Rich Levine: I want my Sox back

554274.jpg

Rich Levine: I want my Sox back

By RichLevine
CSNNE.comColumnist Follow @rlevine33
An open letter to the leaders of Fenway SportsGroup:

Dear Leaders of the FSG,

You dont know me from a hole in your yacht, but I wanted to send you this quick note a message from a Sox fan. Call it therapy for me, a little unsolicited advice for you. Just know that I ask for nothing in return. (Although if you wanted to send over one of those Fenway bricks, thatd be cool. Ive been looking for somewhere to rest my official Red Sox Nation membership certificate.)

I guess the first thing I want to make clear is that I dont blame you for the collapse. Even more, I dont blame you for firing Terry Francona. Given the circumstances, it was either the manager or the players, and we all know how that goes. (For the record, Mr. Henry: I imagine you reading that last sentence and nodding emphatically, while smoking a pipe and wearing a sweater vest.)

But while I understand why you let Tito go, the way you handled was more pathetic than John Lackeys ERA. Im not sure if you realize this. In fact, something tells me that you're so far removed from reality that you cant comprehend how poorly this has all been received, or how badly your reputations been hit. If thats the case, please know once and for all: Were smarter than you think, and youre far more transparent.

But thats not why Im writing.

Im writing you with one simple demand:

Give me back my Red Sox.

For a little background: I was born in 1980, and spent the first 24 years of my life (especially those later years) loving the Sox more than just about anything in the world. I was a proud member of what you now call Red Sox Nation before you turned the phrase into an incredibly lucrative marketing campaign, and ultimately, a lame joke.

Im serious, though. I loved the Sox. Their season was everything to me. I took every loss to heart, celebrated every win. I was invested in every game from April to October. In many ways, I was the fan who the Farrelly brothers butchered so miserably in Fever Pitch. I was the fan who youve spent the last seven seasons patronizing and alienating. In those years leading up to the title while you guys were off buying, selling and rooting for the Yankees, Marlins, Orioles and Padres I was here. Living and dying with this team.

That all changed in 2004.

There are a lot of theories about what happened to Sox fans after the World Series.

(And when I say Sox fans, I mean the people who cared when Red Sox Nation was a muddy hole in the ground, and not a hokey theme park. People who cared when Red Sox Nation wasnt even a thing. Im talking about the fans who can spell Naehring, who know Oil Can Boyds real name, who can pick Don Baylor out of a lineup. What happened to them?)

Some said that winning ruined us. That somehow we not only missed the misery, but actually preferred it. That never made sense. For instance, lets say that every year, around September or October, a 250-pound, roided-out linebacker came to your house and punched you in the face. Every. Single. Year. Sometimes hed come later than others, but you always knew he was coming, and you spent every summer (no matter how great it was) bracing yourself for his arrival.

Then one year, instead of cleaning your clock, the guy shows up with two suitcases full of cash, says hes sorry and permanently moves to Chicago. Would you miss him? Even a little? Of course not. I mean, you might think about him every now and then, like, Hey, remember how awful that was? but youd never miss him. And Sox fans will never miss the misery.

But winning did change us. How could it not? Winning was salvation. It took away the fear. It erased the urgency. There was no need to live and die with every pitch, because now we could die in peace (someone should write a book about that). In real life, Jimmy Fallons stupid character woke up in 2005 and was a pretty normal guy. He kept his season tickets; he still loved the Sox. But he didnt want to cut himself after every loss or get blacked out drunk after every win. He had a much healthier outlook on things. He was just happy.

And he would have hated you guys.

Because, in real life, while winning changed Red Sox fans, it possessed ownership.

We saw it as salvation, you saw it as alvation and neither of us looked back.

You became a collective Walt Disney, and built this fictional happy-go-lucky-now-pay-us-more-money society around a team that didnt need it.

Do any of you watch Seinfeld? (Mr. Werner, something tells me youre the only one.) Anyway, theres this one episode where George wants to move into a new apartment, but has to convince the condo board that hes more deserving than a survivor from the Andria Doria shipwreck. So George goes in and tells them all these sob stories about his life. He blows them away. And at the end he says:

In closing, these stories have not been embellished, because - they need no embellishment.

You guys did the exact opposite. The Red Sox were a team, a fan base and an institution that needed no embellishment especially AFTER the winning the World Series but you embellished the life out of them. You turned Red Sox Nation into a soulless circus. You built this new world, with new fans, and ran with it. To your credit, you (along with Jerry Remy) made a ton of money. As businessmen, you seized the moment and hit a home run. But as guardians of the Red Sox name, you failed. And in the process, you pushed away the original fans. The fans who carried the load for 84 years before you swooped in.

(Now seems like a good time to add that I'll always be appreciative and respectful of your role in bringing a World Series to Boston. I cant really imply that swooping in was a bad thing, when it resulted in two rings. So, thanks for that. I mean it. But that doesnt excuse where we are today.)

Believe me, I want to ignore it. Ive really tried to. But its impossible to follow this team without constantly being assaulted with lameness. It kills me to see the Sox like this. Youve turned the team and its fan base into cartoon characters in your merry little fairy tale. Where everyones always smiling. Every games STILL a sell out. The Sox are down 11 runs in the eight? Fire up Sweet Caroline!

