Why It Seems Like Old Times: The Red Sox Are a Mess

Which gets me back to why I found myself, a few minutes later, talking to him while he was changing, rather than, I don’t know, sitting at a table or inside a restaurant. Bobby Valentine is the type who likes to find every possible use for every moment. He isn’t into wasting time, even if it’s while he’s buttoning his shirt.

A FEW WEEKS LATER, down in Fort Myers, reporters immediately noted how Valentine had picked up the pace from Camp Francona. There was no lazy shagging of balls in the outfield — everybody was in continuous motion. Especially Valentine: He bounced from working with catchers to pitchers to position players. He also made headlines with some comments about Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. This is the new business as usual.

Valentine and the volatility he represents are fitting symbols for this new age of Red Sox skepticism. After all, the trust is gone. It’s not just because of the collapse and the fried chicken and the beer. No, it’s because an anonymous source leaked lurid details about Terry Francona to the Globe. It’s because the owner, John Henry, went on talk radio after the season ended and, during a bizarre 70-minute performance on 98.5 the Sports Hub, managed to throw Carl Crawford, Theo Epstein, and his entire baseball operations staff under the bus. It’s because even though we’ve been told who picked the new manager, we’re not really sure we believe it. It’s because Theo — the one guy you always somehow trusted, even when he was dishing out heinous contracts to Crawford and John Lackey — has taken his gorilla suit and moved to Chicago. And finally, it’s because Francona — who managed to escape blame for the collapse, despite his team unraveling around him — now works for ESPN. It’s funny when you think about it: Francona used to drive fans crazy by sticking with his guys, no matter their struggles (think Mark Bellhorn in ’04 and Dustin Pedroia three years later). And then, in the end, the fans stood by Francona, despite having a million reasons not to. Boston fans aren’t easy. That type of faith is as hard-earned as it is remarkable. And now it’s gone.

It didn’t help that this off-season was disastrous on a number of fronts. Forget all the melodrama — what about the players? The Yankees loaded up with a stunning trade for young pitching phenom Michael Pineda…and the Red Sox traded shortstop Marco Scutaro to Colorado to save money. So all of a sudden, we’re economizing? At the same time, the Olde Towne Team is short a proven right-fielder and — at least while Crawford recovers from a wrist injury — a left-fielder. Worse, when Crawford recovers, he will be the left-fielder again. And the best thing you can say about the back end of the starting pitching rotation is that it’s slightly less unsightly than the back end of  Vince Wilfork.

There’s a chance, of course, that Ben Cherington knows what he’s doing. It’s even highly likely. He wasn’t Theo’s top lieutenant for nothing. And there’s even a chance that Larry Lucchino will leave him alone to do his thing (okay, that’s a bit less likely). We just don’t know yet. The jury’s out. But for the first time since Henry and Tom Werner bought the team in 2002, we’re not giving them the benefit of the doubt. That’s because they appear to be struggling: The Red Sox have finished in third place two straight years, and even worse — at least from their perspective — the owners have lost control of the team’s image.

But like I said, I think that’s a good thing.

It’s clichéd at this point to say that Red Sox fans have become overconfident since 2004. But that only states half the issue: The real problem is the lack of doubt. Thanks to Henry and company’s heretofore competent management, we’ve lost that old sense that, no matter what, something is going to go wrong. These days at Fenway Park, we expect comebacks. When “Sweet Caroline” comes on in the middle of the eighth (God help us), fans belt out a rousing rendition, regardless of the score. I was at a game a few years ago where the Sox were down something like seven runs and fans still sang at full-throat. Pre-2004, if the Red Sox were down more than a run that late in the game, we’d all be sitting there eating our hats and filled with dread. Now we sing Neil Diamond. I mean, are we okay with us?