In the glory days of Theo Epstein, when the lineup was dominated by Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, you knew what the Red Sox were, and their goal was always familiar. During that time, Boston was one of the few teams in professional sports that existed within a window of perennial contention. Red Sox Nation expected success, to a point where the regular season was almost an afterthought.
However, since 2010, the Red Sox have slowly lost that distinctive identity as their grip on constant postseason involvement has unraveled. This is the seventh consecutive season where uncertainty has clouded our judgment, the seventh straight spring where question marks reign. We simply don’t know what to expect from this franchise anymore.
That trend is prevalent throughout baseball in general. The increase in revenue sharing, coupled with more efficient defense and steroid testing, has flattened the field and created a vacuum of expectation. No team is guaranteed to qualify for the postseason, as the Washington Nationals and Seattle Mariners showed last year, while unheralded teams can triumph against all odds, as the Red Sox discovered in 2013. The additional wildcard in each league has led to teams aiming for 85 wins, rather than 90, as the quality of play has generally been diluted.
Moreover, baseball’s waning popularity when compared to the NFL has created a different atmosphere around the Red Sox. This team continues to inspire passion around the world, but the excitement has cooled somewhat from the manic 2000s, when the players could barely cough or sigh without opening the floodgates to reams of analysis. A gradual loss of intensity is definitely tangible, as the Red Sox attempt to rediscover their soul.
This year, they certainly have the ammunition to go far. David Price is the elite ace many people have yearned for, while Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts represent the next generation of Boston superstars. Yet, the uncertainty surrounding players like Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, coupled with performance concerns over established veterans such as Dustin Pedroia and Clay Buchholz, makes this a difficult team to read. Right now, we would all be forgiven for not totally being on board.
However, such pessimism should be reserved for another day. Pitchers and catchers reporting for Red Sox spring training is a joyous occasion, evoking connotations of eternal hope and optimism. So, let’s try to move on and enjoy the moment. For one day, let’s forget statistics and logistics, and just focus on the return of baseball, and the warm glow it provides.
Go Red Sox!