We all know baseball is circling the drain, ready to shuffle off the mortal coil at any moment. But I always assumed its inevitable demise would be the result of either be old age or blunt force trauma at the hands of football. But drowning? Didn’t see that one coming!
But apparently so, as Rob Bradford’s latest hand-wringing column about the Red Sox makes plain:
This organization will find itself at a crossroads this summer, trying to avoid the kind of ditch even a $200-plus million payroll or shock-and-awe transaction won’t eliminate. If the Red Sox can’t find a way to remain in contention for something — anything – they’ll be in danger of drowning in the kind of apathy their entire sport is desperately flailing to avoid.
Two swimmers sinking and I’m only one lifeguard, so I’ll make the hard choice to let baseball tread water a bit and talk about the Red Sox.
This structure of this column may look familiar to some of you. It’s the once-ubiquitous-but-now-rarely-seen “[team] must remain relevant!” column. You used to see them all the time in New York when people would make it clear that the Yankees can’t just be decent, they must be relevant. Whatever the hell that means. So too with the Red Sox, I guess:
But here’s the reality: the Red Sox organization is playing for something almost as pressing as titles. They’re playing for relevance.
To be clear, like Moe Greene said in The Godfather, we’re talking business. This isn’t about the baseball side of things, which is so broken, there’s no easy fix. Instead, let’s take a hard look at what the Red Sox truly have to lose.
What follows is not so much about wins or losses. It’s not even about revenues so much despite a citation to past financial concerns of Sox’ ownership cited in a nine-year-old book. It’s about those hard-to-quantify-but-easy-to-columnify concepts like the team’s “brand” or fan “apathy.” Concepts about which we should be deeply, deeply concerned despite the fact that the Red Sox have sold nearly 95% of their tickets this year — third behind only the Giants and Cardinals — and stand at fifth in average per-game attendance despite having the fourth smallest capacity in the bigs.
And, more importantly, despite the fact that the Red Sox’ “brand” in New England is, you know, damn strong. Despite the fact that, if anything, the Red Sox built their brand on futility for, oh, eight decades and still had passionate fan support and always will.
At any rate, this kind of quasi-“too big too fail” talk was tiresome when it was about the Yankees. It’s just as much if not more tiresome when it’s the Red Sox. Sports teams win. Sports teams lose. Attendance goes up and down some, but a city like Boston’s love for the Sox isn’t going to disappear. And I think their brand will be OK if it has a rough patch. Even if columnists fret otherwise.