MIND GAME: The Banality of Incompetence; Shopping for Winners; The A-Rod Advantage

MIND GAME: How the Boston Red Sox Got Smart, Won a World Series, and Created A New Blueprint for Winning is a book penned by the writers of Baseball Prospectus, and I am reviewing an advance copy book on Fire Brand of the American League as I read the book.
I. Introduction to MIND GAME
II. Chapter 1, 2, 3 – The Banality of Incompetence; Shopping for Winners; The A-Rod Advantage
The first chapter of MIND GAME sketches out the brief history of the Boston Red Sox prior to John Henry acquiring the club. They start out with the No, No Nanette myth and bring you the real (but incomplete) facts of what really happened.
They then throw a dizzying array of names at you, names that headed to New York from Boston, all in the name of money. It is a shame that Harry Frazee bought the club when you consider he was broke. He did not understand the far reaching consequences of being broke, and unfortunately, he is the primary reason the Yankees have become wildly successful, because the long-term impact of the Yankees’ success is still felt today. The book does rightly assert that the Red Sox had to sell players off, especially Babe Ruth (who MIND GAME compares to Nomar Garciaparra in terms of talent, attitude, relation to Boston, etc.) because it was an aging, expensive, sixth-place team. Makes perfect sense. However, Boston kept persisting in selling talent.
From 12/18/18 to 1/30/23 (1/3 and 1/30/23 being trades made out of spite because Frazee was about to give the team up) the following players and cash became Red Sox: Frank Gilhooey, Slim Lowe, Ray Caldwell, Roxy Walters, $15,000, Bill Lamar, Allan Russell, Bob McGraw, $40,000, $125,000, $300,000 loan, Muddy Ruel, Del Pratt, Sammy Vick, Hank Thormahlen, Roger Peckinpaugh, Jack Quinn, Rip Collins, Bill Piercy, Alex Ferguson, Chick Fewster, Elmer Miller, Johnny Mitchell, Lefty O’Doul, $50,000, Al Devormer, cash, Camp Skinner, Norm McMillan, George Murray, and $50,000. New Yankees included Ernie Shore, Dutch Leonard, Duffy Lewis, cash, Carl Mays, Babe Ruth, Waite Hoyt, Harry Harper, Wally Schang, Mike McNally, Everett Scott, Bullet Joe Bush, Sad Sam Jones, cash, Jumping Joe Dugan, Elmer Smith, George Pipgras, Harvey Hendrick, and Herb Pennock.
The Yankees were truly the New York Red Sox Part Two. These trades immediately made the Red Sox losers, and made the Yankees winners, and this continued for a long time because the Red Sox persisted in poor ownership, while the quick winning of the Yankees created a winning atmosphere, one that the Red Sox had had before the team was destroyed.
Tom Yawkey came into existence, but he was a racist, which severely set Boston back in terms of talent, and Boston still has an air of racism about it today, based on its sordid past, and Yawkey can be attributed to this creation of Boston being a racist town. Tom Yawkey did make some great acquisitions and was indeed interested in winning (they bought Joe Cronin from the Washington Senators, some years after they let the opportunity to sign Cronin slip through their fingers for a present day value of over $37 million dollars) but he was slow to recognize the usefulness of a farm system, slow to realize that black people could play baseball and slow to realize that he hired inept general managers and managers. Joe Cronin was such an inept fielder at shortstop that he would often get to one knee to field the groundball, and his managing style was like his play in the field – erratic and full of mistakes. He had such an ego, however, that he refused to let Pee Wee Reese, a star in Boston’s minor league system at the time, and sold him to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Massive incommunication led to Yawkey purchasing part of the franchise that held Reese to get the right to Reese to hiring a manager that was the sworn enemy of the general manager … in part, Yawkey created an atmosphere which persisted right through the end of the John Harrington era.
We then come to the next chapter, Shopping for Winners. A new ownership, a new mentality. Most of the chapter is a background on Terry Francona, Theo Epstein, John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino, but there are a few quotes I want to share.
About the bullpen by committee, and the mentality Theo used (which persists today):
“The stated purpose of these multiple expenses was that rather than spend a ton of money on a single high-profile reliver, the Sox were going to assemble a bullpen loaded with interchangeably effective parts.”
“Epstein and company had aspired to assemble a pen of dependable, interchangeable pitchers that would lead the team to postseason glory while rewriting the rules for using a traditional closer. … Saving your best reliever to protect a ninth-inning lead that never comes – thanks to poor middle-relief – is a waste of a valuable resource.”
“In 2003, Epstein had learned some lsssons that elude many GMs for a lifetime. Pitchers like Kim, Burkett, and Suppan come cheaply because they are inconsistent. … The Sox needed a sure thing (Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke).”
“If the Sox couldn’t have a bullpen-by-committee, they would have something better: a bona fide closer who would allow them to use their other strong relievers in the sixth or seventh innings…”
They also go on to note that Keith Foulke actually signed for less than his value, for other teams were too hung up on his brief run of ineffectiveness as White Sox closer (quickly remedied) and that Foulke was not very overpowering.
Now, the A-Rod trade. The writers of this book assert that the Red Sox handled the negotiations wrong. Larry Lucchino was independent of the group and opened his mouth too much. Essentially, the PR disaster killed the team, not the deal. MIND GAME asserts that A-Rod would have been a Red Sox if the front office had been a unified front. However, MIND GAME also does note that the lesson learned by the A-Rod trade has created what was needed in the first place – a unified front, one who acts with dignity and does not burn bridges. Take what you can, I guess.
MIND GAME also tries to show what would have happened post-A-Rod trade. They took the trade as it was going to occur (Rodriguez for Manny Ramirez, and Nomar to the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez) and plugged them into the team. They had each person be worth exactly what they put up (and they admit that the Red Sox get gypped a little with Magglio Ordonez as he probably would not have gotten hurt as a Red Sox) but nonetheless…
They say that the Yankees would have acquired Joe Randa from the Royals on May 15th, after not being happy with the production from Miguel Cairo and Enrique Wilson. The Red Sox acquire Jeromy Burnitz on July 17 after Magglio goes down. Between the time Magglio goes down and Jeromy arrives, David McCarty is our right-fielder. Using Wins Above Replacement Player, the new look Red Sox would have had 3 more wins than the actual 2004 Red Sox, while the Yankees would have had 4.4 less wins. So, instead of the Yankees winning 101 games with a 3-game division title lead, the Red Sox would have won 101 games with a 4-game lead. Of course, the postseason could have turned out vastly different, which is why they do not attempt to qualify the postseason, but there ya go – with A-Rod, we probably would have won the division last year.
That makes me wonder if we would have this year. You take A-Rod out of the equation, and it’s very easy to see the Yankees in third place this year – however they probably would have acquired Carlos Beltran in the new situation, but Beltran has been a waste so far this year. We would have A-Rod at short, and Renteria would not be around. Magglio Ordonez would probably still be around, and it’s quite easy to imagine how big our division lead would have been this year.
These are all hypotheticals, though. Here’s what we KNOW.
– We are the 2004 World Series Champions
– We are in the race for the 2005 Division Title with four games left
You tell me that before the 2004 World Series, or even before 2003, or 2002 or 2001 (you get the point?) and I’m sure we would have all taken that in a heartbeat. So as we gnash our teeth with respect to the Red Sox, let’s all remember how lucky we’ve been these last years, to have what we have.