Last night, while one of the most fundamentally detestable sellouts in the history of sports finally won the championship that pundits have claimed was his destiny, Daniel Nava continued to defy the experts and remain one of the best stories in sports. And the dichotomy between the two made it clear to me how the Red Sox went astray this season.
If youre like me, seeing player born collusion rewarded with a boat loads of cash and a title in the NBA is more than enough to turn you off to the sport for quite a while. Almost everything about LeBron James and the Miami Heats creation and title run is repugnant and in opposition to what I value in sports. Entitlement, petulance, self-promotion, fraudulence, and arrogance are all tenants of the NBA and especially the Heat. These attributes overshadow any athletic excellence and clouds their achievements, no matter how great.
Conversely, Daniel Nava coming through in the crunch time for the game winning hit embodies everything that makes watching sports great. This is a guy who shouldnt be on this team let alone in the Major Leagues. Hes the consummate underdog. He was cut from teams repeatedly, never got drafted and ultimately had his contract purchased for one dollar by the Red Sox. Thats about 99,999,999 less than LeBron James got for his first promotional agreement with Nike. Always doubted and counted out and yet somehow he not only perseveres but achieves a level of success most thought was unattainable. Navas accomplishments seem like a hardball version of Rudy and who doesnt love that scrappy little hobbit?
And then it hit me. Going into this season, the Red Sox had more in common with the Miami Heat than they did with the underdogs that make sports so enjoyable. Going into last season, the Red Sox were widely touted as not only one of the best teams in baseball, but one of the best teams ever! And much like the Heat last season, after slow starts, it looked like they would live up to the billing. How wrong we were. In the time since the Sox went belly up last September, this team has been a pack of selfish, bitchy, unlikable All-Stars who were far superior at making excuses than they were at making the playoffs.
In baseball, you need 25 players to not only function as a team, but to buy in to that concept to contend for a title. There are no isolation plays and clear outs. All Star ball players cant depend on reputation calls from officials and actually have to perform on their own merits. Given the make up for the team going into this season and their attitudes, the front office needed to change more than just the Manager to make this team successful.
But as luck would have it, the injuries this team has suffered were a reasonable facsimile for the moves that should have been made this winter. Injuries to Kevin Youkillis, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford have allowed Will Middlebrooks, Nava, Cody Ross and Mike Aviles to not only see the field, but overachieve and rise to prominence. In addition, young players that this team was counting on like Jarod Saltalamacchia, Felix Dubront and now Ryan Kalish are beginning to contribute. And in doing so, they are giving this team the likability that escaped the previous star laden line up.
Last nights win was a prime example of this as Salty, Middlebrooks, Aviles, Kalish and Nava all came up clutch, with gritty play and timely hitting. It was the teams biggest win of the season and it uncovered a blueprint for the Red Soxs future: A team that isnt expected to win it all by just showing up, but a team that might win more than you think by showing up every night.
Soon the injuries will heal and GM Ben Cherington is going to have to make his own decision. Does he hold on to toxic, selfish stars, content to keep counting an attendance streak that makes the NBA seem legitimate? Or does he move forward with the kind of youth and talent that will once again capture the hearts and minds of the fans in this town. Unlike Miami, in Boston, we want to root for a team that sells out on the field, not a team that fields a roster of sellouts.