I thought of FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal on Sunday after Hanley Ramirez, playing DH while David Ortiz prowled first base, hit what was ultimately the game-winning home run on a pitch that he had no business getting into fair territory, leastwise the monster seats. It was incredible:
I thought of Rosenthal because at the depth of the Red Sox’ 2015 despair, there he was, jumping on the kneejerk reaction bandwagon with this year’s team, saying things that made no damn sense except to those who, for whatever reason — likely having listened to Rosenthal et al in the first place — believed it already. Here’s what he said:
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) June 19, 2015
Sunday’s game was a small sample, for sure, but it’s a representative one: Ramirez’ home run was the difference, and Sandoval continued his notoriously streaky hot-hitting. Hitting, as you many know, is hard. Ask 10 baseball writers what they think is the hardest task in sports, and 10 of them will likely say it’s hitting a baseball. Ramirez can hit a baseball. This year, he’s sitting at a good-not-great 124 WRC+, but that’s matched by a .264 BABIP that, should it approach his career .329 mark, ought to take a major jump. As I wrote elsewhere, he returned to the Red Sox because he wanted to play for them and was rewarded by being stuck somewhere he had never played before. He may be worse in the outfield than Manny Ramirez was, but he’s a better outfielder than Manny would have been a shortstop.
It’s fair to note that (Hanley) Ramirez has a history of being something of a clubhouse malcontent, but that would seem to have been a known issue when Red Sox signed him… as would the fact that they already had a DH, which is only kind of Ramirez’s fault. After Sunday’s game, which saw David Ortiz slide over to first, they may have found a simple solution to the problem Rosenthal tried to pin on Ramirez: one of a bad attitude, combined with poor results. I can sympathize, because when I see bad attitudes get a free pass over and over and over, it does rankle me. But I’m talking about Mike Napoli, who has spent most of the last three months watching strike threes on the outside corner and complaining about it, all while playing at sub-replacement level (he boasts a Juan Pierre-ian 80 WRC+). He’s no Ramirez in the field, of course, but he’s no Mark Teixeira, either: he has done his best to become the least valuable player on the Sox, and done it with a scowl:
Sandoval got on Rosenthal’s bad side not only because of his subpar play, but because he committed the apparently unforgivable sin of using his smartphone during one of 162 long baseball games, one for which he immediately apologized. For this, Rosenthal would have the Sox sell him off like scrap metal while, presumably, keeping certified deadweight like Napoli.
That’s not my take. It’s Rosenthal’s, and here he is taking part in the very process he thinks he’s criticizing:
Boston, in the words of one rival executive, “tore apart its DNA.” As any sabermetrician can attest, character types such as Jonny Gomes and David Ross can take you only so far. The same, however, can be said of talented players who lack character, and in some ways, the Sox went from one extreme to the other.
So, what’s the answer? Management held former manager Terry Francona responsible for the team’s meltdown in September 2011, so it’s not unreasonable to think that manager John Farrell soon could be in trouble, if he isn’t already. The Red Sox manufacture scapegoats like Vermont manufactures maple syrup. Somewhere, Bobby Valentine is laughing.
I’m sorry — there’s no way to read an excerpt that bestows “character” on David Ross and Jonny Gomes and, by extension, Napoli and Rick Porcello and Wade Miley and everyone else on the Red Sox to whom Rosenthal gave a free pass, and not notice that it landed on what some would call the easiest targets? The obsession with Gomes, particularly, is insane. Lest we forget:
— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) June 15, 2015
To be sure, there’s a lot of cause and effect in play, but if Ross’ and Gomes’ “character” was the key to the 2013 World Series title, I suppose that they 2013 team could pulled it off with the 2015 team’s rotation, no problem.
It’s not infuriating that someone would write this; it’s the Internet, it’s gonna happen. It’s infuriating that the lead analyst for one of the major networks — even one who’s usually pretty good, as Rosenthal is — would propose this, as if it was a) a good idea, b) possible, c) likely or d) relevant. Boston’s problem is its pitching. There’s no need to whitewash it. The offense has been slow, yes, but it’s starting to bounce back through commonsense moves not associated with panic-selling your two big offseason acquisitions for behavior that’s in line with everything they’ve done to this point.
Rosenthal’s piece is basically a broadside against social media (which, of course, didn’t stop him from tweeting it) and its culture, and by extension, Ramirez and Sandoval, for reasons I really can’t figure out. There’s no logic to it, and yet it’s the status quo. It’s a firmament from which baseball’s few TV-moneyed writer/emperors stray only at their peril, because they have built a livelihood by pretending it’s true. Maybe it is, but I see no evidence for it. I only see, like I do with Napoli, emperors with no clothes, and a flock of readers who love what’s underneath it all, no matter how gross it really is.
Photo by Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports Images