Michael Holley

Michael Holley: Remember, Boston sports fans, it could be much worse

Michael Holley: Remember, Boston sports fans, it could be much worse

By now, my kids can predict when their father has a “You Don’t Have It So Bad” lecture on the way. For example, when they complain about cleaning their rooms, I’ve got: “You’re fortunate to have a room to clean; I had to share one small room with my brother and grandfather until I was 16…”

I’ve got one of those for everything. And my exaggerations get better with time.

I thought of that the other day when I watched the Red Sox get swept by the Yankees. This is where I don’t need to exaggerate: the Red Sox have a chance to be worse than Bobby Valentine’s 2012 Sox on the field, but not as reality-show crazy/entertaining off it. (Remember Bobby showing up at the ballpark in Oakland late because he said he wanted to pick up his son from the airport? And then ripping the airport, the ballpark, and the city when he was called on it?)

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They’ve got talented hitters who aren’t hitting, and they’ve got a pitching staff that’s doing what you’d expect from a group with Nathan Eovaldi as its emergency ace.

But with all that said, we really have had it good in Boston, with the Red Sox and every other professional sports team in town. The championships are obvious, but it’s deeper than that. In the last 20 years, accounting for all five pro teams in the region – I see you, Revolution – think about how many times you’ve looked at your favorite team and sensed no pulse or hope.

Before we go team-by-team here, consider what true despair looks and feels like. In the NBA, it’s a New York Knick. The Knicks have missed the playoffs 15 of the last 20 years, and have had 14 different head coaches. Good luck, Tom Thibodeau. It’s not you, it’s them.

In the NHL, the Edmonton Oilers have an enviable four-out-of-six streak. That is, from 2010 until 2015, they had the number one overall pick four times in those six seasons.

And as challenged as the Red Sox are right now, let an Orioles fan tell you about a real struggle. Baltimore had a dozen consecutive losing seasons, including a six-year run in which the team lost at least 92 games each year.

That’s the context. Now here’s a sampling of Boston’s worst of the past 20 years.

New England Patriots: All right, I had to start here. I recently had a conversation in which I tried to recall the exact order of the Patriots’ nine Super Bowl sites. I should have punched myself in the face for that smugness. The one bad season was 2000, Bill Belichick’s first in New England. Anything else that makes the list, including last season’s one-and-done, is nitpicking.

Boston Bruins: I nominate the 2005-2006 season. This is still a sore subject for Mike O’Connell, who argued with Brian Burke as recently as April over a 15-year-old trade. The B’s dealt Joe Thornton to San Jose (Burke claims his Anaheim team offered far more than Boston’s Marco Sturm-Brad Stuart-Wayne Primeau return), and Thornton won the Hart Trophy that same season.

A couple other surprises about that year: it’s one of the two losing seasons the B’s have had in 20 years; and Thornton isn’t the only member of that team who ascended elsewhere. Their fired coach, Mike Sullivan, took over his next job – with the Penguins – and won back to back Stanley Cups.

New England Revolution: 2011, by far. This was not the year to tell a soccer-curious friend of yours, “Hey, watch a Revs game with me. You’ll learn something.” Nope. This was a bottomed- out roster.

Taylor Twellman retired in November 2010 due to concussions, and the 2011 team’s leading goal-scorer was Shalrie Joseph with five. Five goals, all year. No player had more than one assist in MLS play.

Limited talent, limited budget, nonexistent training facility. It’s no wonder the Revs won just five of their 34 games. Fortunately, the franchise has fixed most of the issues from 2011. They also took something else from 2011: the coach of that season’s MLS Cup champs, the LA Galaxy’s Bruce Arena.

Boston Celtics: This is too easy. No, it’s not the 2006-2007 season and its 18-game losing streak. That team actually sold out its final 13 games and had terrific TV ratings; you liked that team and its future. I’m guessing you didn’t like the 2000-2001 C’s, with Rick Pitino telling you one season that “Larry Bird is not walking through that door…” and then walking out that door himself the next year after 34 games.

Boston Red Sox: This is a good debate. Do you go with one of the three last-place teams (2012, 2014, 2015)? Or do you slide in the 2011 darkhorse? That team was blessed with talent on the field, in the dugout (Tito Francona), and in the front office (Theo Epstein). It lost due to poor conditioning, poor attitudes, and…yes, fried chicken, beer, and video games.

After looking back on what you’ve seen, and contrasting it with 12 parades, it’s a pretty good life. Just imagine, you could be stuck rooting for the Jets and Knicks.

Why did Mookie Betts sign long-term with Dodgers, and not Red Sox?

