The Celtics lost both games Rondo missed, and the local media – in particular sports radio – has ranted almost unceasingly about the point guard: He has no discipline. He can’t be coached. He’s a bum. Trade him.
No one, I notice, seems interested in why Rondo’s acting out. Everyone just sees a problem, and they want it excised immediately.
While no fanbase likes to lose, Boston sports fans (and media) hate to get beaten. We hate admitting that another team either played better than ours on a given night or simply is better.
And when faced with the reality that better teams exist, our reaction is always to redirect our frustration. Usually we focus on the behaviors of a particular player, making those behaviors reflect an attitude not conducive to winning.
Our self-esteem is salvaged: Since this fatal character flaw didn’t manifest until the final game, it wasn’t our fault for not recognizing it. And it wasn’t our fault the team lost.
We saw this entire thought process in the aftermath of Super Bowl XLVI – a game the Patriots lost because the Giants just played better that night. Instead of admitting that, fans cried foul over Rob Gronkowski’s partying and Gisele Bundchen’s complaining. Both were minor incidents blown completely out of proportion by a fanbase eager to blame anything but their own team’s deficiencies.
We’re see this same process with Rondo two weeks later. Once again, we’re choosing to blame a situation on a player for unrelated behavior.
It’s too late to undo firing Terry Francona, a rash decision born from the kind of rabid bloodlust that few fanbases besides Boston’s are capable of. But if John Henry wants to cut out the true cause of the Red Sox’s historic collapse, he needs to go one level higher and axe Theo Epstein.
Player misuse caused by bad lineups, rotation or bullpen order can certainly kill a team, and that’s the manager’s fault. But this Red Sox team had a faulty foundation, and that’s the responsibility of the general manager who built it.
The rotten core that killed this Red Sox team began five years ago, when Epstein signed J.D. Drew and Daisuke Matsuzaka for big-time bucks. Drew’s pedestrian .264 average, 16 home runs and 57.2 RBIs per season have not been worth the cost, but that’s nothing compared with Matsuzaka. The Japanese so-called superstar was a dud in Boston, failing to contribute anything meaningful from 2009 until Tommy John surgery essentially ended his Boston tenure early this season. On top of that, he became one of the most frustrating, least entertaining pitchers in recent Red Sox history. Fans hated him, and that likely translated into less revenue from him than other pitchers. This is the exact opposite of what Epstein envisioned when he signed Matsuzaka.
Were these the only two bad contracts of the Epstein Era, he keeps his job. But these were just the beginning of a downward trend of spending big money on big games that could never hack it in Boston. For example: the 2010 John Lackey signing – a desperate, panicked attempt to prove to the fans a year after losing Mark Teixeira that Epstein could still attract major talent to as tough a media market as Boston. Lackey didn’t even have a particularly good 2009 (11 wins, fewest since 2003; 3.83 ERA, highest since 2004), but it didn’t matter: Epstein took him and his histrionics anyway. The result? A winning percentage barely above .500 and an ERA over 5.00.