Welcome to every pitch in 1974.
But this is 2012. No matter what day of the week it is, it's beyond comprehension that Carl Crawford would even have to think that he heard a racial epithet being shouted at him - by an off-duty police officer nonetheless - during a rehab game Manchester, N.H. Crawford said he was "disappointed." The rest of us are "appalled," "dumbfounded" and "pissed off." When even one-word incidents like this occur, they reinforce the old sterotypes (whether they're still true or not) about the city and region's polarization and can convince some players in any sport to avoid Boston when it's time for free-agency. Sad.
The Red Sox history with race relations has always been the real curse that haunted this franchise. When a singular incident like the one that occurred with Crawford makes the news, the old wounds are new again. For all the mock "1918" and "1986" jeers we've endured over the years, it's "1959" that causes the greatest shame for Boston fans. The Red Sox are celebrating 100 years of Fenway Park but only 53 years of integration on the field. And probably even fewer in the stands.
While the folks in Not-So-Happy Valley are trying to comprehend the atrocities committed by Jerry Sandusky and those who covered his tracks, Red Sox fans know their personal Sandusky - Donald Fitzpatrick - committed the same sins while targeting his victims because of their race. And he enjoyed much of the same institutional protection as his Pennslyvania partner in pedophilia. On a much less serious yet still troubling note - as late as 1990 the Red Sox had just one black player (Ellis Burks) in the starting lineup the entire season (save for one game by the immortal Dana Williams) and that even included the pitching staff. Lee Smith was the closer.
Red Sox fans carry this legacy. It's an undeniable part of the package, along with "Teddy Ballgame," "The Impossible Dream" and "The bloody sock." And it's that legacy that makes what (allegedly) happened with Crawford that much more frustrating, agonizing and flat-out embarrassing.
When you go to Red Sox games on the road and have to listen to cowbells being rung by members of the jury pool that acquitted Casey Anthony whenever someone on their team draws a walk, your disdain is always tempered by the fact that the team you root for didn't break the color barrier until three years after Jackie Robinson retired. The Yankees weren't much better, but why use them as a standard?
Red Sox Nation was complicit in all of this, cheering on one big white stiff after another. Both GM Dan Duquette and the current ownership group with Theo's help did spectacular job in forever changing the look of the team. Time and pain has changed the attitude - if not the makeup - of the fan base. Fans learned the hard way about the perils of their team not wanting this player or that player because of his race - starting with Willie Mays. The repercussions shook Fenway until 2004.
Now the issue is Crawford. He was a cataclysmic flop in 2011. His race, hopefully, was a non-issue for 99.999 percent of Red Sox fans in their frustration. That dropped liner in Baltimore, his .255 average and that $20 million salary had much more to do with it. One great sign of progress is that the hatred in Red Sox Nation is truly colorblind after 2011, just ask the Texas Tough Guy. "Chicken and Beer" made us all see red. Actually, Crawford is the real Texas tough guy on the Red Sox, given the high road he's taken in wake of the "Monday" flap, his unwillingness to complain or voice regrets even though he was (allegedly) on the trading block two games into the 2012 season and the fact that (unlike Beckett) he's an actual athlete.
Crawford will never be a complete success in Boston for the simple reason that he is working off a 7-year, $142 million contract and can't produce numbers that come anywhere close to justifying it. Manny Ramirez made the same average salary - give or take a million - playing the same position. But Manny hit for power (with some assistance), had an almighty .999 OPS in his eight-seasons with the Red Sox and became Boston's first World Series MVP since World War I.
The Red Sox brought in Crawford for all the wrong reasons, using his arrival as part of the post-2010 $300 million PR blitz along with Adrian Gonzalez. To hear it, you'd think no one wanted the guy, yet he's somehow here. Since then, his presence has been disavowed by general manager who signed him, the owner who pays his salary and now - in a backhanded way - the guy "who runs the Red Sox." Thursday, Larry Lucchino made it clear GM Ben Cherington was "empowered" to make a "bold move."
Here's what he told WEEI's Dennis and Callahan:
"Yes, I do, I think that Ben feels empowered to do it, I think he's got the capacity to do it ... We have talked frequently about boldness, that you've got to know when to be bold and know when to be somewhat more conservative and methodical, but this is a club that's been built on bold moves over the years, going way back to the Nomar Garciaparra trade as but one example."
That's also known as "proactively throwing Baby Ben under the bus." Lucchino's statements can be translated to: "Hey, even though I am the guy who runs the Red Sox, don't blame me if this team is still in fourth place on September 15th because the GM could have made a deal if he wanted to."
That's good signal to the likes of Beckett and Jon Lester, although Beckett has the power to veto any deal as a 10-5 guy. Everyone on the Red Sox should be on the block regardless of the color of his skin or content of his character. The Red Sox have plenty of talent, but there are no sure Hall of Famers (David Ortiz included) playing for Boston this season, unless you count Bruce Springsteen. (Let me know if I missed any on Liverpool FC.) Any trade offer should be considered if greater value is being offered in return. In the case of Crawford, the Red Sox could consider slightly lesser value given the enormity of his contract.
When pressed further on the Crawford rumors by Dennis and Callahan, Lucchino was specifically vague. "That's just par for the course this time of year, you explore all possibilities." Translation: "You'll have to better than that, Miami." More good news.
Crawford's production on the field and ability to stay healthy - or what he can bring in trade - will be the lasting issue here for all of us outside Leominster. The Crawford "incident" is just that - a single event - that just serves as a reminder of a past that needs to stay in the past tense. Presently, the Red Sox took three of four from the White Sox and wiped the smile right off Kevin Youkilis' face. The folks at NESN can skip the 10th Player balloting and hand the keys to Cody Ross after his three-run walk-off homer in Thursday's 3-1 win. Ross gets extra credit for avoiding "The Shredder," if not the blue Gatorade bath.
Looking ahead - John Henry's real varsity players are in town as Liverpool FC is preparing for next week's friendly against AS Roma and the aftereffects of the post-game tear-gas. Henry and wifey Linda Pizzuti Henry are also expecting their second child together. As if Henry doesn't have enough distractions with his yacht, NASCAR team, LeBron James and the Red Sox occupying his time away from the pitch, now he's got a real bonus baby.
Henry will be in his 80s when his youngest child graduates from high school. Maybe by then, we won't be hearing "Red Sox" and "racial slur" in the same sentence any more.
(Note: An earlier version of this post included a reference and headline to "The Dark Knight Rises" which has been removed in light of the shootings in Colorado. Condolences and prayers go out to all the victims and their families.)
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