McAdam: It could be a Field of Dreams again

McAdam: It could be a Field of Dreams again
September 26, 2012, 12:18 pm
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BOSTON -- Leaving behind the obvious question of "Why did the Red Sox pick the eighth anniversary to celebrate the virtues of the 2004 championship team?'' there were another couple of reasons to question the wisdom of Tuesday's on-field pregame ceremony.

First, the presence of the 2004 club was a stark reminder of how things used to be at Fenway, when baseball was fun, the players were likeable and winning was norm.

Never mind the 86-year gap that was erased when the Sox finally won it all; the eight years that have passed since the first of two 21st-century titles now seem like a lifetime ago.

Secondly, the presence of the '04 team is a reminder of the value of "team.''

Sure, that Red Sox team had its share of superstars, players big enough to be known by one name: Nomar, Pedro and Manny included. But there were important pieces, too. What made the 2004 team more successful than past Red Sox clubs was the mix of All-Stars and role players.

Without discounting the contributions of big-name acquisitions such as Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke, there was the undeniable input of lesser lights such as Bill Mueller, Mark Bellhorn, Mike Timlin and Kevin Millar.

Beyond his success at drafting and developing, it could be argued that Theo Epstein's real talent was finding genuine value in the free-agent market.

On the field Tuesday night, then, was a blueprint which the Red Sox can use to dig themselves out of their current mess. To say nothing of serving as a reminder that the road back to respectability and, eventually, contention, may not be as long and winding as some have forecast.

In 2001, recall, the Red Sox were a mess. Jimy Williams was fired in August, replaced by Joe Kerrigan, leading to a disastrous final six weeks in which the Red Sox splintered, tripped and fell. The same team which was a wild-card contender in midseason embarrassed itself in the second half, both with its play and off-field problems.

Sound familiar?

And yet, two years later, the Red Sox were in the American League Championship Series. A year after that, they were the champions of baseball.

Epstein himself has famously cited "the Monster'' -- the internal, self-generated pressure to sign stars in order to make the Sox more marketable -- as part of the team's downfall. But a less-publicized change of philosophy also contributed to the downward spiral.

Worried that the "Cowboy Up'' and "Idiot" personas were overtaking the clubhouse, the Red Sox made a conscious decision to avoid players with personality and instead focused on those whose behavior was deemed more "professional.'' The latter, it was argued, wouldn't be distractions and could be more effectively managed over the course of a long season.

Thus, out went Johnny Damon, Millar and Martinez. In came the likes of Carl Crawford
and Adrian Gonzalez, who came to view the game dispassionately and seemed overwhelmed by the Boston environment.

While the Red Sox wait for their best prospects (Matt Barnes, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr.) to arrive in 2014, they'd do well to remember that character and personality count for something.

Signing someone like outfielder Torii Hunter to a two-year deal could do wonders for the clubhouse. Hunter is a respected leader, a sunny presence and, not incidentally, a close friend of David Ortiz. Though he lacks a championship on his resume, Hunter is no stranger to winning: he's taken part in the postseason six times and counting.

Eight years removed from the 2004 World Series, the camaraderie and joyfulness with which those Red Sox teammates regarded one another was on display at Fenway Tuesday night. It helps that they won, of course -- few losing teams are happy teams.

But their obvious bonhomie is a reminder that baseball can be fun, an element not enough found at Fenway this season.