The Red Sox brand is a malleable thing. Unlike the consistent they-hate-us-cuz-they-ain't us ethos that has defined the Patriots for two decades, public opinion of the Red Sox tends to bob like a buoy.
When seas are calm, they're a stable beacon. But when the ocean starts churning, they thrash to keep their head above water without becoming unmoored.
Needless to say, the last nine months have featured their share of roiling, 40-foot waves.
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The Red Sox defended their World Series title by winning an uninspiring 84 games and finishing well out of the playoff race. Dave Dombrowski lost his job. Alex Cora followed in the wake of cheating accusations. MVP Mookie Betts departed in a salary dump.
Along each step of the way, fans became a little more disillusioned.
Why invest in watching a player like Betts grow, only to see him given away? Why continue paying some of the highest ticket prices in the game if the team is more concerned with the luxury tax than the product on the field? And what exactly are we to make of Cora? Either the Red Sox cut bait with a successful manager to ease the heat of a burgeoning scandal, or they were actually guilty of something that taints the 2018 title.
Add the collectively disgraceful acts of baseball's owners during the pandemic negotiations, when we heard not a peep from John Henry and Co. while the owners pushed for the shortest possible schedule to limit player payroll, and you've got a sport and a team that engenders more ill will than any other in Boston.
With the games set to resume next week, the Red Sox have a chance to make belated amends. Expectations haven't been this low in a decade. The shortened 60-game season means anything can happen — at a similar point last year, after all, the Red Sox were tied with the Rangers for the second wild card spot.
So what needs to happen for the season to be a success? Quite simply, we need to hate them less.
Fans who feel burned by Mookie's departure, the unwillingness to spend, and the tone-deaf hopes of filling Fenway Park after a nasty labor negotiation could use an overachieving squad that exceeds expectations. It would do the team and its fans a world of good.
We need to be reminded that there's hope for the future. It's not beyond the realm.
An offense built around Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Andrew Benintendi, and Alex Verdugo can compete with anyone. If they can stay healthy (an admittedly big if), a 1-2 punch of Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi is actually pretty solid atop a rotation that will need to get really lucky in the 3-5 spots. And the underrated bullpen finished last year as a strength, led by borderline unhittable closer Brandon Workman.
The shorter schedule plays in their favor, since they simply need to finesse their way through 60 games. Had the season ended at that point last year, not only would the Red Sox have been visiting the Rangers for a one-game playoff, but four other teams would've been within two and a half games of them.
If 10 of the 15 AL teams still have something to play for as this truncated season enters its final week, that's a success for baseball. There's absolutely no reason the Red Sox shouldn't be one of them.
Crazier things have happened, and even if the odds are realistically remote, the Red Sox need to start rebuilding not just their team, but their image.
Might as well start now.