Rich Levine: I want my Sox back

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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

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

IRVING, Texas -- Baseball players and owners reached a tentative agreement on a five-year labor contract Wednesday night, a deal that will extend the sport's industrial peace to 26 years since the ruinous fights in the first two decades of free agency.

After days of near round-the-clock talks, negotiators reached a verbal agreement about 3 1/2 hours before the expiration of the current pact. Then they worked to draft a memorandum of understanding, which must be ratified by both sides.

"It's great! Another five years of uninterrupted baseball," Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt said in a text message.

In announcing the agreement, Major League Baseball and the players' association said they will make specific terms available when drafting is complete.

"Happy it's done, and baseball is back on," Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said.

As part of the deal, the experiment of having the All-Star Game determine which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series will end after 14 years, a person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been signed.

Instead, the pennant winner with the better regular-season record will open the Series at home.

Another important change: The minimum time for a stint on the disabled list will be reduced from 15 days to 10.

The luxury tax threshold rises from $189 million to $195 million next year, $197 million in 2018, $206 million in 2019, $209 million in 2020 and $210 million in 2021.

Tax rates increase from 17.5 percent to 20 percent for first offenders, remain at 30 percent for second offenders and rise from 40 percent to 50 percent for third offenders. There is a new surtax of 12 percent for teams $20 million to $40 million above the threshold, 42.5 percent for first offenders more than $40 million above the threshold and 45 percent for subsequent offenders more than $40 million above.

Union head Tony Clark, presiding over a negotiation for the first time, said in a statement the deal "will benefit all involved in the game and leaves the game better for those who follow."

Key changes involve the qualifying offers clubs can make to their former players after they become free agents - the figure was $17.2 million this year. If a player turns down the offer and signs elsewhere, his new team forfeits an amateur draft pick, which usually had been in the first round under the old deal.

Under the new rules, a player can receive a qualifying offer only once in his career and will have 10 days to consider it instead of seven. A club signing a player who declined a qualifying offer would lose its third-highest amateur draft pick if it is a revenue-sharing receiver, its second- and fifth-highest picks (plus a loss of $1 million in its international draft pool) if it pays luxury tax for the just-ended season, and its second-highest pick (plus $500,000 in the international draft pool) if it is any other team.

A club losing a free agent who passed up a qualifying offer would receive an extra selection after the first round of the next draft if the player signed a contract for $50 million or more and after competitive balance round B if under $50 million. However, if that team pays luxury tax, the extra draft pick would drop to after the fourth round.

Among other details:

-For a team $40 million or more in excess of the luxury tax threshold, its highest selection in the next amateur draft will drop 10 places.

-While management failed to obtain an international draft of amateurs residing outside the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, it did get a hard cap on each team's annual bonus pool for those players starting at $4.75 million for the signing period that begins next July 2.

-There is no change to limits on active rosters, which remain at 25 for most of the season and 40 from Sept. 1 on.

-Smokeless tobacco will be banned for all new players, those who currently do not have at least one day of major league service.

-The regular season will expand from 183 days to 187 starting in 2018, creating four more scheduled off days. There are additional limitations on the start times of night games on getaway days.

-The minimum salary rises from $507,500 to $535,000 next year, $545,000 in 2018 and $555,000 in 2019, with cost-of-living increases the following two years; the minor league minimum for a player appearing on the 40-man roster for at least the second time goes up from $82,700 to $86,500 next year, $88,000 in 2018 and $89,500 in 2019, followed by cost-of-living raises.

-The drop-off in slot values in the first round of the amateur draft will be lessened.

-Oakland's revenue-sharing funds will be cut to 75 percent next year, 50 percent in 2018, 25 percent in 2019 and then phased out.

-As part of the drug agreement, there will be increased testing, players will not be credited with major league service time during suspensions, and biomarker testing for HGH will begin next year.

Negotiators met through most of Tuesday night in an effort to increase momentum in the talks, which began during spring training. This is the third straight time the sides reached a new agreement before the old contract expired, but a deal was struck eight weeks in advance in 2006 and three weeks ahead of expiration in 2011.

Talks took place at a hotel outside Dallas where the players' association held its annual executive board meeting.

Clark, the first former player to serve as executive director of the union, and others set up in a meeting room within earshot of a children's choir practicing Christmas carols. A man dressed as Santa Claus waited nearby.

Baseball had eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the last a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years. The 2002 agreement was reached after players authorized a strike and about 3 1/2 hours before the first game that would have been impacted by a walkout.

The peace in baseball is in contrast to the recent labor histories of other major sports. The NFL had a preseason lockout in 2011, the NBA lost 240 games to a lockout that same year and the NHL lost 510 games to a lockout in 2012-13.