The line isn't as old as Fenway Park, but is close enough. It's the one about how in Boston the Red Sox aren't a matter of life and death, they're far more serious than that.
Before the season began, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman compared the Red Sox to the Golden State Warriors. And before we get to Memorial Day, people are starting to talk about the manager, John Farrell, because that is just the way things go, and not just in Boston. There are reasons why the 23-21 Red Sox have underachieved so far. It doesn't change the fact that they have underachieved.
It is worth mentioning, of course, that going into Wednesday, the Red Sox had the exact same record as the Cubs, the champions of the whole wide world. The Cubs have been every bit as much of a slog as the Red Sox have been, and maybe more of one. Still, it was less than six months ago that the Cubs ended all that waiting on the North Side of Chicago. So nobody is talking about Joe Maddon going anywhere, except maybe back to the genius bar.
It is different with Farrell, even though it was less than four years ago that he delivered the third World Series championship for the Red Sox, just nine years after the Red Sox had ended 86 years of World Series waiting in Boston. Farrell's Red Sox finished last the next season. They were 50-64 the season after that when Farrell was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and took a medical leave. Torey Lovullo, Farrell's bench coach, took over for Farrell and finished the season. The Red Sox went from 14 games under .500 to 28-20 and, in Boston, a lot of people liked Lovullo better for the manager's job.
Lovullo came back as Farrell's bench coach last season, and the Red Sox won the American League East. That was before Terry Francona -- the manager who ended all the World Series waiting in Boston -- and the Indians took the Red Sox apart in the American League Division Series. There was briefly the thought, in the shadow of that loss, that maybe president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski might make the move back to Lovullo. He did not. Lovullo is presently with the Diamondbacks, who have been one of the stories of the year in baseball, and in first place. John Farrell is not.
And now my friend Ken Rosenthal begins his column for FoxSports.com thusly:
"Dave Dombrowski, the Red Sox's president of baseball operations, can play the 'Fire John Farrell' card at any time.
"That time might have come Monday, if the Red Sox had not avoided getting swept four straight in Oakland by winning the final game of the series.
"It might come next week, if the Sox fail to ignite during a six-game homestand against the Rangers and Mariners."
It is also worth mentioning that the Red Sox are just 3 1/2 games out of first place in the AL East despite the fact that David Price hasn't yet pitched an inning this season; that they've lost knuckleballer Steven Wright, who gave them a 13-6 record last season and more than 150 innings; that Tyler Thornburg, who was supposed to be a setup man to Craig Kimbrel, is on the disabled list with a right shoulder impingement and hasn't appeared in a Boston uniform this season; and Carson Smith, who was supposed to be a setup man for Kimbrel before Thornburg, is still recovering from the Tommy John surgery he underwent last season.
But even with all that -- reasons in Boston, not excuses -- the Red Sox have been as much of a surprise, so far, as the Cubs have been. It is more David Ortiz than David Price. It turns out that the Red Sox miss Ortiz more than Dombrowski thought they ever would, because even with Mookie Betts still in the house, and Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia, the Red Sox's offense scares nobody in their division right now. The Yankees mash, everybody sees that. The Orioles mash. The Red Sox, without Ortiz, do not.
The biggest bat they added in the offseason is Mitch Moreland, who has done fine so far. The bat they did not add was Edwin Encarnacion's, as much as people in baseball -- and Red Sox fans -- thought Dombrowski would do exactly that. Encarnacion ended up with the Indians instead. He is off to a slow start there, with nine home runs so far and 20 RBIs and a batting average of just .215 (after his first multi-homer game of the season on Tuesday). But even that home run total would have him ahead of Betts for the team lead in Boston.
The Red Sox, with 38 home runs as a team, are not just last in the AL in home runs. They are the only team in the AL with fewer than 48. The Giants have hit 38 in the National League. The Pirates have hit 40. The Yankees have hit 68 home runs so far this season. The only way Dombrowski is right about Encarnacion, whom the Indians got for $13 million, is if he is a bust the whole year in Cleveland.
So there is big trouble in the middle of the order at Fenway, where Ortiz has left a hole as big as he was. No one is suggesting that the club was going to replace Ortiz's power or presence or drama or danger. But no one on the Red Sox has come close. Red Sox fans probably wish now that ownership and management had begged Ortiz to come back for one more time. Across the first quarter of the season, Ramirez has not looked anything like the hitter he was behind Ortiz in 2016, when Ramirez hit 30 homers and knocked in 111. So far this season, he has hit six homers and has 20 RBIs.
For now, the Red Sox don't hit enough home runs, don't score enough for Chris Sale and Rick Porcello, at least not often enough, do not have enough of a bullpen in front of Kimbrel. They have been unlucky with Smith and unlucky with Thornburg, but at some point you have to turn Branch Rickey's old line on its side and look at the Red Sox's bullpen and say that sometimes luck is the residue of bad design.
Is all of this the manager's fault? It is not. Did Farrell get outmanaged by Francona in the playoffs last season? He did. But guess what? It looked like the same thing was happening to Maddon when the Indians were ahead three games to one in the Series. Francona has done that to a lot of people in October. In 2004, here were the managers he beat on his way to winning the World Series: Mike Scioscia, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa.
But you know how it always goes with managers, with credit and with blame. Francona looked like a genius in the Series until his team didn't get enough hits or enough pitching over the last three games. Maddon has the same record as Farrell does this season, and nobody has suggested that Maddon has lost anything off his fastball since last November.
A good homestand changes everything in Boston, for the Red Sox and their manager, even for their front office. A healthy Price changes plenty at Fenway. You know Dombrowski, who doesn't sit back, will go after another pitcher and hitter at the non-waiver Trade Deadline if his team is still scuffling.
But if things go sideways on this current homestand, then there is another old line to apply to the 2017 Boston Red Sox. From Yogi, a New York guy. You know that one, too. It's the one about how it sure gets late early around here.