“I’m familiar with some of the stuff he preaches on. I don’t know. It’s a quick way to score runs and last season the numbers speak for themselves. We didn’t hit that many [home runs] but we still won 93 games. There are different ways to win baseball games.”
– Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi to the Boston Globe when asked about new Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers early in spring training
See that comment above? When you get right down to it, this is what’s wrong with the Red Sox.
Or should we just call them the millennial Red Sox?
Yes, I’m reading into this some. Part of that is who I am. Part of it is what I do. But as the Red Sox prepare to embark on the 2018 season with a new lineup centerpiece (J.D. Martinez) and a new manager (Alex Cora), let’s not forget: Boston’s young core was supposed to be the nucleus for years to come once David Ortiz moved on. That was the plan. And it’s beyond time to wonder whether Messrs. Betts, Bogaerts, Bradley and Benintendi – the killer Bs – are precisely that.
A solid B. Maybe a B+. But you get the idea. Good players. Not great ones.
So here’s the question: what does it take to be great? Obviously, it takes talent. It takes a work ethic, too. But it also takes a certain intangible – an it factor – that goes beyond anything concrete. It takes a drive and desire to prove people wrong, to rise to a challenge that relatively few are willing to take on.
David Ortiz, for example, possessed that. The 2004 Red Sox had it. Curt Schilling had it. So did Pedro Martinez. Say what you want about Dustin Pedroia, but he’s played his entire baseball career with a chip on his shoulder and he’s been a significant part of two championship teams. You think he’s too small? Screw you.
All of this brings us back to Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley and even Benintendi, who all arrived in the major leagues with a certain amount of hype or minor league accomplishments – or both. They’ve all had their moments. But we’ve reached a point in their career – individually and collectively – where it’s time grow some more. Or not. It’s hardly time to look back on a second consecutive loss in the American League Division Series and boast about winning 93 games.
And it’s certainly not time to look at the hiring of a new hitting coach – someone who has been entrusted with the task of making the Red Sox offense better – and dismiss his preaching by suggesting “there are different ways to win baseball games.”
Earth to Benintendi: we’re not trying to win baseball games. We’re trying to win championships. There’s a difference. The first thing makes you better than most people. The second makes you better than everybody.
Earlier this spring, David Price arrived in Red Sox camp and was asked about the expectations that come along with playing in Boston. He said – and I’m paraphrasing here – that “you expect a lot here.” And he’s right. We do. It might even be unfair or unrealistic. But part of the challenge of playing in Boston – particularly over a 17-year period during which championships sprout from the ground like perennials – is that we shoot for the moon. From 1972-73 until 1995-96, the Bruins made the playoffs every year. They made some good runs. But we don’t celebrate them the way we celebrate the 2011 team because they never won a Stanley Cup.
Are these Red Sox the favorites to win the World Series this year? No. But can they get that far – or a least make a real, spirited run that goes beyond winning a single game in the Division Series? Yes. But to do that, someone needs to explain to the Bs and B-pluses that nobody really cares about the 93 wins. They shouldn’t wear that on their chests like they made the honor roll a couple of times. People don’t climb to get two-thirds of the way up a mountain, take a look around, then decide the view is good enough. They climb to reach the top, to conquer something.
Look, maybe Benintendi just chose his words poorly. Maybe he’s very coachable and will employ some of the changes that Hyers and Cora are preaching. Maybe he’ll recognize that 93 wins got John Farrell and virtually his entire staff fired, and that he’s not playing in the NCAA tournament anymore. Major League Baseball is big business, a place where jobs and careers are at stake, and the Red Sox still have one of the biggest followings in the game.
Ninety-three wins? Please. We heard Benintendi say it early in camp. We heard Bogaerts, Betts and Bradley say it too. Another 93-win season will be considered a disappointment if it ends the same way the last two have. The young core players of the Red Sox need to stop telling us what they have already accomplished and start telling us what they still want to achieve, because at some point relatively soon they are going to come to a stark realization.
Truth be told, none of them have really done anything special yet.
— By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub