The Boston Red Sox endured a miserable season last year, but this is a new year and the e-mail suggested that they might be ready to take flight.
“Media alert,” the news release said three times. “JetBlue Airways to reveal new element in Red Sox partnership.”
This new element was to be revealed at what would not be a routine news conference. The news release said it was scheduled for Friday at 7:45 a.m. – yes, that’s 15 minutes before 8 o’clock in the morning; if reporters are up at that hour, they probably have yet to go to sleep.
The site of the news conference was just as unusual – the north gate at Boston’s Logan International Airport.
“A government-issued photo ID is required for normal security screening,” the release said. “Allow adequate time to pass through TSA screening. Please call Phil Orlandella, Massport, for detailed instructions if needed at 617-XXX-3100. Bus to event area will leave at 8:30 a.m. sharp.”
What could this possibly be about? JetBlue already had a working relationship with the Red Sox as the team’s “official airline” and the corporation whose name is on the team’s new $75 million spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla.: JetBlue Park at Fenway South.
The new spring park, which is ready for use this month, is modeled after Boston’s Fenway Park, complete with the Green Monster, the left field wall with seats on top.
The Red Sox begin spring training with a new development, though it has nothing to do with the addition of a pitcher or a hitter. Various news media reported last week that The New York Times Company had sold 100 shares of its remaining ownership in the Red Sox.
When the current ownership group bought the Red Sox in 2002, the Times company was part of it, purchasing 17 percent. I always thought it was a mistake for the Times being an owner of a team it covered.
The Times cautions its reporters about avoiding conflicts of interest but didn’t see the problem applying to the newspaper. The Times rationalized its ownership by saying it was the Times company and not the newspaper that was the owner. I never bought that rationalization.
Now the Times company’s ownership is said to be down to 5 percent.
Anyway with the Times sale being disclosed only a week or so before the JetBlue announcement and the buyer not identified, I thought maybe the airline had bought that piece of the Red Sox and maybe the new owner would make a significant impact on the team’s season.
So I made some telephone calls trying to find out. However, no Red Sox official responded. But a JetBlue spokesman defused my speculation.
“It’s another aspect of the marketing relationship,” he said.
That may be good for the Red Sox financially, but what can it do to restore their respectability?
Let’s face it. The Red Sox were a self-imploding disaster last year, both during the season and afterward. Not just a disaster but a farce, too.
The Red Sox suffered a monumental September collapse that left them with no post-season games to play for the second successive season. The ramifications of their failure were immediate.
Terry Francona, who managed the Red Sox to two World Series championships, left his job as soon as the season ended. The Red Sox say they didn’t fire Francona, but the club hierarchy had no intention of exercising or even offering to exercise the option in his contract for 2012.
Someone in the front office and/or the clubhouse made Francona out to be the fall guy for the collapse, saying anonymously that the manager lost control of the players as pitchers drank beer and ate fried chicken in the clubhouse during late-season games.
Three weeks after Francona left, a member of the hierarchy followed Francona out the door, though unlike his departure in 2005 general manager Theo Epstein was not wearing a gorilla suit.
Despite comments from some of the remaining members of the hierarchy that they wanted Epstein to stay, they appeared to make no effort to induce him to stay. In fact, they let him go to the Chicago Cubs without establishing the compensation the Cubs would give them for releasing Epstein from the last year of his contract.
Four months later, the compensation still has not been settled. The dispute is in the hands of Commissioner Bud Selig, who has held onto another dispute between the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants for three years without resolving whether the Athletics can move to San Jose.
Although the Red Sox don’t know what player(s) they will get from the Cubs for Epstein, they didn’t let that deter them from filling their vacancies. They named Epstein’s assistant, Ben Cherington, to replace him, and as Francona’s replacement, they made the stunning choice of Bobby Valentine.
It was stunning because major league teams had ignored Valentine since the Mets fired him in 2002. He became big in Japan, but he either wore out his welcome or yearned to return to the big stage.
The Red Sox know they’re taking a chance with Valentine for two reasons. Unless he has changed drastically, he could clash with the front office in his desire to run the Red Sox off the field as well as on, and he has a history of encountering problems with players after they catch on to his questionable methods.
Some Red Sox players have spoken positively about Valentine, but they haven’t played for him and don’t know him as a manager.
As much as they need a positive input from Valentine, the Red Sox need some comebacks from players. Carl Crawford, the $142 million disappointment, tops the list. Before he can restore his offensive ability, though, the left fielder has to recover fully from his wrist operation. He may have to start the season on the disabled list, which means free agent Cody Ross would fill in for him.
John Lackey, whom this site named last year’s Sigh Young winner as the majors’ most underachieving pitcher, is out for the season following elbow surgery, and the Red Sox don’t know when Daisuke Matsuzaka will be able to rejoin the pitching rotation. Recovering from a sprained elbow, Matsuzaka is not expected to be ready for the start of the season.
As noted previously, none of the principal Red Sox officials made themselves available for comment on off-season developments. Principal owner John Henry didn’t reply to an e-mail, and c.e.o. Larry Lucchino and general manager Cherington didn’t return telephone calls.
Nor could the public relations people of the Times company be reached for comment on the status of its share of ownership of the Red Sox. The Times telephone system is completely automated, and half a dozen or so attempts to reach someone in the public relations department produced this same result:
The automated operator answers the call and says dial zero, then say the name of the person or department the caller wants.
“Thank you,” the automated voice says. “Ringing public relations.”
The next automated voice I hear, after a few rings, says, “You have been forwarded to a voice mail system. However, the mail box of the person at 4317 is full.”
Then, “transfering to an attendant.” And following a beep, “A valid attendant number has not been specified. Your session cannot be continued at this time. Please try again later. Goodbye.”
The JetBlue Red Sox can’t possibly be as inept as that this year.