They leave as if they have been ordered to walk the plank. One minute they are on the Good Ship Lollipop, champions of all of baseball, the red, white and blue confetti from the duck boat parade through downtown Boston still in their hair, the sound of the Dropkick Murphys' serenade still in their ears. Hell, that was only last November, Nov. 2, 2013 to be exact. The next minute they are being sent overboard.
"Jon Lester …"
"Pack your bags."
"John Lackey …
"Jonny Gomes …
"Stephen Drew …"
Wait a minute. Didn't last year count? The champagne stains are still in the locker room rug at Fenway Park. The team picture still hangs in the bar rooms of Dorchester and Danvers and Damariscotta.. Wasn't Jon Lester the ace of that Red Sox operation? Wasn't John Lackey the tough-as-nails second ace in that march through Tampa Bay, Detroit and then the St. Louis Cardinals? Wasn't Jonny Gomes the bearded poster child, standing on second base, arms to the heavens, Boston Strong, on the cover of Sports Illustrated? Wasn't Stephen Drew the vacuum cleaner at short?
Did none of that count? None? Nothing?
"Jake Peavy …"
That's right. He went last week to the San Francisco Giants to start all this movement. He's the guy who was so happy last year he bought one of those duck boats. Had it delivered to the farm in Alabama. Wasn't that a hoot? He looked like a tobacco-chewing character who might stick around for a long, long time. Now he's gone?
"Felix Doubront …"
He went two days ago to the Chicago Cubs. A year ago he won a game in the Series. He was a kid, was going to be part of the 2014 rotation. He was going to be the pitcher of the future, the young face, young arm amongst the winning veterans. He was … was …
Has any world championship team in any sport been rearranged, no, dismantled as quickly as this team was when the whistle blew at 4 p.m. EDT on Thursday afternoon, July 31, 2014, to close the open trade market for the season? Add lanky left-handed relief pitcher Andrew Miller, also dealt to the Baltimore Orioles as part of the deadline business, and the Red Sox shipped seven members of that World Series out of town in a week, five in one day. That's virtually 30 percent of the 25-man roster. Add Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, every-day starters who went elsewhere in the offseason, and the only significant vestiges of the Series win in the lineup are David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli. They look like the stars in one of those different editions of the Beach Boys. Everyone else in the band was either a bit player in the old band or is new.
Annual question asked at the end of every Series: Is this the start of a dynasty for the (Fill in the Blanks.)
Answer this year: Definitely not. Not now.
True, the efforts of the 2014 edition of the Red Sox have borne little resemblance to the efforts of the 2013 team during the first half of the season. The first place team of a year ago, not only in the standings but in a list of hitting statistics, has become the last place team of this year, not only in the standings but in a list of hitting statistics. The one-run games that were won a year ago have bounced through infielders' legs this time. The crisp fastballs, 3-and-2, bases loaded, that cut across the black edges of the plate have slipped into the middle this year and landed in the centerfield bleachers. The season has been a mess, true, no doubt about that.
The dismantling still is stunning.
Couldn't Lester have been re-signed with a little patience and a lot of money, used as a building block for another run at the old gonfalon next year? Coming off the Red Sox's last finish in last place two years ago, the cursed Bobby Valentine season, Lester was a prime piece of the turnaround. Couldn't he have done that again? Wasn't he home-grown, a good-time story, the guy who came back from cancer? Didn't that count?
Hadn't Lackey been a revelation in the past two seasons after the Tommy John surgery? Hadn't he won back a skeptical public with his take-the-ball attitude? Wasn't Jonny Gomes still hitting lefties? Wasn't he still a tattooed, bearded wack job? Wasn't Stephen Drew re-signed because there was a need for some defense? Wasn't there some slack for any of these guys who put the rings on everybody's fingers? Wasn't there any slack at all?
This was modern baseball business, cut-throat, number-crunching business. Having a tough time? Have it on your own time. Hand in your key to executive wash room. Your phone and computer have been disconnected. Your files now belong to us. This was the concept of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately executed at hyper speed. Baseball according to Dilbert.
There will be plenty of appraisals of all of these deals that will say that Red Sox management executed some kind of coup. There will be some appraisals that say they made a mistake. Numbers will be dissected 87 different ways, players weighed on 87 different kind of scales, and somebody with an abacus and a laptop computer immediately will decide who won and who lost, even though the results in the next four, five or 10 years will tell the true story.
Nowhere in any of these evaluations will loyalty be mentioned, the ability to survive hard times and come back again, the concept of the team, the idea that everyone is in the same enterprise together. Cheering for laundry. That's the modern concept. Everybody makes moves. Everybody deals. Fill the baseball suits. Fill the stands.
The public relations concept all teams preach is: "Hey, you should love us. We're family." Family is the key to everything. Family is chemistry. Family is strength. Family is winning.
A closeness is supposed to develop among the hired hands on the roster, a camaraderie, a group mentality. These are supposed to be the Rover Boys singing in the shower together, eating together, everyone playing practical jokes on one another in the clubhouse. Management is Mom and Dad and the players are the irrepressible kids. Everyone packs into the old station wagon and takes trips to other cities to do wonderful things together. Family!
It all works, except when it doesn't. That is when Mom and Dad drown the kids.