You’re Ben Cherington, the season is in your hands… and the little voice says: “some situations require a change…”
By Earl Nash
You’re Ben Cherington and you’ve got the ball. You always wanted to be the guy on the mound with the entire season on the line. You got what you wished for: to be the one who makes the choice at the moment of decision on the diamond: this will be the turning point in your baseball career.
The score is tied in the bottom of the 9th in the Championship game, the bases are loaded and the count is 3 and 2; you might want to, but you cannot avoid an outcome. You could just freeze, stand still, close your eyes, and with faint hope, throw the ball with all your might, trying to wish it into the strike zone. And let your fate be decided by the umpire’s call.
But, as you nervously spin the ball in your right hand, just before you look in for the sign, your Shadow side speaks up and whispers: “Ben, remember: Some situations require a change.”
You decide to “suck it up”–to keep your eyes open and not just aim a fastball at the middle of the plate; you decide, instead, to take a chance; you make the catcher run the three-sign sequence, until he flashes four fingers for the “change.” You nod in concurrence; the plan is to surprise the batter with a well-executed pitch that appears to be a fastball, but comes in about 10 miles slower.
Sure, it’s a risk, but, thrown identically like your fastball motion, it usually fools the batter, throws off his timing, puts him off balance and makes him swing too early, rotate his hips prematurely and wave his bat, feebly, just before the ball arrives at the plate.
By taking a risk, recognizing that some situations require a change, you give your team a chance to win.
"What was that saying: “The only sure way to not fall out of the bed is to sleep on the floor.”"
You’re Ben Cherington and you fervently want to believe that you don’t need to take a chance–to trade for a starting pitcher; you want to believe that, Larry has it right: the “varsity” players that were on the DL will return and produce, your team will win a Wild Card slot and, inevitably, win the World Series.
"But, a small voice tells you that some situations require a change."
You’re Ben Cherington and, just last Saturday, July 7th, baby girl Adwen, revealed her the innate baseball savvy by arriving during the All-Star break, and, behaving like a species-typical father, you immediately felt that age-old burden of responsibility that causes you to be concerned about the long-term future.
So, naturally, you worry about security, job security and you fret about the looming July 31st trade deadline:
Do you take a chance and “pull the trigger on a deal” for a starter or do you avoid the risk–keep your gun holstered–and hope the return of the lineup you created for Opening Day will turn into the Sox of Yore: Two Oh Oh Four?
And that Clint Eastwood line from Dirty Harry bobs to the surface of your Panic Pool: “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ “
Does it ring true in the belfry of your inner heart, when you assert: “If we play to our capability with the guys we have here, our hope is we don’t have to make a lot of moves.”
“Hope.” Your English major memory reminds you of what Emily Dickinson said hope was: “a thing with feathers.” You did your best to build a team to soar to the top perch, but do these guys have the parts required to fly? Or, is your creature one arm short?
As you stand on the precipice, you wonder: Are you Superman or Icarus? You are still unsure of what to do, but you are sure that you have arrived at one of Life’s Decision Diamonds; the fear center in the back of your brain is flashing red and squawking like an Emergency Broadcast System alert, and assuring you that the choice you make–action or inaction–will determine your destiny.
You’re Ben Cherington and you and your biggest supporter, team CEO Larry Lucchino, have decided on a PR campaign, a “party line:”
"Lower expectations to a Wild Card slot. Play up the return of the “varsity” players who were on the DL."
So, you are telling the media mob: “We’re right in the thick of the wild card chase.” But, you are way too smart to know that’s one hell of a qualifier. You might as well come right out and say: “We can’t beat the Yankees for first place, so… let’s try for the penultimate prize–a Wild Card slot that guarantees at least one playoff game.
In sync with “lowered expectations” theme, Larry stressed Friday in an email to season ticket holders that “We want to play October Baseball this year.” and plays up the return of the “varsity.”
"Clever boy, that Larry: the one-game playoffs between the Wild Card teams in each league will be played on…October 5th."
But in the Boston media a storyline is already emerging:
"If Cherington fails to pull the trigger on a deal for a starting pitcher by July 31st, he will responsible for the team’s failure to compete in the Playoffs."
