Red Sox

McAdam: Sox season begins under much uncertainty

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McAdam: Sox season begins under much uncertainty

DETROIT -- They spent the winter digging out from the worst finish to a season since 1978, a public relations nightmare that resulted in an off-the-field house-cleaning.

They hired a new general manager and a new manager, trying to rinse the organization of the mess that had been made.

For the most part, the roster underwent only minor revisions. Uncharacteristically, they seemed to spend much of the winter waiting for prices to drop, a far cry from just 12 months earlier when they handed out 142 million to Carl Crawford, traded for Adrian Gonzalez and, for what it was worth, "won the off-season."

They found themselves serving as punch lines for their clubhouse misdeeds. You couldn't think or say the words "fried chicken" or "beer" without first thinking of the Red Sox.

The cloud over them never seemed to lift. In January, Carl Crawford required wrist surgery, delaying his season and slowing his chances to make up for a terribly disappointing first season in Boston.

Spring training brought them a chance to turn the page, which, with an exception or two, they seemed to manage. Bobby Valentine, the new manager, displayed boundless energy and offered the promise of a re-boot.

All of which leads them here, to the 2012 season and the hope that accompanies Opening Day.

And never have the Red Sox needed a fresh start.

For the past 10 years, really, since the arrival of the team's ownership, the start of the season has meant great expectations. From 2003 through last fall, the Red Sox won two World Series, went to the seventh game of the American League Championship Series twice and qualified for the playoffs six times while missing out on a seventh trip in the final out of the final game.

Each Opening Day, the expectation was that the Sox would play deep into October, that another World Series title, or, at the very least, an American League pennant, would be within reach.

This year, for the first time in a long time, it's difficult to find that same optimism.

The Red Sox enter the year with two unproven starters, without their starting left fielder, and with questions about their shortstop.

Worst of all, they open the season without a proven closer. Andrew Bailey was supposed to fill that role, but a thumb injury late in March required thumb surgery Wednesday, sidelining him until past mid-season at minimum.

Every team is supposed to start the season 0-0, but it's hard not to think that the Red Sox aren't starting out with a deficit.

The early-season schedule does them no favors, with 15 games, right out of the chute, against contenders: Detroit, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Texas and New York.

Try as they might, they won't be able to ease into the season. The schedule is unforgiving. For a team which stumbled badly in the early going of the last two seasons, a challenge awaits them again.

All is not lost, of course. The offense is mighty and should produce more runs than most. The front end of the rotation, should it remain healthy, is formidable, with something to prove.

And their is the collective will of the team in general to distance itself from last September's disaster. Even for modern athletes with guaranteed contracts, pride can serve as a huge motivational tool.

Certainly, things could be worse. This is not Kansas City or Baltimore or Pittsburgh, where winning seasons are distant memories and not even the arrival of Opening Day supplies the necessary amount of optimism.

But for a team which hasn't made the playoffs in either of the previous two seasons, there is the nagging thought that the decade of excellence the Red Sox have enjoyed may have come to a close and hard times are ahead.

In that sense, as first pitches are thrown and anthem sung and the season begins, the 2012 Red Sox find themselves not only trying to run away from last fall, but also, rediscover what made them so successful in the not-too-distant past.

As Red Sox manager, Cora must keep conviction, honesty that got him job

As Red Sox manager, Cora must keep conviction, honesty that got him job

BOSTON -- Just as a batter can subconsciously play to avoid losing, rather than to win, a manager can operate with a fear of failure. Such an unwitting approach may have contributed John Farrell’s downfall, and is an area where Alex Cora can set himself apart.

A lot has been written about the value of authenticity in leadership. It’s one thing to have the charisma and conviction needed to land a position of power. It’s another to take over a pressure-cooker job, like manager of the Red Sox, and carry the fortitude to stay true to yourself, continue to let those qualities shine.

Cora did not appear to pull any punches in his days with ESPN. The 42-year-old engaged in Twitter debates with media members and fans. And throughout his baseball life, he showed his colors.

Via Newsday’s Dave Lennon, here’s a scene from 2010 when Cora was with the Mets: 

Last year, Cora spoke out against the league office's rule requiring minorities always be interviewed.

