The season is in the spring training stage, so it was surprising to hear Red Sox president Larry Lucchino make a prediction that smacks of flat-out pessimism. Major League Baseball has always had a tighter relationship with numbers than the average college math professor and we regularly hear about streaks for this and streaks for that.
One of the most impressive streaks going in baseball today is the Boston Red Sox sellout streak at Fenway Park. When people say you can’t get a ticket for a game they are not kidding. The Red Sox have sold every ticket to games at Fenway 793 straight times. At the rate of 81 games per season that’s nearly 10 full years of sellouts. That is a Major League record.
That has been a reflection of the consistent high quality of the product for most of that time, coupled last season with the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park’s opening. Lucchino said it wouldn’t surprise him at all if the 793-game sellout streak ends after 794–opening day.
It has been a darned good decade in Boston, with two World Series championships ending the long-term futility and frustration of the franchise. When you spend most of the 20th century on the sidelines during Octobers when the red, white and blue bunting is hung, two World Series titles is a bonanza of a crop. Factoring that in with the natural fan passion for baseball and the Sox in New England and it’s been a somewhat logically terrific attendance run–and certainly quite special.
Right up until the last minute of the 2011 season the Red Sox, who won 90 games that year, were headed to the playoffs once more. They blew their post-season slot on the last-day of the regular season and nothing’s been the same in Boston since. The 2012 season was a complete disaster, the ultimate hangover from the 2011 end-of-season disaster.
Some tough in-house assessments were made the moment the 2011 season ended. The Sox fired manager Terry Francona. Then as 2012 unraveled, they fired Francona’s replacement Bobby Valentine, and dumped a number of highly-paid, marquee-status players. This was the greatest shakeup in Boston since the pilgrims disrupted the local Indians’ daily routines at Plymouth Rock.
For years, the Sox casually erred on the side of profligate spending. Now, all of a sudden they were becoming spendthrifts. Boston was trying to reload, revamp, and rebuild all at once. Lucchino’s suggestion that the sellout streak is teetering on the brink is indicative of a couple of things: 1) The failure to sign a superstar addition to the lineup this off-season leaves the team short on sizzle as far as ticket-buyers go; and 2) Despite shuffling numerous players in and out, just maybe the Red Sox will not be contenders in the American League East.
Maybe for once the Red Sox were smart spenders and didn’t overindulge (although I was kind of hoping to see Josh Hamilton become friends with Fenway Park) and they seem one big-time player shy of a load. As I review the Red Sox roster I see a lot of names I like, a bunch of names to be hopeful about, some definite question marks, but a total package that to me spells 85 wins tops. That would be marked improvement over 2012, but not enough victories for a playoff appearance.
New manager John Farrell will have the chance to show he can be a difference maker in the clubhouse. Boston will be watched for player behavior. The Sox will be gauged on how newcomers perform and how veterans respond. As we all know, winning makes almost everything hunky-dory.
The Red Sox should win more than last year, but not enough to reach the post-season, nor as much as is needed to keep every single seat at Fenway Park filled every single day. In theory, but teams have gone broke anticipating fan behavior. Maybe if Boston starts out hot Lucchino will be proven wrong and the streak will go on.