division.

and not just because they succeeded, in concert, at sprouting mounds of facial hair.

Right--it was an ideal confluence of personalities because they won the divisiion.  Had the 2013 Red Sox had a good-not-great season, maybe gone 85-77, you would not in a million years have identified them as an ideal anything.

Long before that, there was an underlying vibe percolating among ownership, the front office, the manager and the players.

That's right--the 2012 Red Sox had a shitty season.  But it couldn't have been because of the fact that they had shitty players like Mike Aviles, Aaron Cook, Alfredo Aceves and Daisuke Matsuzaka playing major roles.  It couldn't have been that Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford were too hurt to contribute.  It couldn't have been that Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Daniel Nava hadn't figured out how to hit like they would end up hitting in 2013, or that Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester had down years because sometimes pitchers have down years.  No, none of those things.  It was the VIBE.  It was that the team didn't really believe in itself.  It was Bobby Valentine's fault.  Whatever it was, it sure wasn't just that the team had shittier players, worse luck and more injuries than the 2013 team.  If you're going to be a buttass sportswriter like Jackie MacMullen, you've got to credit a team's success/failure to magic/lack of magic, knowing how to win/not knowing how to win, and having fun/not having fun.  That's what the populace likes to read about, after all.

They had been champions, most of them, 

Other than Cody Ross, no one important had been a champion for at least five seasons.  Some of them had been on the 2007 World Series team.  Like, 10 of them.  The rest of them had never been champions.

idolized and adored by a faithful brethren. 

That's horrible writing.

But when it started breaking bad, 


the fallout was swift, vicious, unforgiving. 


Disappointment evolved into outrage, which led to the unkindest cut of all -- indifference.

Also known as "fairweatherism."

And so the Red Sox were left with an ownership that was viewed as disingenuous, 

Because it is, but to be fair, every ownership group in pro sports is disingenuous.

a roster that was dismissed as entitled, 

It wasn't, it was just bad, but again, narratives are more fun that facts.

a general manager who was perceived as undermined and a manager who limped back to Boston nursing the wounds of a two-year stint in Toronto that was both underwhelming and disconcerting.

I haven't even read this article yet (starting doing this breakdown without reading because I knew from the headline that it was going to be horrendous), but I'm guess John Farrell gets about 75% of the credit for the fact that the 2013 Red Sox won 28 more games than the 2012 Red Sox.

Together they shared a glittery portfolio, 

What?  Do you know what metaphors are?  Have you ever used them before?

yet they also shared the burden that comes with squandering sustained excellence: something to prove.

This is worse than Mariotti's writing.

That sentiment was also a common thread among the new faces. There was Gold Glove winner Shane Victorino, spurned by his beloved Phillies and swapped to the dysfunctional Dodgers, where Victorino floundered. 

But wait--the 2013 Dodgers had a huge turnaround of their own, after letting Victorino go in the offseason!  How do you explain it--if he was a key missing piece for the 2013 Red Sox, shouldn't the 2013 Dodgers have missed him?  THE NARRATIVE IS FALLING APART ABANDON SHIP

Mike Napoli came as a free agent from Texas, where he batted a paltry .227 the season before. A hip issue nullified his 3-year, $39 million deal, leaving him with a one-year $5 million contract and a resolve to show the Sox he was worth every penny of the original contract.

Yes, he batted a paltry .227 the year before, because his hip was fucked up.  Now it's healthy (although he still only batted a shitty .259, which doesn't matter because batting average is stupid, etc., etc.).

Stephen Drew came in the wake of a lackluster season split between Arizona and Oakland, where he batted .223 with 7 homers and 28 RBIs.

He only had to outperform Mike Aviles.  That's not exactly a high-pressure situation.

GM Ben Cherington said adding personnel that had redemption in mind was not by design; 

Jesus, I hope not.  No GM should be adding personnel with more than a passing thought to whether the players "have redemption in mind."

he was focused on specific skill attributes and players who looked at Boston and "saw it as an opportunity and not a burden.''

