It is now December in the year of our Aceves 2019, which means that everyone who is anyone is doing some sort of content creation to mark the end of the decade. It is horribly unoriginal, which I do not say derisively because I’m doing it too! It’s practically legally obligated! Anyway, I’m going to be counting down the top moments of the decade for the duration of the month. We’ll start with our honorable mentions in which I’ll put down my numbers 11-20 moments of the decade and then after that each of the top ten moments will have their own standalone post. This is all totally subjective (obviously), and it’s also specifically not the best moments. In other words, i’s not all good, though most of it is. Okay, that’s enough, right? I don’t need to explain the concept of a top moments of the decade series, right? You get it.
The 2011 season was the first season I started writing about baseball (although I think about three people read said writing, I was still publishing words), and it was a hell of a season to jump into. It started with the team being hyped as possibly the best ever assembled and ended with one of the biggest heartbreaks in the history of the sport. There was also the whole chicken and beer controversy that came about after the collapse and is still talked about to this day. With all of that in the air, the Red Sox brass decided it was time to shake things up and make a change.
That attitude has, of course, become relatively commonplace in the organization of late, but at the time Boston had been incredibly stable with their manager and general manager. Terry Francona was hired prior to the 2004 season and Theo Epstein prior to the 2003 season. The two of them combined to lead the franchise to new heights, obviously winning their first World Series in 86 years in 2004, winning another one in 2007 and just generally putting contenders on the field each and every year.
After the 2011 disaster, it was all over. Francona moved on (technically he resigned, but it was a mutual decision at best) immediately after the season ended. Epstein waited about another month (with that time filled with loud speculation a move was coming) before exiting to head to the Cubs. By the time Halloween rolled around, both were out the door and the Red Sox were left without the two leaders that had led them into the franchise’s golden age.
Epstein leaving was obviously a huge deal. He had ushered in a new era, not only with the Red Sox but also in baseball as one of the up-and-coming Ivy League executives who now make up almost the totality of baseball front offices. His impact on the franchise was undeniable, and he had moved on to take over another organization that was starving for a championship. The Red Sox suddenly found their baseball operations department in flux for the first time in a decade. It was, however, more of a clean break than the managerial one.
The Francona separation was ugly. It was presented as Francona’s decision, but it was clear that wasn’t the case. He met with Red Sox owners and front office members and often said in comments after all of this that even he wasn’t sure if he quit or was fired. After he left, there were leaks to the media about him not being able to control the clubhouse, about being distracted — his son was in Afghanistan during the 2011 season and he was having marital problems — and of course the report (as far as I can tell the original Boston Globe report no longer exists) that ownership was worried about his pain medication usage. It was all very gross and the clearest example of the franchise’s tendency to trash personnel on the way out the door. The way this was done, in a way that was so deeply personally, was jarring, embarrassing and a disaster of a PR move.
There’s a fair argument to be made that moving on from the Francona/Epstein duo was the right one. Hiring Bobby Valentine clearly was not, but there are times when old voices become stale and you need new blood inserted to jump-star everything. Whether or not that was the case here is impossible to say for sure, but the possibility is certainly there. The way it was handled undermined any of that, though.
This was a huge moment either way, with the team moving on from guys who are probably the best manager and the best general manager in franchise history. That’s a decade-defining moment in any context. When you throw in all that happened in 2011 to lead up to it plus the embarrassments that came after, it jumps up to even another level.