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Dombo in the weeds

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Yes, it’s another Dave Dombrowski column, but this time with Hamlet and Herm Edwards, so it’s different.

Boston Red Sox v Seattle Mariners
Happier times.
Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Let’s jump right in. In Hamlet’s first soliloquy, he observes “‘Tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature possess it merely.” The garden, here representing the kingdom of Denmark, must be tended by someone, because gardens need tending as countries need ruling. So too is it with running a franchise, in that in both cases, the longer the weeds are allowed to grow around the garden the better chance the gardener will be replaced, and the whole thing makes me thing of the Red Sox and Dave Dombrowski.

But back to Hamlet. It’s often about how people are lying, by choice or necessity, and with varying degrees of skill, in wildly different contexts. On the stage, Hamlet calls the sheer dramatic power of the Player King, a professional actor within the play (Shakespeare himself, in the early productions), “monstrous,” but knows he can catch the actual king, who he correctly assumes to have poisoned his own brother, by watching him confront the offense in real time via a dramatic reproduction. The new King Claudius is effectively wearing a mask, and Claudius knows it too, as he’s already moved on to worrying about how he’ll be judged in the afterlife for his regicide when the mask no longer matters. “There is no shuffling; there the action lies in his true nature,” he laments.

I doubt St. Peter will have much cause to ask anyone of consequence what the Red Sox were up to this offseason, mostly because we already know. They wanted to save money, and they can’t just come out and say it, so they say other things. The Red Sox front office is a bunch of bad actors without being bad actors — here I would say “regicide this is not,” but it kind of is, albeit strictly metaphorical. The royals who keep their crowns fight to keep them, for better or worse, and the Sox don’t see to want to bother. I don’t think Dombroswki is a bad person, but something is rotten in the Commonwealth, and beyond.

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In the offseason, news broke that teams battled each other for a “belt” representing which one of them saved the most money in arbitration, and in very real ways these days it’s the type of prize that seems to appeal to the owners more than World Series titles. The math on this is very straightforward: by and large, they’d prefer to cut corners than win pennants. Given that the practice is inherently anti-competitive, everyone is necessarily lying about why they are doing it, but they cannot help it if we watch them explain it and then draw our own conclusions.

Then there are the homers. If you like dingers though, great! Rob Manfred’s dishonesty about the home run surge is another example of talking to fans like they’re morons and expecting them to come back in perpetuity because they’re gluttons for punishment and addicted to the team in one way or another. Harsh but fair, and while it’s a shitty way of treating your fans, at least the 20th century Red Sox had a lot of experience with it. This group has been different, making good-faith runs at titles with lapses of concentration or judgment. This is one of the lapses.

The math has never worked on this Red Sox season, and not advanced math, either. Like, “do you have enough baseball players?” math. The answer was no when the season started, and it’s super-heckin’ no now. The upshot is that the Sox could make two moves and be rolling in August, but the bad news is that August is a month away and this team needs every game it can get. Organizational malaise has set in, and the season seems as weary, stale, flat and unprofitable as the world does to the Dane in that same first soliloquy.

In this case, however, I prefer my metaphysics from the noted 21st century scholar Herm Edwards, who, noting with (truly) great rhetorical skill that “you play to win the game,” exposed the heart of the rot in pro sports when defending your title plays second fiddle to penny-pinching. In fairness, So did Shakespeare, of course: everyone in Elsinore dies, more or less, and Fortinbras swoops in to conquer Denmark, and it all started with the weeds. The longer they get, the more fraught things become, and the faster the downfall can happen. Dombrowski wouldn’t be the first guy run out of town within a couple years of triumph, and he probably won’t be, but this is how the ends start start. It’s not even with a whimper: it’s with inaction, and with the consequences of doing nothing at all, and letting nature have its way.