Generally speaking, Red Sox fans should not complain.
I don't mean amongst themselves. When it comes to the more curious moves of the front office, the manager they hired, or the underperformance of their stars, Sox fans can moan all they want. That's the right of any fan of any team in any league, and one that we all indulge in with some regularity.
But to the league at large? Probably not the best idea. Sox fans, after all, have been blessed with some tremendous fortune. Whether we realize it or not, we are lucky to be part of such a large fan base, lucky to have an ownership group that is willing to spend money to earn money, and lucky to be so passionately upset about a losing season.
Still, I would like to lodge one complaint with the Red Sox. After all, it's due to their dismal performance over the last eleven months (and yes, when incorporating September of 2011, dismal is fitting) that this very exciting run of baseball has been completely ruined for most of us.
From the outside looking in, this is a pretty excellent time for baseball, and it starts with last season and our collapse.
For us, the story of 2011 is a tragedy. Incredibly high expectations dashed by one of the all-time great collapses. Stories (exaggerated though they may have been) of clubhouse turmoil and lazy, unmotivated players costing the club what seemed like by far its best shot at a World Series since 2007. The messy departure of two managerial figures that had become synonymous with the clubs winning ways...
But for fans of other teams, it was one part of a tremendous narrative. Two teams entering the final month with nearly a double digit lead on the playoff race, two teams that should by all means have given up hope by then. The Braves and Red Sox fell while the Rays and Cardinals rose.
We all know how it ends. Four games decided four seasons on September 28. One, the Cardinals' blow out of the Astros, was anticlimactic. The other three were incredible. A 13-inning defeat for Atlanta against Philadelphia, the Rays' huge comeback against New York, and of course the walk off defeat for the Red Sox suffered at the hands of the Orioles.
By itself, it's one of the best (worst) stories in the history of baseball. But now we're in the midst of a ridiculous 2012 and it's still hard to see past the 57-59 record.
Consider this: In the first year with multiple wild card spots, there are no fewer than five teams withing four games of the lead in both leagues. While most of the divisions leaders are ahead by a sizable amount, both the AL Central and NL West are closely-contested races made all the more heated by the fact that this year the division win actually means something.
Amongst the teams that are currently in or competing for a playoff spot are:
- The Baltimore Orioles
- The Oakland Athletics
- The Washinton Nationals (currently the best team in baseball)
- The Pittsburgh Pirates
These are four teams that you could almost discount out of hand the last few years. For the Pittsburgh Pirates, a winning season alone might merit a parade at this point, much less a playoff berth, and the Nationals haven't climbed above .500 on a full season since they called themselves the Expos and played ball in Montreal.
Meanwhile you have one of the truly phenomenal all-time seasons being provided by a rookie in Los Angeles who likely had his first legal drink all of a week ago. There's a 37 year old tossing knuckleballs that nobody can hit in New York (the part of it where we can actually appreciate something like that rather than condemn it as evil). There's a guy in the minor leagues with more stolen bases than Rickey Henderson ever had in a season and he's only played 113 games!
If this were all happening in August of 2011, we'd be having a terrific ride right about now. And for some of you, maybe you can look past the Red Sox' woes and enjoy this crazy year for what it is. If that's the case, then I certainly do not begrudge you that. More power to you.
Many of us, however, are Red Sox fans first, and baseball fans second, and it's just a shame that they chose now to make such a mess of things.