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Does Boston Red Sox's Rich Tradition Still Resonate with Current Players?

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Does Boston Red Sox's Rich Tradition Still Resonate with Current Players?
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The roots of the Boston Red Sox go very, very deep. The team was established over 100 years ago in 1901, and over the years the Red Sox have seen truly great players like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk and Jim Rice come and go. They've sandwiched seven World Series titles around a curse that lasted 86 years.

Shoot, the Red Sox even still play in a ballpark that's 100 years old. Every time the Sox take the field at Fenway Park, they're standing on hallowed grounds.

But here's a fair question: How many of the team's current players actually care? Do they really give a damn that they're walking on the same ground that Teddy Ballgame and Yaz used to walk on?

If you ask them directly, they'll tell you that the answer is yes. Of course they care. It's an honor and a privilege to wear Red Sox colors, and honoring the club's tradition is all they think about on a daily/hourly/minutely basis.

But they'd only say that, of course, because they have to say as much. They are compelled by various forces to act like they give a damn about the rich tradition of the Boston Red Sox.

In reality, most of them probably don't. In fact, even if you already suspect as much, I'd guess that current Red Sox players probably care even less about the tradition of the Red Sox than you think.

Assuming as much may come off as a totally random and decidedly unfair attack on the team's current players, but I can assure you of two things.

One is that my intent isn't to be malicious. My intent is merely to be honest.

The other is that there are more than enough reasons to rationally believe that Red Sox players care little about the history of the Red Sox. It has everything to do with the fact that we're not talking about members of a family. We're talking about employees at a workplace.

Elsa/Getty Images
That's Big Papi hugging Pesky in 2009.

Never has this been more apparent than what happened after Red Sox icon Johnny Pesky passed away in August at the age of 92. When he died, the Red Sox lost one of the last remaining remnants of the occasionally great Red Sox teams of the 1940s and early 1950s, not to mention one of the team's most loyal ambassadors.

Given all that Pesky meant to the Red Sox organization during and after his playing days, I suppose everyone took it for granted that the team's current players would be weeping in the hallways of Fenway Park for days on end. At the very least, they'd surely attend his funeral.

Nope. It was reported that only four players attended Pesky's funeral: David Ortiz, Clay Buchholz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Vicente Padilla. Manager Bobby Valentine was also in attendance.

Not even Dustin Pedroia, who mans one of the positions Pesky used to play for the Red Sox, was in attendance. Pedroia was singing Pesky's praises after he passed away, but he couldn't be bothered to show up as Pesky's funeral. For that, the criticism came fast and furious.

Here's the thing about Pedroia, though: He had a good excuse not to show up. According to ESPNBoston.com, he needed to be with his wife, who was nine months pregnant. He also went to bat for his teammates, saying that he was "sure everyone had a situation why they weren't there."

Even Ortiz, who was very close to Pesky, chose not to blame anybody. He said he was "nobody to say who should and who should not (have gone)." 

More recently, Pesky's son, David, came out and told the Boston Herald that nobody was outraged by the lack of current players at his father's funeral.

“People did what they could,” he said. “We didn’t count noses at the funeral. Plus, there were people who weren’t there who did so much and who continue to do so much.”

No doubt some of the people he referred to are current members of the Red Sox. The mistake a lot of people made when the reports of the no-shows came out, however, was to assume that Pesky meant the world to every single player currently employed by the Red Sox.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe estimated that 85 percent of the team's current roster had never even met Pesky. 

Abraham added: "These guys grew up all around the world and never stepped foot in New England until they became ballplayers. They know little of his legacy."

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Padilla is one of many first-year Red Sox who may be elsewhere in 2013.

Oddly enough, one of the players who represents a perfect example of Abraham's point is Vicente Padilla. He was born in Nicaragua and bounced around all over the majors in the first 13 years of his career before signing on with the Red Sox. Since his deal is for only one year, he's essentially a hired gun.

So why did he show up to Pesky's funeral?

Well, according to Abraham, Padilla apparently thought attendance was mandatory. He only went because he thought he had to.

Had Padilla known that attendance wasn't mandatory, it's probable that only three Red Sox players would have showed up. Thus, the outrage among the media and the fans would have been even more potent. It still would have been overdramatic, of course.

Essentially, we're talking about an identical situation to the one that happened back in 2010 when not a single Yankees player, past or present, showed up at longtime public address announcer Bob Sheppard's funeral. The New York media had a field day with that, ignoring the fact that they were talking about a PA announcer and not an icon of the team itself.

If Red Sox players made a mistake in not attending Pesky's funeral, it was in that they underestimated the controversy that was sure to ensue. The Yankees made the same mistake in 2010.

And this, to me, is the true surprise of the Pesky funeral controversy. Red Sox players aren't in the dark about how ravenous the Boston media can be. You can tell by the various ways they try to manipulate the press that they don't want to say anything they might regret. Fortunately, they know that the Boston media will be nice if they're fed enough BS.

