The Red Sox are good this year. They are 17-4 and in first place. This is good and it should make you happy.
Mookie Betts has been the best player on the team so far, reprising his role from 2016. He makes $10.5 million, about a third of what he would make on the open market. He beat the Red Sox in arbitration to get to that number and he is ostensibly not interested in signing an extension during the season, so from here we just watch and wait. There will be homers.
The most fun player this year has been Hanley Ramirez, who’s giving us the ‘Full Hanley’ experience in the last year of a 4-year, $88 million contract that extends through next season if Ramirez gets around 500 plate appearances this year. Even a month ago this vesting option was seen as an potential albatross for the Sox, but right now it seems like the more Hanley, the better.
It’s been a long time coming. Ramirez signed by the Red Sox as an amateur free agent in the year 2000 and traded to the Marlins in the Josh Beckett deal in 2005, when he was still 21 years old. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 2002 and a batting title in 2009 and later moved on to the Dodgers before becoming a free agent and returning to Boston in November 2014.
The other big signing that offseason was Pablo Sandoval, and when both Hanley and the Panda struggled in the early going it was easy to conflate the struggles of the two. Ken Rosenthal, then of FOX Sports, went for the easy route and wrote in June 2015 that the “Red Sox need to dump Sandoval, Ramirez, like, now.”
Friends, I was enraged by this column at the time enough to engage Rosenthal on Twitter, and while I haven’t done it since, just reading the opening lines of the column still makes me shake with rage:
It’s 2011 all over again, only the Red Sox’s Stupid Clubhouse Tricks consist of Instagram “likes,” not fried chicken and beer. Tap, tap, tap. Drip, drip, drip. The only proper solution for the Sox is to re-enact the Great Cleanse of ’12, and fumigate the clubhouse again.
Hanley Ramirez, gone. Pablo Sandoval, gone. Anybody else who is spooked by Boston, wave your cellphones in the air and act like you just don’t care; general manager Ben Cherington can find a taker for you, too.
At the risk of belaboring this argument, whatever problems I had with the column in 2015 have only been exacerbated now that Hanley is Quite Good. But my anger was never about how they’d turn out. I hated the reasoning of the column at the time and still dislike it today, this very morning.
To take just the opening paragrpah, the “cleanse” bit was terrible then and is terrible now. It’s a bad, intentionally loaded word choice, as is “fumigate.” It also didn’t jibe with the “chicken and beer” Sox he references; John Lackey was one of the worst “offenders” then and was a hero on the 2013 World Series winning team. He was not “cleansed,” and the team was better for it.
Beyond that, the idea that Hanley and Panda were bad enough that they needed to be traded doesn’t mesh with the idea that then-GM Ben Cherington would be able to find a place for them elsewhere. Teams do not like bad, expensive players! Beyond that, declaring that they team “needed” to trade them lest they semi-permanently ruin the clubhouse was silly after the 2013 World Series rebound and a half a laugh riot now that Hanley is the toast of the town.
It’s only half of a joke because Rosenthal was right about Sandoval, who was as poor a fit for the Red Sox as Hanley was for Rosenthal’s column. The Panda missed the entire 2016 first-place run with an injury and was cut early on in 2017, though he has held on in the majors as a bench player in San Francisco, where he is beloved. Given how well the Sox have played without him, I have a tough time caring that he has several trucks full of what was formerly John Henry’s money. Your mileage may vary.
What I clearly still care about is the column, because it’s the perfect stand-in for everything I hate from hyperventilating national columnists — baseball isn’t life, folks, and we’re not “cleansing” anything either way — and has aged as poorly as, well, Pablo Sandoval. Add in some likely unintentional but still very real racial undertones, the sheer ballsiness of it all… it was way, way too much.
Fortunately for us, Hanley doesn’t have that problem. He’s living his best life, whether it’s hitting lasers over the monster, game-winners to right or becoming the team’s most visible positive presence when they do awesome things like attend Bruins playoff games en masse. It does more to refute Rosenthal’s thesis than I could do in years. It ‘needed’ to happen, if only for my sanity, ‘like, now.’ It is, in a word... cleansing.