Perhaps most interesting of all, when Chris Sale cut up White Sox jerseys, Cora was Dennis Eckersley-like in his assessment:

“What he did is not acceptable,” Cora said of Sale. “If I’m a veteran guy, I’m going to take exception. if I’m a young guy, I’m going to take exception. Because as a young guy on a team that is actually struggling right now, somebody has to show me the ropes of how to act as a big leaguer. And this is not the way you act as a big leaguer. Forget the trades, forget who you are.

“What you do in that clubhouse, you got to act like a professional. And that’s one thing my agent, Scott Boras, used to tell me when I got to the big leagues: act like a professional. Chris Sale didn’t do it. He’s not showing the veterans that you respect the game. He’s not showing the rookies how to be a big leaguer, and that’s what I take exception to.”

Take out Chris Sale’s name from the above quotation and insert David Price’s. Describes Price's incident with Eckersley perfectly, doesn't it? 

Now, no manager can say what they’re really thinking all the time. Cora’s not in the media anymore. His new job description is different. 

But when you consider the great success of Terry Francona -- and why he succeeded in this market beyond simply winning -- what stands out is how comfortable Francona appears in his own skin. How genuine he seems. 

There is a way to acknowledge, as a manager, when something is off. A way to do so gently but genuinely. A way to say what you feel -- and a way to say what you feel must be said -- while operating without fear of the players you manage. 

Ultimately, most every comment Francona makes is intended to shield his players. But Francona shows his personality as he goes (or if you want to be a bit cynical, he sells his personality marvelously). Those little self-deprecating jokes -- he charms the hell out of everyone. The media, the fans. The Cult of Tito has a real following, because he feels real. Because he is real. 

Farrell was not fake. But he did have a hard time letting his personality come across consistently, to his detriment. He was reserved, in part because that just appeared to be his nature. But the job must have, with time, forced him to withdraw even further. As everything Farrell said (and did) was picked apart in the market, it likely became easiest just to play it safe in every facet -- speaking to the media, speaking to players.

The Sox’ biggest undertaking in 2017 seemed to be a nothing-to-see-here campaign. It was all fine. No David Ortiz, no home runs, no problem. Manny Machado was loved. The media was the problem, not any attitude or attitudes inside the clubhouse. Base running was a net positive -- you name it, none of it was ever tabbed as a problem publicly by the manager, or anyone else.

A perpetually defensive stance was the public image. Issues were never addressed or poorly defused, so questions always lingered.

Maybe Cora cannot admonish Sale as he did a year ago now that he’s managing Sale. Not publicly, anyway. But even as a quote-unquote player's manager, the job still requires authority, which should be doled out just as it was earned: through authentic comments and actions.

"My job as the manager is to set the culture, the expectations, the standards, the baseball," Cora’s present boss, Astros manager A.J. Hinch, said the night the Astros clinched the pennant. "It's the players' job to develop the chemistry.

“And obviously good teams always say that, we want chemistry, and what comes first, the chemistry or the winning. But when you have it, you want to hold on to it as much as possible . . . We've got a good thing going because we have one common goal, we have one common standard, and that's to be your best every day."

Cora has to remain true to his best, too -- not what he thinks, and hears, and reads, people want his best to be.

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EX-PATS PODCAST: Why does it seem Patriots secondary is playing better without Gilmore?

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EX-PATS PODCAST: Why does it seem Patriots secondary is playing better without Gilmore?

On this episode of The Ex-Pats Podcast...

0:10 - Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen give their takeaways from the Patriots win over the Falcons including the defense coming up strong against Atlanta but New England still taking too many penalties.

2:00 - Why it felt like this game meant more to the Patriots, their sense of excitement after the win, and building chemistry off a good victory.

6:20 - Falcons losing their identity without Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator and their bad play calling and decisions on 4th downs.

10:00 -  A discussion about Matt Ryan not making the throws he needed against the Patriots and if he has falling off the MVP caliber-type player he was last season.

14:00 - How and why the Patriots secondary seems to be playing better without Stephon Gilmore and why Malcolm Butler has been able to turn up his play as of late.