One of the ways players get the media and the fans to like them is by waxing poetic about how storied the franchise is. This is especially true of new players, and goodness knows the Red Sox have seen plenty of them in recent years.

Take what Carl Crawford said at his introductory press conference, for example. He was signed to be the team's new star left fielder back in 2010, and he quickly pointed out that he wanted to be just the next star left fielder in a long line of star left fielders.

Elsa/Getty Images
At least he didn't drop the "It's not about the money" line.

"Hopefully I can go down as one of the best-left fielders to play here, that's definitely one of my goals," Crawford said, via NESN.com.

He may have been telling the truth, but you'd have to be a fool to believe that he put his John Hancock on the seven-year, $142 million contract the Red Sox offered him just because he wanted to be mentioned in the same breath as Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski. I'm trusting the first thing that popped into his head when he saw that contract was a big, fat dollar sign.

Shoot, that's the first thing that would have popped into my head. Yours too.

Adrian Gonzalez also tried to crowbar his way into the hearts of Red Sox fans by saying things everyone wanted to hear when he was introduced. In addition to saying he'd always wanted to be a Red Sox (yeah, sure), he said he felt connected to the team because of his lifelong love for Ted Williams.

Via Chad Finn and Gary Dzen of the Globe:

It was a couple of connections. It was one of those things where you grow up and you always root for a National League team and an American League team. And the Red Sox had always been the American League team I rooted for, with Teddy Williams, him being from San Diego and being a lefthanded hitter and one of the greats of all time, there have always been a lot of connections there.

Well played, Adrian. Well played indeed.

Granted, Gonzalez may have been speaking directly from his heart. Maybe he was a huge Ted Williams fan growing up, and maybe he did always want to play for the Red Sox.

But you'll have to excuse me for having doubts after Gonzalez tried to pull this same trick with the Los Angeles media after he was traded to the Dodgers.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
Gonzalez was probably a huge fan of handlebar mustaches growing up too.

As recounted by Dylan Hernandez if the Los Angeles Times, Gonzalez didn't take long to note that he was a huge fan of Fernando Valenzuela growing up, and that he hoped to have a similar impact in his time with the Dodgers.

"Hopefully, I can come close to doing what Fernando did here," he said. "But everything good comes from doing your work on the field."

Sound familiar?

The point is that when you hear a player talk about his team's rich tradition and history, you just never know. I'll stop short of saying that it should always be assumed that players are blowing smoke when they utter such fanciful words, but, well, you just never know. In this day and age, most players are smart enough to know when to tell the truth and when to pretend like they're telling the truth for the sake of appearances.

And make no mistake, the "this day and age" part of the above sentiment really can't be stressed enough. The point has been made often, but it's worth reiterating here that baseball is in a much different era.

Free agency changed everything in baseball. Teams lost the vice-like grip they had on their players roughly 40 years ago, and ever since it's become increasingly rare for players to stick around with one team for their entire careers.

So when you hear players talk about the rich tradition and the grand history of their team, they're almost always referring to the years in which players were sticking around long enough to form actual bonds. They were brothers in arms, and they penned heroic stories for the world to enjoy for many years to come. 

That's not the case anymore, and the Red Sox are a perfect example of how much teams can change from year to year. The 2004 championship team isn't even 10 years old yet, but the Red Sox only have one player left from that team (Ortiz). The 2007 championship team is only five years old, and most of the regulars from that team have long since split town. Only Ortiz, Buchholz, Pedroia, Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury and Daisuke Matsuzaka remain.

With so much turnover from year to year, it's hard for players to grow attached to one team in particular. They're not around long enough in one place for it to feel like home, and you have to keep in mind that a lot of ballplayers are just hoping they still have a job when tomorrow comes around (former major leaguer Doug Glanville can vouch). They don't have time to worry about ghosts of ballclubs past.

Darren McCollester/Getty Images
In 100 years, this picture will be black and white and battered and torn, and it will make Red Sox fans weep in their spacesuits.

Some players are luckier than others. Ortiz, for example, has carved out quite the niche for himself in Boston, and he's very much become a part of the organization's overall legacy during his time with the Red Sox. When he speaks about Boston and the Red Sox, it's obvious that he both understands and appreciates what he means to the Red Sox.

Pedroia is in the same boat. He understands that he's not just another Red Sox player.

It's fair to expect guys like Ortiz and Pedroia to have a deep appreciation for Red Sox lore. They are, after all, part of it.

The majority of the other players who come through Boston year after year are not part of the team's lore. They're just part of the team. For a lot of players, the Red Sox are not a family, but an employer. Fenway Park is a place of business, not a house or a church.

The Red Sox certainly have a great tradition and a lot of history. A lot more than most teams, in fact.

But it's for the fans. Not the players.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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