I think Cherrington is probably pretty smart, so I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that last part is just a little scrap he threw MacMullen for the sake of her article.  I think roughly 99% of his focus was probably on adding players who are better at baseball than the 2012 players they replaced.

Jonny Gomes was one such player. 

Jonny Gomes is awesome at hitting left handed pitching.  This season, he started in LF against LHPs and played well.  In 2012, the Red Sox LFs were Daniel Nava (nominally a switch hitter but terrible against LHPs throughout his career so far), Scott Podsednik (lefty), Carl Crawford (lefty) and Darnell McDonald (terrible at hitting baseballs under any circumstances).  Gomes made the team better, not because of his vibe, or his will to win, but because of a skill he has.  See how that works?

He said a primary reason he inked with the Sox was the number of accomplished veterans on the roster who were under fire and motivated to re-establish themselves (you can safely assume the 2-year, $10 million contract had something to do with Gomes' decision as well).

Analysis that means nothing, considering pretty much every team in the league has accomplished veterans coming off of a bad year every season (followed by parenthetical with factual information that actually explains why Gomes came to Boston).

"I told my agent, 'Call the Sox. We need to go there,' '' said Gomes. "Because I knew those guys were going to have a huge chip on their shoulder. I knew the way they were going to approach the season, and I wanted to be part of it.''

See, it's not totally fair for me to rake writers like MacMullen over the coals for their shitty writing--the sound bites given by players reinforce this narrative-driven bullshit.  Then again, maybe the players spout narrative-driven bullshit because the writers write about it, so it is the writers' fault after all.  Regardless, I know this much is true: there are very few people in America who can do what Jonny Gomes does better than he can.  There are a whole shitload of people in America who can do what Jackie MacMullen does better than she can.  So I'm going to go ahead and go after the person here who can (and should) be replaced by someone who doesn't peddle this nonsense.

Nobody fit that profile more snugly than Jon Lester, who had morphed from one of the most feared left-handed pitchers in the game to a symbol of everything that was wrong with the Boston Red Sox. Lester was pegged as a card-carrying member of the chicken-and-beer fraternity 

Holy fucking fuckballs.  One of these years, THE JILTED VICTIMS of CHICKEN AND BEER NATION will get over that little gem of a non-story.  We can only hope it's this year.  NEVER FORGET, SOX FANS.  NEVER FORGET.

/Sarah McLachlan plays over slow motion video of Bobby Valentine walking to the mound and taking the ball from Josh Beckett

that contributed to the stunning collapse in 2011. His struggles on the mound continued in 2012, and his career appeared to be at a crossroads.

It appeared to be?  We aren't even sure if we want to use that figure of speech?  Come on Jackie, show some spunk.  Get out there and COMMIT to the idea that Lester's career was at a crossroads.  Also, not to be too factual about any of this, but he did post career highs in BABIP and HR/FB in 2012.  Now I'm not saying that those struggles were entirely due to luck, or that they had nothing to do with whether he liked drinking beer on nights when he wasn't starting during 2011.  I'm just saying they were probably MOSTLY due to luck, and also, that they had not a fucking thing to do with whether he liked drinking beer on nights when he wasn't starting during 2011.

Catcher David Ross came to Fenway last summer with the Atlanta Braves. Lester threw against them on June 22, giving up 10 hits and three runs in seven innings of a 4-1 Sox loss.

"It didn't make sense to me," Ross said. "He was throwing hard, he wasn't injured ... I figured, 'He needs someone to point him in the right direction.' "

Lester went winless in his last five starts and finished with a 9-14 record and a 4.94 ERA.

Another case of players pushing the narratives that writers then push.  Pretty embarrassing for all, really.  Also, how the fuck would a player on another team know whether Lester was injured or not?  Maybe he was.  That's at least one plausible reason why he was so horrible.  His career ERA through 2011 was 3.53.  He was a run and a half worse in 2012, but David Ross said that after seeing Lester once, in a game Ross did not even record a plate appearance, he knew that everything was fine with Lester mechanically.  That's great stuff.  Why is this even in this article?  Is David Ross the only Red Sox player who MacMullen could get ahold of to comment on this story?