(By the way, I dont hate Pink Hats. I respect their right to enjoy the Red Sox. Im just sick of you pandering to them, and blatantly ignoring everyone and everything that came before.)

Youve destroyed NESN. Mr. Werner, youre literally one of the most successful producers in television history. How do you allow Jim Rice on TV? How have you let NESN unravel into such a shameless disaster?

I know, I know. Youre busy.

So heres my advice: Just stop.

Stop treating your fans like idiots. Stop pretending that your demographic is the cartoon character you drew up in a marketing meeting. During Sox season, make shows for people who like baseball, not people who drink your Wally-flavored Kool Aid. Try a year without Rice as your lead pre- and post-game analysts. I promise, what he brings to the table as a Red Sox legend is far outweighed by the fact that he doesnt speak English. Call off the sellout streak. To be honest, its actually a little psychotic that you still pretend it exists. Or even if it does technically exist, just stop bragging about it. No one cares but you.

Guys, after this September collapse and Titos ugly exit, theres no use pretending that anythings right in Red Sox Nation. The veils been lifted. The fairy tales over.

So please stop.

Give us back the Red Sox.

Or sell the team. Seriously, and go buy another one. Whats it even matter?

Listen, I know you have a lot on your plate this offseason. In fact, it may be the most significant offseason of your ownership. Youll have to find a new manager and (probably) a new general manager. Youll have to make decisions on Jonathan Papelbon and David Ortiz (two major faces of the organization). Youll have to deal with John Lackeys head, Carl Crawfords bat and help get to the root of the club house soap opera. On top of that, you have a soccer team to worry about. A racing team. And lets not forget about the centennial. Next year marks Fenways 100th anniversary, and I know you have all sorts of crap on tap.

On one hand, you still have a good team. Its hard to imagine they wont continue to be competitive. At the same time, the organizations at a serious crossroads. Who knows what will happen next?

But either way, it will be far easier to swallow if you just cut it out. Stop the charade and treat Red Sox fans with the respect they deserve.

Because much like your bricks, this fairy tale wont sell.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

PHOENIX - Major League Baseball intends to push forward with the process that could lead to possible rule changes involving the strike zone, installation of pitch clocks and limits on trips to the pitcher's mound. While baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope the ongoing process would lead to an agreement, he said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Union head Tony Clark said last weekend he did not foresee players agreeing to proposed changes for 2017. Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, management can alter playing rules only with agreement from the union - unless it gives one year notice. With the one year of notice, management can make changes on its own.

"Unfortunately it now appears that there really won't be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA," Manfred said Tuesday during a news conference. "I've tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, that it does not need to be fixed as some people have suggested, and I think last season was the kind of demonstration of the potential of our league to captivate the nation and of the game's unique place in American culture."

Yet, he also added: "I believe it's a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed and continues to change."

Manfred said while he prefers an agreement, "I'm also not willing to walk away." He said he will send a letter to the union in the coming days and plans to continue dialogue with Clark and others in hopes of reaching agreement.

Clark met with Cactus League teams last week, five at a time over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, before departing Monday for Florida to visit each Grapefruit League club - and proposed rules changes were a topic.

"I have great respect for the labor relations process, and I have a pretty good track record for getting things done with the MLBPA," Manfred said. "I have to admit, however, that I am disappointed that we could not even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes like limits on trips to the mound that have little effect on the competitive character of the game."

Clark saw talks differently.

"Unless your definition of `cooperation' is blanket approval, I don't agree that we've failed to cooperate with the commissioner's office on these issues," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this offseason we've been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened. I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don't continue, notwithstanding today's comments about implementation. As I've said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open."

Clark added "my understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2-minute limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of game warning/fine adjustments."

Manfred said he didn't want to share specifics of his priorities for alterations.

"There's a variety of changes that can be undertaken," Manfred said. "I'm committed to the idea that we have a set of proposals out there and we continue to discuss those proposals in private."

MLB has studied whether to restore the lower edge of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level - at the top of the kneecap. Management would like to install 20-second pitch clocks in an attempt to speed the pace of play - they have been used at Triple-A and Double-A for the past two seasons.

Players also have been against limiting mound meetings. The least controversial change appears to be allowing a team to call for an intentional walk without the pitcher having to throw pitches. In addition, MLB likely can alter some video review rules without the union's agreement- such as shortening the time a manager has to call for a review.

"Most of this stuff that they were talking about I don't think it would have been a major adjustment for us," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Manfred said starting runners on second base in extra innings sounds unlikely to be implemented in the majors. The change will be experimented with during the World Baseball Classic and perhaps at some short-season Class A leagues. Manfred said it was a special-purpose rule "beneficial in developmental leagues."

Manfred also said Tuesday that a renovated Wrigley Field would be a great choice to host an All-Star Game and Las Vegas could be a "viable market for us."

"I don't think that the presence of legalized gambling in Las Vegas should necessarily disqualify that market as a potential major league city," Manfred said.