Boston Red Sox: Kevin Youkilis and the Fastest Falls from Grace in Team History
The 2012 Boston Red Sox have been living in the American League East's cellar for almost all of the season through 60 games. There have been organizational missteps (converting reliever Daniel Bard to a starter), major injuries, communication problems and underwhelming performances.
Fair or unfair, one of the scapegoats for the mass panic in Boston has been Kevin Youkilis and his .681 OPS through 34 games (he has missed almost half the season due to injury). There is a $13 million club option in Youkilis' contract for the 2013 season, but if declined, the Greek God of Walks will become a free agent. A 2011 All-Star, Kevin Youkilis has seen his star fall fast from the sky, having been quickly replaced in the minds of Red Sox fans by hot-hitting third baseman prospect, Will Middlebrooks. It remains to be seen whether Youkilis can regain his highly productive past or whether this is truly the beginning of his permanent fall from grace in Boston.
However rapid and pronounced, Youkilis' fall does not stack up to the collapses of five previously-promising Red Sox players that all elicit painful memories with Red Sox faithful.
No. 5: Daisuke Matsuzaka, 2007-Present
Blame the hype machine. Daisuke Matsuzaka had almost insurmountable expectations for the major leagues after the Boston Red Sox bid $51.1 million just to purchase the rights to negotiate with him. There was much mystique surrounding the ace upon his arrival in Beantown due to his six-pitch repertoire and famed "gyroball," a screwball-like knee buckler that dominated opponents in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.
His first two seasons in Boston produced ERAs of 4.40 and 2.97 in 2007 and 2008 (though the latter also included a 4.63 xFIP), along with a World Series championship. However, since 2008, Matsuzaka has made 45 starts due to injury and severe under-performance. After posting a 7.2 WAR in his first two seasons, that statistic has since gone up to 10.7 in his Red Sox career, thereby defining his sharp fall from grace.
No. 4: Jonathan Papelbon, 2005-2011
Boston Red Sox fans are generally not of the forgiving type, regardless of what kind of respect a player's past may afford him. Everyone remembers Jonathan Papelbon striking out Seth Smith to clinch the 2007 World Series because of Papelbon's famous leap for joy.
However, Papelbon also ended two of Boston's next four seasons for more infamous reasons. In 2009, he was one of the sharpest closers in MLB, racking up 38 saves with a 1.85 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, but he imploded in Game 3 of the ALDS (at Fenway no less), giving the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim the series victory. Papelbon also capped off Boston's historic September collapse last season. A free agent at the end of 2011, he was not re-signed.
No. 3: Manny Ramirez, 2001-2008
Manny Ramirez was a perennial All-Star in Boston who became the bane of the front office and of the fans for his mercurial and infantile behavior. A deliverer of both strong performances at the plate and questionable antics everywhere else, Manny's acts earned him the tongue-in-cheek rationalization "Manny being Manny." The situation ended up becoming intractable in 2008 when Manny assaulted a team employee and lost the support of his teammates.
No. 2: Bill Buckner, 1984-1987, 1990
Questions remain as to whether Buckner should have been replaced by a better defensive first baseman, but any Major League Baseball player who cannot field a slow-rolling dribbler should not be in the major leagues.
Buckner's fall from grace actually was the result of the 18-year drought of World Series appearances that followed his 1986 miscue rather than being run out of town immediately following that season. However, Buckner and his family did suffer a torturous living after the 1986 World Series. Thankfully for him, the 2004 Boston Red Sox team ended "The Curse," allowing fans to forgive the dogged first baseman.
No. 1: Nomar Garciaparra, 1996-2004
Even "Mr Nice Guy" Nomar Garciaparra was not immune to Boston's fickle fans. For the better part of a decade, 'Nomah' was entrenched as the Boston Red Sox's shortstop and team leader. When Theo Epstein took over as the Red Sox's general manager in 2002, he stressed team defense and high on-base percentage, two areas that were never Garciaparra's fortes. Extension negotiations between the team and his representatives broke down in 2003, all but guaranteeing the eventual trade in 2004 of Boston's beloved.