When the Red Sox began courting Ross, he inquired about Lester and his ineffectiveness, about Lackey and his surgically repaired arm, about Clay Buchholz and his durability. Farrell said all three needed some mechanical adjustment as well as a reboot mentally.

David Ross, June 2012: "Jon Lester has no mechanical problems."
John Farrell, to David Ross, 2012-2013 offseason: "Jon Lester needs some mechanical adjustments."
David Ross, to Jackie MacMullen, September 2013: "The problem with Lester was that he needed someone to point him in the right direction."

Maybe by "point him in the right direction," Ross meant literally, as in make an adjustment to point his body in the right direction while he pitches.  Pro athletes are fucking idiots.

"The first time I caught Lester's bullpen, I told him, 'Hey man, when your ball is up, it's flat. When it's down in the zone, it jumps out of your hand,' " said Ross.

Lester listened closely. Ross found him to be earnest, disciplined and humble.

Why, what a coincidence!  That's EXACTLY how stuffy old white dudes who read the work of writers like Jackie MacMullen like their athletes to be!

"I caught him in spring training and he threw five innings of no-hit ball," Ross said. "I went back and told my buddies, 'We've got nothing to worry about.' ''

"After he dominated the Mets' AAA lineup, I knew it was going to be an awesome season."

Indeed, what was overlooked amid the bitterness toward the downtrodden 2012 Sox was the one undeniable mantra in baseball: Pitching cures all.

Easy now.  We're starting to drift into the world of real, actual analysis.  Let's get back to the narrative soon please.

Lackey, who was recovering from Tommy John surgery, rededicated himself to his craft and reported to camp with a svelte physique


and a steady diet of rejuvenated fastballs and sliders.

Lackey insists he did "nothing different, nothing special" in preparation for 2013.

"Everything is a little overblown here,'' Lackey said. "We've got guys who have done it for a long time with a pretty good track record.

Wow, that's pretty levelheaded analysis from a guy who looks like a caveman.  Putting aside inappropriate remarks about Lackey's physical appearance, I'm glad SOMEone quoted in this article is here to tell us "Yeah, it's not that big of a deal, we kind of had a down year in 2012, but we knew we'd play better in 2013."

"People were giving Lester hell, and he had the best winning percentage in the history of baseball. That's kind of ridiculous.''

OH NOEZ PITCHING WINZ IS BAD STATISTIC.  But he's got a point anyways.

Yet Cherington, born and raised in New England, 


understood exactly where the criticism stemmed from.

The fact that Lester pitched like ass in 2012?

"When a pitching staff performs the way ours did last year and the end of the previous season, 


I think it's more than fair to critique and to have a skeptical eye,'' Cherington said. "We knew we needed to be better. We knew we had the pieces, but there were certain technical things that needed to be rectified, as well as other issues.

Things Cherington didn't name: a need for more players with something to prove.

"What John and his staff have done so well is … [they have] allowed everyone's energy to be focused on the field. It sounds easy in December, but it's harder to implement during a long season," Cherington said.

"It's had a great impact on the team, to have all our mental energy focused in a productive way.''

Again, hoping this was just Cherington throwing MacMullen a bone.  Although now I'm not so sure.

Ross picked up on the "redeem team" vibe from the moment he stepped into the clubhouse.

Whew!  Enough actual analysis; let's get back to the VIBE.

"There was a whole lot of motivation in this room,'' Ross concurred. "Lester had something to prove. Lackey did too -- big time. Buchholz, even Pedey... 

I assume that's Pedroia but it's kind of hard to tell.  Also, when written that way (and when said out loud, given the most likely pronounciation), it makes their second baseman sound like a sex criminal.

when I got here, Dustin told me, 'I've never been on a losing team in my whole life.' He took it personally. He was going to do something about it.''