The Web is spattered with typing spiders, all calling for action, action that you worry will involve risk, perhaps even, the risk of losing your job.
“Sure, they’re “only” two games out of the final wild card spot, but they also sit at 43-43, tied with Toronto for last place in the AL East and 9 1/2 games back in the division.”
“Ben, everyone is noticing your gaping “Ace” hole and, if you don’t make a “wicked sm-aah-t” trade to fill it, you’ll be selling bait up in New Hampshire, or running a register in Filene’s basement, where you tried to buy pitchers all winter.
The other guy at Bosox Injection quotes you:
“We’ve got some ways to improve the team internally, potentially. And we’ve started to look at ways to improve the team externally. If we play to our capability with the guys we have here our hope is we don’t have to make a lot of moves.”
And, he concludes that you have a “profound disconnection with reality” and asserts: “Who, what, what? Ben, the team is an emotional, physical and team chemistry train wreck. Tweaks are out. Backhoes and steam shovels are required to regrade the playing surface and reset expectations.”
For a guy so close to action the remark appears to reveal a profound disconnection with reality.”
You’re Ben Cherington and the plan that you and Larry have concocted to blow sunshine up their skirts about a Wild Card slot is already under attack by the Boston Rabid Transit media: just today, Mike Cole at NESN wrote:
“Just look at the American League. You have your three division leaders in New York, Chicago and Texas. Then you have the two wild card leaders in Baltimore and Los Angeles. From there, you have six more teams within two games of those final two wild card spots. So technically, there are 11 teams that still think they are very much in contention.“
You’re Ben Cherington and you said “If we play to our capability with the guys we have here, our hope is we don’t have to make a lot of moves.” But, it makes you worry, privately, that you have lowered the bar to an 11-1 shot to “win” a shot at a one-game playoff—a single game that “really counts” to “win” a 50/50 chance of advancing to the next bracket of the Boob Ceiling October Madness melodrama.
You’re Ben Cherington and you realize that, in your first year as GM, it’s a steep drop from the expectations of winning the AL East title this year.
You’re Ben Cherington and you know that you were destined to be General Manager of the Boston Red Sox, a job you have wished for, at least as far back as the year at Amherst College, when your pitching career was stunted by shoulder surgery. For the rest of the season you served as a player-assistant. Recalling that time on the DL, you wonder if that–“simple twist of fate“– was the first step in your journey to a front-office career in baseball.
You’re Ben Cherington and you vividly remember the ride back home from Amherst with your mother [Gretchen], when she asked you, her only child, what you were thinking of doing when you got out of Amherst.
You remember that, without hesitation, you said, with conviction, that you wanted to help a team win a World Series.
For the rest of your life, you would frequently surprise people with your placid exterior by quickly providing a direct, well-conceived answer to a question.
You got top grades on your papers, while an English major at Amherst, because you understood the difference between “having to say something” and “having something to say.”
Now the media pundits say ‘you have to trade something’ for a starting pitcher and it raises your anxiety level, already pegging the meter with the new experience of being a dad.
You’re Ben Cherington and the mention of trades makes you uneasy, since they haven’t worked out too well for you so far. Ceratainly, they were not as successful as Theo’s:
• Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland to Houston for Astros closer and ex-Yankee set up man Mark Melancon. [Melancon flopped.]
• Josh Reddick, Miles Head and Raul Alcantara to Oakland for Andrew Bailey and OF Ryan Sweeney. [Reddick is blossoming, Sweeney has been adequate and oft-injured closer tossed 1.3 innings in spring training and has been out since, putting him one inning behind deleted OF Darnell McDonald.]
• In the fiasco, when you were told [by John Henry?] to “free up money” to pursue a starting pitcher [Roy Oswalt]; so, you traded shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for Clayton Mortensen [0-0 in 20.1 innings.]
• Kevin Youkilis for Brent Lillibridge and right-hander Zach Stewart. [Lillibridge has 11 Abs for .182; Steward, 1-2, 6.00 ERA; Youkilis in 13 games with the White Sox is hitting .347.]
• Even the deal for Beckett has gone sour; the “Beer Pitchers” debacle and the failure of Beckett to win down the stretch; the complete disappearance of Beckett as the team’s ace in 2012: 4-7, 4.43, a HR every 9 innings.
