McAdam: Humility won't hurt after end of Red Sox sellout streak

McAdam: Humility won't hurt after end of Red Sox sellout streak
April 11, 2013, 1:45 am
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BOSTON -- A number of years ago, Jerry Seinfeld had a bit in his stand-up routine, lampooning McDonald's and the chain's ongoing obsession -- as part of its golden arches sign -- with tracking the number of hamburgers sold.

"I'd like to meet the chairman of the board of McDonald's,'' said Seinfeld. "Look, we all get it. You've sold a lot of hamburgers, whatever the hell the number is. Just put up a sign that says, 'McDonald's . . . we're doing very well.' I don't need to hear about every one of them. What is their ultimate goal? To have cows just surrendering voluntarily or something?''

Over the last few years, that's how the Red Sox sellout streak -- which officially came to an end Wednesday night after 794 regular season games (820 including playoff games) over 10 seasons -- began to feel.

There were times when it felt like the ongoing sellout streak was the most important thing on Yawkey Way. Long after the Sox' streak eclipsed that of the Cleveland Indians -- 455 straight, the previous record for Major League Baseball -- and the NBA's Portland Trailblazers (814, the previous record among the four major sports leagues) -- the Red Sox kept trumpeting the streak.

That the streak continued even in the face of the team's epic collapse in September of 2011, and throughout last season -- a last-place finish, with yet more dysfunction -- is a testatment to the loyalty of the team's fan base and the seemingly insatiable appetite for baseball in New England.

But the Sox seemed to lose sight of that. Promoting the streak was an exercise in self-aggrandizement.

Look we all get it. You've sold a lot of tickets, whatever the hell the number is. Just put up a sign that says, 'The Red Sox . . . we're doing very well...'

Every night, around the seventh or eighth inning, the Red Sox would have a media relations official dutifully announce the attendance, always with the additional information updating the streak.

Like the nightly playing of "Sweet Caroline'' on a night in which the Red Sox were losing by double-digit runs, it began to ring hollow and rather pointless.

This was additional fodder for former general manager Theo Epstein's contention that the organization had been distracted by peripheral issues, that they were more enthralled with their own popularity than focused on putting a winning product on the field, or in recent seasons, correcting systemic problems in the organization.

Worse, there was plenty of evidence that the streak was a bit, shall we say, inauthentic. A Boston Globe story last year revealed that tickets -- hundreds of them -- were available after the first pitch of many games, prompting the question: When is a sellout not really a sellout?

(In the team's defense, the appearance of empty seats late in the year or in cold weather didn't necessarily signal a particular game wasn't an actual sellout. Sellouts are based on tickets distributed, not tickets used.)

The Sox hid behind some lawerly language about following MLB protocol when it comes to the actual standard of a sellout. It smacked of Bill Clinton: "It depends on what the definition of is, is.''

The fact that the streak came to an end Wednesday night wasn't much of a surprise, of course. No less an authority than CEO and President Larry Lucchino, in a spring training press conference with reporters, said the club expected the streak to come to an end sometime in April.

And team Chief Operating Officer Sam Kennedy, in various interviews Tuesday, predicted that the streak would come to an end Wednesday night. Kennedy added that this was not a one-night phenomenon, either -- many of the games for the rest of April are expected to fall short of sellout status.

It's not as if Fenway is going to return to early-1990s attendance figures. There will not be entire sections empty, as there were routinely in the Ralph Houk years.

But lately, the streak had become more of a burden than a point of pride, a symbol of the team's tone-deafness in the face of declining performance where it counts -- on the field, not the box office.

The streak is dead. But a little humility never hurt anyone.