When the Red Sox finally imploded and Tampa stormed back to take the Wild Card, the rumors were flying about how Boston would respond? Was Theo Epstein out of there? Would Terry Francona be forced to fall on his sword? Would player X be traded? All of this conjecture over a team that still won more than 90 games but fell victim to pitching injuries, a tired bullpen and a few underachieving stars. But you know what? It happens- not usually involving losing a nine-game lead over the course of a month, but then again not usually involving a division with as many great teams as the AL East. For losing teams like the Orioles, overreaction is fun to watch, as teams throw away incredible talent because of a few slip-ups down the stretch. You want to dump Theo Epstein? I am sure he will have plenty of suitors. But this isn’t just about the Red Sox and it isn’t about baseball, it is part of being a fan- even the fans who happen to own the team.
I find it hilarious and a tad disturbing when a quarterback has a slow start to the season and fans start whispering about putting in the backup, even if the backup is a redshirt freshman with about 3 passes in garbage time to his name. “It has to be better than this.” No, actually it really doesn’t have to be better than this. Derek Jeter was not “done” after his lackluster April and Peyton Manning wasn’t “done” when he started slow at the beginning of last season. Fans are so quick to adore and dump players, and you see it on this blog as much as anywhere. Heck, even here in Michigan I see fans who want to start Devin Gardner over Denard Robinson and move Robinson to running back after his slow passing start to the season. Never mind that in 2010 he completed over 62% of his passes and threw 7 more touchdowns than interceptions as an All American. No no, now is the time to move him. Not a large group of fans, but enough to get you to scratch your head.
Sports by their nature are about instant gratification. We break apart and are built up with every good and bad play; equanimity and long-term perspective is not part of being a fan or the fan experience. Certainly one can work at it but it isn’t nearly as much fun, in much the same way that if you consciously remind yourself that the roller coaster is 100% safe and nothing can possibly happen to you the ride isn’t nearly as exhilarating. If Player X throws a couple of interceptions we want him gone, period. If Player Y can’t hit the rim to save his life then he needs to be surgically attached to the bench. In the moment (and often outside the moment) we lose the perspective that a head coach or general manager has to have. While we think about the win, the point, the pitch, those truly in charge need to think about how good the rest of the team is and what is in their long-term best interests. Sorry to break it to you folks, but the backup is a backup for a reason and usually the starter is the starter for a reason.
So if the Red Sox choose to jettison Francona or Epstein, one of them would be very welcome here in Baltimore (depending on if Showalter moves into the front office), Chicago, or a host of other cities with teams that need solid guidance. Winning breeds complacency and higher standards, and fans (and owners) assume that the next Theo Epstein or Terry Francona is right around the corner. Of course the Broncos could replace Mike Shanahan, of course the Orioles could replace Davey Johnson, of course the Vols could replace Phil Fulmer (college football has a million examples of this error of passion). Except that decent coaches, like quarterbacks, are not as easy to find as they seem to be in the moment, and sometimes good coaches aren’t paired with the right team to make a difference. It might take a decade before the team has the same talent they did before, all because they assumed that there was something better out there.
Change for change’s sake is not improvement, and “taking a chance” on a complete unknown works about 5% of the time. Fans generally love that 5%, and they believe they have that 5% just as they believe in the backup because he has never thrown a pass or taken a shot. If you have one of the best, don’t jettison him hoping to get the best. Just remember Boston, it really can get worse than this.
*There are a few caveats, of course. If a player, coach or GM is simply awful and has shown no progress or achievements to speak of, then that is a straight firing and nothing can be done. But if someone has won you championships and has finished at or near the top of the standings every year, these guys should be given a tad more slack than they usually get.