• The awkward, classless manner that Tek’s career came to an end.
• The recent complaint from Papi, the longtime Boston favorite, who at 36 is enjoying an eighth All-Star season hurts; especially since you need to rely on him as the clubhouse leader. Of course it was Theo who resuscitated Papi’s career when he brought him to Boston and now David tells the media he remains bitter about your decision to reject his request for a two-year contract last off-season–a process he called “humiliating” and “embarrassing.”
And then the email that Larry just sent to season ticket holders heaped praise on “our beloved Big Papi, David Ortiz.” Ouch!
You justify that it wasn’t your fault that your new closer Andrew Bailey injured his thumb and required an operation, just as the season started. And, Carl Crawford, the star-crossed star, was signed to that 7 yr., $142millon deal on Theo’s watch, which leaves you stuck with Carl’s injury-disposed body until 2018.
You’re Ben Cherington and you think about you friend and mentor, Brian; you are not paranoid enough to think he planned to set you up to fail, leaving the budget albatrosses–Lackey, Beckett, Jenks, Matsuzaka and J.D. Drew.
You’re Ben Cherington and you feel like you have been cast in Epstein’s shadow–playing apprentice to the Sorcerer– “Theo the Great;” the man who got the glory for shrewdly acquiring David Ortiz, Kevin Millar, and Curt Schilling, who were regarded as instrumental in breaking the so-called “Curse of the Bambino” and winning the Red Sox their first World Series Championship since 1918.
Theo, the award-winning GM of the Red Sox.
2007: “Carl Maddox Sport Management Award.”
2008: Baseball America Major League Executive of the Year
2009: Sporting News Executive of the Decade and Team of the Decade.
2009: Sports Illustrated Top 10 GMs/Executives of the Decade (all sports)
You’re Ben Cherington and you want to tell Red Sox Nation that you will never be like Theo. You are just not the kind of guy who would avoid reporters by leaving Fenway Park wearing a gorilla suit, even on Halloween.
Theo grew up in the zeitgeist of Brookline, Massachusetts; went to Yale; got a law degree.
You went to U. Mass Amherst and earned a Masters in Sports Management.
You’re Ben Cherington and you reflect on how you and Brian came to the Red Sox by two contrasting paths:
Theo started with a job in the office of a MLB team, the PR department of the San Diego Padres, where he worked closely with a MLB Executive mentor, Larry Lucchino; soon Theo would become the team’s Director of Baseball Operations. Then, when Larry became President and CEO of the Red Sox on November 25, 2002, he h hired Theo to work under him. At the end of the 2002 season, Lucchino appointed Theo, the Golden Boy, to replace interim GM Mike Port.
Your journey to Fenway started in Cleveland; in 1998 you were the Indians video advance scout, hired by Neal Huntington, fellow alum of Milford High School; you were far from an office insider.
You began your career with the Red Sox in 1999 and by the time you were 28, you had already served as amateur scout, coordinator of international scouting and assistant director of player development. Later, you were promoted to director of player development, where you coordinated a farm system that helped produce World Series champions in 2004 and 2007.
On your watch, the farm system prospered and the team added players like Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Bard, Justin Masterson and Casey Kelly.
And helped win all those awards…for Theo, now “Theo the Great.”
You’re Ben Cherington and, although you do not envy you friend Theo, you take some small pleasure in noting another difference—“Theo the Great” never played the game as well as a certain excellent pitcher at Lebanon High School, who sliced and diced through lineups by outsmarting the competition and leading his team to the 1991 Class I finals…
You’re Ben Cherington and during Theo’s contract holdout year, you served as co-general manager of the team with Jed Hoyer and, along with Bill Lajoie and Craig Shipley, you were known as the “Gang of Four.” Working in tandem, the “Gang” completed trades for Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Mark Loretta, and Andy Marté.
You’re Ben Cherington and you read in the Boston Herald that you should throw in the towel, just half way through the fight in your first season as GM:
“With a 43-43 record, they may be just 21⁄2 games out of the wild card, but in reality they’re merely continuing a three-year run of mediocrity that crystallizes their place in baseball purgatory between the contenders and also-rans.
The Sox are good enough to hang around the fringes of the playoff race, but unlikely to make any noise if they somehow reach October. Deep down, Cherington must know it.