Why did Mookie Betts sign long-term with Dodgers, and not Red Sox?

Mookie Betts is a baseball MVP and batting champ. He’s a professional bowler. He’s a recreational baller who, at 5 feet 9 inches, can rise to the rim and finish with a dunk.

I’m guessing you already knew all, or some, of the above. What you may not realize is that Betts also is a storyteller.

One of his interests away from the game is creating original content, providing the public with stories that have never been framed or told well enough. Based on his history, Betts will be good in that space like he is everywhere else. I’ve got a documentary idea for director/producer Betts, and he won’t even have to leave his mirror to do it. He could call it, “The Real Story of Mookie and the Red Sox.”

You’d watch or listen to that, wouldn’t you?

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I mean, the real story of why the best homegrown Red Sox player in a generation, 27 years old and in his prime, is now committed to the Los Angeles Dodgers until 2032.

In Boston, Betts more than lived up to his famous initials (MLB). He hit for power with a high-contact, low-strikeout rate. He could be your leadoff or cleanup man. He roamed the biggest right field in baseball as if it were his backyard. He was the team’s best and smartest baserunner. His 13-pitch at-bat against J.A. Happ in 2018 — the reward of and reaction to it — is one of my favorite Fenway scenes.

On the field, Betts brought the storm. Off it, he was the quiet storm. For all the overflowing joy and excellence that he displayed in Red Sox games, he was Patriot-like whenever he was asked about his next move. We’ll just take it one game at a time and do our best…

Was he always focused on leaving Boston and heading to free agency? Or did the city and the team accelerate it for him?

There’s a chance, of course, that he was unaffected by all the workplace dysfunction around him the last few years. A slim chance. I often wonder, for example, how he and those closest to him truly felt about a series of events from May 2017 through January 2018. That eight-month stretch alone was a patchwork of willful ignorance in the stands, bumbling negotiations in the suites, and a hostile atmosphere — sometimes in the dugout, sometimes in airplane seats — that was a constant reminder of lurking chaos.

Is all that a reason to turn down $300 million in Boston? Yes, if you can get at least that and more somewhere else. “Discount” is relative at those numbers, but ask yourself this: Would you take a hometown discount if you were at home and yet it never felt that way?

Let’s talk about some episodes in those eight months.

In May 2017, Orioles outfielder Adam Jones said someone in the Fenway crowd called him a racial slur. During their investigation of the night’s circumstances, the Red Sox asked their African-American players if they’d ever heard that at the park; they all said they had. In other words, what Jones experienced wasn’t breaking news to them. The news was that he’d discussed it publicly. I remember at the time of the Jones incident, I’d recently finished a book with David Ortiz. I sent him a text about what happened to Jones and, two seconds after sending it, my phone was ringing.

“This is a big problem at Fenway, and it’s been going on for a while,’’ Ortiz began.

We talked about awful exchanges that he’d either witnessed or heard about, involving players and staff, since joining the Red Sox in 2003. How many players over the years, we wondered, had decided to just play ball and ignore the racial noise? How many players were puzzled by the twisted logic of racists? (Call the black guy on the other team a slur, and the black guy on my team will be just fine with it.) How many weighed the cost of it and concluded that it wasn’t worth being labeled a complainer, alarmist, or — and this was popular at the time — a liar?

About six weeks after the Jones revelation, there were new and leftover rounds of Red Sox drama.

David Price yelled at mainstream media in New York; Price humiliated Red Sox media (Dennis Eckersley) on a team plane to Toronto; Dustin Pedroia tried to recover from publicly distancing himself from his manager and teammates, even though it meant siding with an opposing player, Manny Machado, who ultimately ended his career; and the Sox won their division and eventually fired their manager.

If that weren’t enough, the eight-month journey was capped with a final act that sent the wrong message, at the wrong time, to the wrong person.

Betts, the franchise player the team wanted to sign to a long-term contract, was eligible for arbitration. He and the Sox had a $3 million difference of opinion. With what was at stake in the future, the Sox never should have taken Betts to arbitration over $3 million.

They did it anyway, and doubled down with a presentation that didn’t land well. According to a report by Jeff Passan, the Sox made their case by showing a flattering video of the Cubs’ Kris Bryant. The point was clear: You’re good, but you’re no Kris Bryant.

That’s what they brought to the table that day in January 2018. That was also the day they lost their case, their negotiating savvy, and their chance at a long-term partnership with a star who gracefully handled the Boston challenges that we could see, as well as the insults that we couldn’t.