2012 Pedroia: 114 OPS+, 4.9 WAR
2013 Pedroia: 116 OPS+, 6.5 WAR

Sounds like he did something about it to the tune of helping the 2012 team win 71 games rather than 69, had he performed then like he did in 2013.

Pedroia bombarded Farrell daily with texts, emails and phone calls. He made suggestions on everything from personnel to locker placements.

The personnel suggestions, cool, that's what a team leader should do.  He shouldn't be overruling the manager or anything, but I can see the value in him making pinch hitting suggestions and the like.  Locker placements?  This is more worthless bullshit that only idiot readers will latch onto.  IT WAS THE LOCKAHS!  THAT WAS THE PROBLEM IN 2012!  GOOD THING PEDEY FIXED THAT!

Look, you get the gist of this, and it's not like it's going in a different direction before it wraps up.  I'm not going to write about the rest of it, but here's some of the non-analysis, idiot fan catnip, and narrative-based bullshit that I skipped over:

"All I know,'' said Pedroia shortly after his new manager was hired, "is when John Farrell walks into our clubhouse, everyone listens.''

This means literally nothing.

Gomes is a huge Farrell backer but concedes, "John is a great guy, but I don't want to talk about pitching all day. He does.''

Idiot fan catnip.  What fan wants to read that their team's coach/manager likes relaxing and spending time with his family, even if that's true for most of coaches/managers?

"When I'm talking to my manager, I feel like I am talking to my brother,'' Ortiz said.  "I don't want to talk about last year. That is in the past. I want to talk about here -- now.

Big Papi with an all time classic worthless cliche.

The "Farrell Factor,'' as Larry Lucchino coined it, has positioned the Red Sox as one of the favorites to win the World Series. 

Managers don't do that much.

When the Red Sox dealt malcontents Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett last summer,

I included this just because it's an unnecessary pot shot on Gonzalez and Crawford.  I don't think anyone has ever called either of them a malcontent.  I know some fans in New England have called Crawford other words that are not nice to call someone, but I really think it's irresponsible to lump those two guys in with known asshole Beckett.

"Think about Toronto this year. Everyone was wrong. You truly can't predict results solely on talent -- not in this game.


"But there's something to be said for 25 guys with one goal -- that's winning. 

Gomes with another great cliche combined with some worthless non-analysis.

They have survived the loss of not one, not two, but three relievers. 

Oh dear me!  However did they endure a whole season with THREE injuries to the most easily replaced of players?  I'm surprised they even played all 162 games, let alone won the division.  They should get a parade no matter what happens in the postseason.

They have forged on even though their sellout streak came to a halt and paying customers still aren't quite "all-in." 

Well duh they're not all in, it's been 6 years since the Red Sox won a World Series.  What, you want them to be passionate about a team of LOOZAHS?

They grow beards and wear matching stars-and-stripes boxers and enjoy baseball so much, they've been compared to the 2004 "Idiots" of World Series fame, which is the ultimate Boston compliment.

I hope no Boston team ever wins another game, ever again, ever.


jacktotherack said...

I hope no Boston team ever wins another game, ever again, ever.

Amen. When you think about the amount of truly reprehensible sports figures who root for Boston teams, it is really quite staggering (PK, Simmons, Shaugnessy, McMullen, Bob Ryan, etc).

Anonymous said...

I hope no Boston team ever wins another game, ever again, ever.

Ugh. But I can't tell what I hate more, the "Ow-a fanz ar-uh moah tawchud than yo-ah fanz! Curse of tha Bambeeno! Tony Eason hawnts ow-a dreems!" Bawstun fans, or the "We ah touched by the hand of Gahd! Tha Patree-uts won becuz of 9-11! Ow-a teems ar-uh betta than yo-a teems" Bawstun fans.

dan-bob said...

Oh man, this article was a blast from the past.

I think LB's point about athletes' quotes leading into the writers' narratives is pretty salient here. Wouldn't it be nice to see what questions MacMullen asked Ross to get those answers?

Bill Brown said...

Please - in the name of God, please - shred Mike Florio's moralist BS about the Redskins name today on MSNBC.