This is why I’d come here: not to fan the flames of dissent on the other coast, but to gauge their meaning from the sunny, concrete confines of Al Davis land. The Red Sox PR department, after learning of my sketchy goal to ask a couple of players to comment on “the situation with the media,” shut down as an instrument of assistance. Before the middle game of the set (the Sox lost the opener, 6 to 1), a terrified PR rep shadowed my every move around the clubhouse, convinced I was going to ask somebody something inappropriate. She needn’t have worried. When I approached David Ortiz at his locker and pathetically asked, “Hey, Big Papi, got a sec for a question on the M-E-D-I-A?”, he pretended that he didn’t hear me.
In retrospect, I think what I actually wanted to do was to pull Big Papi aside and try to make him feel better. But I also think, concerning his fear of a return to a bygone “shithole,” that what lies ahead may be worse. Since last September, something strange has happened to the sports media in Boston, and in particular the shock jocks on The Sports Hub and WEEI: They’ve stopped rooting for their team to win. Losing has become more meaningful. This suggests a reacquaintance with the past. It suggests that success has killed the Red Sox. “You think you’re beyond failure?” the baseball gods seemed to say. “Try this. Calvinist penance will now be replaced by utter torture!”
For the rest of July and into August, the whole “toxic” theme was temporarily sidelined as fans and media contemplated the trading deadline and the possibility of making enough upgrades to actually challenge for a Wild Card spot. But then on August 14, a day after the passing of the seemingly immortal Sox legend Johnny Pesky at age 92, Yahoo Sports’s Jeff Passan published an article on travails within the Sox clubhouse that so far outdid Buster Olney as to not only confirm Olney’s point, but to once again throw the region into cataclysm.
The story concerned a “secret” meeting between 17 players and management on July 26, held after first baseman Adrian Gonzalez sent a surreptitious text outlining issues he and others had with Bobby Valentine, who some players no longer wanted to play for. To be sure, Valentine has made a number of inscrutable management decisions this year, most of which combine a big mouth with an inability to understand just how poorly reverse psychology plays to the modern athlete. But in the media’s dissection of the event, Valentine was spared the brunt of the criticism; it was the players’ collective action, on a date approaching the one-year anniversary of their collective collapse, that seemed to resonate. More than anything, it was portrayed as evidence that the inmates now ran the asylum.
But not so fast.
On WEEI, midday host Mike “Mut” Mutnansky made the lucid point that the players “had this meeting; they knew it was going to get out. In a media market like Boston?” Mutnansky reasoned that the players “were trying to get their manager fired.”
Only in Boston could a media personality make such a comment without understanding the incriminating implications. The shrinks on the Red Sox funny farm are the media themselves, and it is these twisted, torture-prone doctors to whom the patients must appeal. It’s not the inmates who are running the asylum, it’s the media.