Rants and Raves

New Red Sox GM Needs to Redefine Meaning of “Starting Pitchers”

Saturday, Oct 29, 2011 3:04 pm

By Paul Lombino

For newly hired Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington, job-one is to redefine the term “starting pitchers,” which took on an ironic context down the homestretch of Boston’s ignominious 2011 season.

While the Sox were busy losing a woeful 19 of their last 26 games to squander a once nine-game wild card-lead to the Tampa Bay Rays, the team’s Big Three hurlers — Josh Beckett ($17.0 million salary), John Lackey ($15.9 million), and Jon Lester ($5.7 million) — were not icing their elbows in the clubhouse, they were bending them — drinking beer during the games.

Rather than “Cowboy Up!” this year’s theme might as well have been “Last Call!”

Even in the hallowed bowels of Fenway Park, the one-percenters of Major League Baseball were thumbing their noses at the 99 percent of working stiffs who would be fired for cracking open a brewsky on the job. Were the Three Jays simply trying to re-spark a one-time Massachusetts tradition — Happy Hour — abolished by the state legislature in 1984? Nah. They were just thirsty.

After the Sox were bounced from contention, Lester tried to justify the embarrassing collapse to a Boston Globe reporter. His quote reads like something from the cable-TV series “Intervention.”

“There’s a perception out there that we were up there getting hammered and that wasn’t the case. … It was a ninth-inning rally beer,” said Lester, adding, “We probably ordered chicken from Popeye’s like once a month.”

The chug-a-lug antics of the Sox star players have left a bitter aftertaste in the mouths of many financially strapped fans struggling to fund their next six-pack. In Lester’s own words: “I know how it looks to people and it probably looks bad.”

Well, yeah, duh.

Statistically, the month of September 2011 was the “worst” single month (with at least 20 games played) for any starting-pitching rotation in, wait for it, Red Sox franchise history. That’s a long time. According to Elias Sports Bureau statistics published on ESPNBoston.com, Messrs. Beckett, Lackey and Lester lead a starting staff that belched and farted their way to a belly-full 7.08 ERA in September.

Although Quaffergate may prove to be a small hangover in the decade-long resurgence of the Sox’ storied franchise, sober questions remain:
• Who actually bought the beer and what brand?
• Did Beckett and Lackey triple-dog-dare Lester to show his driver’s license at the concession stand?
• Did they tip the vendor or skip out?
• Did Lester sneak a sip from Beckett’s cup while balancing the three beers on his way back to the locker room? (This might be forgiven considering Fenway’s $7.50 price for a cup of light suds ranks among the highest of all 30 MLB ballparks.)
• If any of the three had gotten secret chicken-wing sauce on their fingertips, would that have constituted an illegal pitch?
• Did Lackey — who will have Tommy-John surgery and miss the entire 2012 season — actually injure his elbow playing Beer Pong on Terry Francona’s desk?

Before the PR battle gets out of hand, here’s my off-season suggestion to owners John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino, savvy businessmen who know their constituency. To help ease any festering tensions within Red Sox Nation and as a nod to the 99% Occupiers in Dewey Square Park, consider this grand gesture:

Allocate one percent of the salary from your top three starting pitchers — a mere $386,000 — and buy one beer for the first 51,466 fans (that’s how the math works out) who show up at Fenway’s home opener April 13, 2012. This neighborly deed may help numb some hard feelings among local baseball diehards scratching their heads and wondering, what might have been.

So John, Tom and Larry, it’s time to pick your starting pitcher. Bud Light or Bud Lite?

Here’s mud in your eye!

Paul Lombino is senior editor at the New Paris Press.

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