Don't be distracted by roadblocks to productive dialogue, nuanced conversation

Don't be distracted by roadblocks to productive dialogue, nuanced conversation

The ultimate goals, the basic expectations, are easy enough to see. Justice. Anti-racism. Equality. Love and respect for humanity.

Obvious and uncomplicated, right?

That’s why I’m surprised by some of the twisted things I’ve seen and heard in the last month and a half. It’s been about that long — seven weeks — since George Floyd pleaded for his life in Minneapolis, his neck pinned to the ground for nearly nine minutes under a police officer’s knee.

It was that recorded murder, thoughtless and merciless in high definition, that sparked historic protests here and abroad. Those marches were emphatic, multigenerational, multiethnic rebukes against abuse of power and injustice. Anyone exercising that abuse — and verbally or silently protecting it — is clearly the enemy.

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So how exactly did we get here?

In this climate, how does DeSean Jackson say he stands for love and unity yet get to a place where he’s producing multiple anti-Semitic posts on social media? Even worse, as he apologized for those hateful comments and tried to bury them, a former NBA player wouldn’t let him do it. Instead, Stephen Jackson retrieved them from the trash, gave them value, and added a wilder, more conspiratorial, anti-Semitic commentary on the wealthy Rothschild family.

Nothing good comes from reviving someone else’s deleted posts. And any conversation that leads us away from justice and toward a comparison of atrocities (1619 and the Holocaust) is destined to fall to pieces.

Jackson, a longtime friend of Floyd’s, was eloquent and thoughtful in the days after Floyd’s death. Kendrick Perkins remarked at the time that Jackson’s steadiness and passion seemed to be a divine “calling.” I could see what he meant. But seemingly hours after having that thought, I heard Jackson lecturing Stephen A. Smith because the commentator had the nerve to disagree with Kyrie Irving’s position on an NBA restart. Jackson told Smith that “no Black man” should say what Smith said. Then, condescendingly, he concluded that management — presumably white management — pulled some strings and turned Smith into a puppet.

Apparently, there is just one path to justice, and that single path doesn’t allow Black people to disagree with one another on layered issues. Even if the issue is basketball. Perkins learned that in a painful way when he, too, disagreed with Irving. When Kevin Durant saw Perkins’ criticism of Irving, he called his former teammate a “sell out.”

Justice. Anti-racism. Equality. Love and respect for humanity.

That still is the mission, right? Does it require us all to get there on the same ideological train? Do we all have to sound and think the same to arrive at a place where reasonable people all want to be?

In some ways, history has no precedent for what we’re seeing right now. Some data specialists and pollsters have suggested that the Black Lives Matter protests are the largest in the country’s history. While we haven’t seen that before, we can take some lessons from disagreements in the past. It’s certainly not new for passionate people of conscience to collide on strategy.

In her 2014 movie "Selma," filmmaker Ava DuVernay was able to capture an essential truth from a dramatization. Even as they agreed to march against racism and segregation in Alabama, there was tension between Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) and some members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). King’s group was seen as more deliberate while the youthful SNCC was more urgent.

Combined, the two groups produced some of the country’s most compelling leaders, drafted and ushered in groundbreaking legislation, and organized protests that we still discuss today, including the March on Washington.

King, a Christian, often had sharp philosophical differences with Malcolm X, a Muslim. One man gave us a “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” while the other left a piece of his soul with his autobiography. I can’t begin to count the times I’ve gained insight, and wisdom, from both over the years.

In some ways, clearly, it’s harder to be nuanced with different opinions — or to listen to them at all — today. While the immediacy of social media is its strength and allowed the world to see the Floyd video, it’s the immediacy of our platforms that often derails conversations before we give them context and allow them to develop.

A perfect example from the last seven weeks is the warp speed with which Drew Brees’ image was recreated. He shared his opinion on kneeling for the flag, and I disagreed with what he had to say. But I still wanted to hear him and understand his reasoning. If I were his teammate, I’d be eager to do that away from social media so I could have an authentic — and likely uncomfortable — conversation with him in private.

You know by now that two of his higher-profile teammates, Michael Thomas and Malcolm Jenkins, initially did the opposite. I saw a video where Thomas was applauded for his actions by ... Stephen Jackson.

Meanwhile, it’s been nearly four months since three plainclothes police officers in Louisville entered Breonna Taylor’s apartment after midnight and killed her. She was shot eight times. It was supposedly a drug raid, but there were no drugs. Just a 26-year-old EMT and her boyfriend. No one has been charged with murder.

The enemies are still out there. Let’s keep our eyes on the ultimate prize.