So as he begins implementing his long-range vision for the franchise, a good starting point would be to start selling.”–John Tomase
You’re Ben Cherington and you remember how much fun it was to make trades with the “Gang of Four.” And, you consider calling the boys up to get their opinion…But, it would be awkward to call Jed, who is now Theo’s General Manager with the Cubs. You certainly cannot call Craig Shipley; you dismissed him during your overhaul of the team in 2011. But you could call former “Gang”member Bill Lajoie, he’s assisting Pirate’s GM Neal Huntington, your old alum pal, who gave you your first job in MLB.
You’re Ben Cherington and maybe talking to Bill is a good idea.
Your boss, Larry, tells season ticket holders [and the world] that we “will be aggressive“ at the July 31 trade deadline if there is a deal to be had that “makes sense.”
You’re Ben Cherington and you are not feeling very aggressive about trades; you’re a bit gun-shy about making a trade. But then, you worry that, if you don’t trade prospects for, say, Wandy Rodriguez, you may take the fall, if the Sox stay home in the fall. What if they don’t even live up to the lowered expectation—a one-game Wild Card game–that you and Larry are now desperately selling. And, ironically, you have been vehemently denying that you are “sellers.”
You’re Ben Cherington and, since the arrival of your baby girl, you haven’t gotten much sleep. You fall asleep on the couch; “What Dreams May Come?”
BEN’S DREAM #1:
You trade with your former mentor, “Theo the Great;” you give him prospects that all become All-Stars; he gives you Garza, who throws a temper tantrum in the clubhouse and breaks his right hand and is out for the rest of the season.
BEN’S DREAM #2:
Garza sustains only superficial damage and the Red Sox, somehow, do make it to a Wild Card game but, in the 9th inning, with the game tied at 7-7, Melancon is facing Youkilis, “The Greek God of Walks,” with two out, the bases loaded and a 3-2 count; Melancon fires a heater that lands exactly on the line of the on-screen strike zone box; Youk starts to swing, but checks his forward motion in time; the Sox lose on a “walk-off walk.”
BEN’S DREAM #3:
With the players that he gets from you in the Garza trade and the starter he gets for LaHair, Theo pulls off the miraculous “Wrigley Run for the Pennant.” The Cubs take the NL Central and advance to the World Series and, just your luck, so do the Red Sox.
Having beat the “Curse of the Bambino” with the Red Sox, “Theo the Great” now takes on the Chicago Cubs’ Curse of the Billy Goat.
( NOTE: In Game 4 of the 1945 Series, the Curse of the Billy Goat was allegedly laid upon the Cubs when P.K. Wrigley ejected Billy Sianis, who had come to Game 4 with two box seat tickets, one for him and one for his goat. They paraded around for a few innings, but Wrigley demanded the goat leave the park due to its unpleasant odor. Upon his ejection, Mr. Sianis uttered, “The Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” The Cubs lost Game 4, lost the Series, and have not been back since.”)
It comes down to the 9th innings of 7th game; the visiting Sox are ahead by three runs, 4-1 and the Cubs load the bases; Bailey runs up a 3-2 count on former Red Sox prospect, Anthony Rizzo, who was named MVP, Rookie of the Year, won the Triple Crown [and discovered the alchemical formula for transmogrifying Styrofoam into monatomic gold].
You’re Ben Cherington and you hear the voice of 25-year Red Sox announcer Joe Castiglione:
“Here’s the pitch…and there’s a hard hit ball to right field…Crawford has his back against the ivy… looking up…he leaps and…WAAAAAH! WAAAAAAAH!”
“WAAAAAH! WAAAAAAAH!” ???
You’re Ben Cherington and the 61 year-old announcer’s voice blends into the voice of 1 week-old Baby Adwen; once again, she is showing her good baseball savvy, she wakes you up—just in time. Her plaintive cries make it clear that, there’s no way to avoid it: it’s time for the first-year GM of the Boston Red Sox to face reality:
"a small voice tells you that some situations require a change."
Sources: Kevin Gray, New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News [http://www.unionleader.com/article/20111023/SPORTS/710239953]
PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Gray, New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News [http://www.unionleader.com/article/20111023/SPORTS/710239953]