By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
Since the Red Sox' September faceplant became official Wednesday night in Baltimore, it's been fashionable to compare this year's epic collapse to 1974 or 1978, two other seasons in which the Sox coughed up late-season leads and finshed short of qualifying for the postseason.
In 1974, the Sox were in first place by a game on Sept. 1, but tumbled in the standings, finishing in third, seven games back.
The 1978 collapse, of course, was more notorious, as the Sox went from 13 12 games ahead of the Yankees to a one-game playoff game, which they lost.
But the more you think about what happened this season -- and the more sordid details that emerge -- the 2011 season much more resembles another nightmarish season: 2001.
The Sox were thoroughly mediocre in 2001, finishing 83-79, 13 12 games in back of the New York Yankees, who were on their way to a fourth straight American League pennant.
But like the Red Sox of 2011, the 2001 Red Sox soiled themselves with their attitude and behavior.
Players openly mocked interim manager Joe Kerrigan, a former pitcher and pitching coach, who gave edicts to not swing at the first pitch of any at-bat and promised consistent lineups only to change them nightly.
Shortly after 911, at a closed workout at Fenway, Pedro Martinez angrily tore off his uniform and defied Kerrigan.
On a flight to Tampa later that month, when Kerrigan tried to quell a fight brewing between Ramirez and some teammates, Ramirez brusquely dismmised his manager's peace-keeping efforts, telling Kerrigan: "Joe, shut up and sit down.''
Ramirez's humiliation of Kerrigan wasn't complete until weeks later in the offseason when Kerrigan began to visit players across the country and Ramirez refused to allow him entrance onto his property in South Florida.
The season was disappointing enough that manager Jimy Williams was fired in August despite the team's standing among the leaders for the wild card at the time.
But what really resonated was the team's indifferent play, its open defiance of its manager and embarrassing way it responded in the final month.
In other words, much like this September.
(That, in itself, should put this year's debacle into proper context: not since Joe Kerrigan has a Red Sox manager been as disrespected as Francona was this year.)
At the conclusion of the 2001 season, the Red Sox were a laughingstock. They had missed the playoffs for two straight years, fired a successful manager and were saddled with troublesome personalities.
The difference was, back in 2001, help was on the way. The team was in the process of being sold to a new ownership group which promised to be responsive to the fans and restore order and pride to the franchise.
Within months, general manager Dan Duquette, whose mostly shrewd personnel moves were nearly cancelled out by his tin ear and poor interpersonal skills, was fired, as was Kerrigan.
The cavalry had arrived.
Now, exactly 10 years later, the cavalry is in place, and frankly, it's part of the current problem.
Reaction to the departure of manager Terry Francona has been overwhelmingly negative. Worse, fans object not only to the move itself but the incredibly clumsy way in which it was executed.
While Francona left with candor and grace, management -- especially CEO Larry Lucchino and chairman Tom Werner -- came off as calculating and disengenuous.
Francona's sole parting swipe, in which he questioned whether he had the support of ownership, has already left its mark. When the dueling press conferences had concluded Friday, Francona, without really trying, had seized the high moral ground.
General manager Theo Epstein, who was honest enough to take at least some of the blame for the season's crash-and-burn, insisted that the Sox didn't need any significant overhaul -- just the right choice as manager and some roster fine-tuning.
In the immediate aftermath of the 2011 debacle, that seems hopelessly naive. Beyond the obvious holes (starting rotation, bullpen, right field), there are now questions about the team's overall direction.
The managerial job is still an attractive one, thanks to the resources available and the team's high profile, but it comes with strings attached, too: huge expectations, constant scrutiny and regular meddling from upstairs.
The two World Series titles can't be taken away, of course, and the way in which the franchise is viewed has been changed, mostly for the better.
But in some ways, the Red Sox have suddenly and unexpectedly gone backwards, all the way back to where they were when the these same owners arrived and there was only one direction in which to go.