BOSTON — The narrative from Fenway Park since Dave Dombrowski’s stunning midnight firing mostly painted the Red Sox as a dysfunctional, cowardly operation.
Between the team’s ownership group using the Patriots’ banner-raising opener to cover for Sunday’s axing and then having David Ortiz make a surprise appearance to throw out Monday’s first pitch, this was PR camouflage to the highest degree.
What was left? Aerosmith for the National Anthem? Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as bat boys?
All kidding aside, despite the sudden dumping of Dombrowski, followed by the absentee owners ducking the media, there’s no mocking the Red Sox’ remarkable championship run since breaking the 86-year Curse of the Bambino in 2004.
Four World Series rings in 15 seasons. They’ve needed five GMs, and four managers to get there — an abnormally high casualty count for so much winning — but any franchise would gladly trade that collateral damage for the hardware.
And along with Dombrowski, the Red Sox (76-68) also officially said goodbye to any shot of a repeat AL East title with Monday night’s 5-0 loss to the Yankees, who gained some measure of revenge for last October’s playoff ouster behind James Paxton’s 6 2/3 scoreless innings.
The Yankees used to be the volatile winners, back when George Steinbrenner’s temper resulted in a revolving front-office door before Brian Cashman was promoted to the GM position in 1998. Under Cashman, the Yankees won four of their last five titles. But if you tighten the focus to this recent Red Sox run, the Yankees’ have only the 2009 championship, sandwiched between two on each side by their ancient rival.
Dombrowski needed the sport’s highest payroll to win last year’s World Series, and again came in at No. 1 this season by spending roughly $236 million. But that only bought him a severely flawed third-place club, so 11 months after winning the title, his four-year tenure as GM came to an end minutes after Sunday night’s 10-5 loss to the Yankees at Fenway.
The Yankees definitely come across as the sane ones in this rivalry, and Cashman has maintained a steady hand in the Bronx, employing only three managers during his reign. But the payoff hasn’t equaled the trophy parade on Jersey Street, so there’s only so much you can ridicule the process used principal owner John Henry & Co.
“Last year when I came here I knew what I was getting into, obviously, and the expectations here are to win a championship every year,” Alex Cora said before Monday’s game. “Is it realistic? No. But that’s who we are. I don’t think it’s unfair — it is what it is, and we live in a city that I think the standards are set very very high.”
Cora was left to face the media alone Monday, as neither the Red Sox ownership group nor any of the remaining front-office members made themselves available to answer for Dombrowski’s firing. That was inexcusable behavior. Their only presence came via email, with Henry, chairman Tom Werner and team president/CEO Sam Kennedy providing statements praising Dombrowski for his work.
Also, in the Red Sox’s language, Dombrowki and the team “parted ways” — a laughable euphemism. One Yankees’ insider mentioned that Dombrowski had planned to meet with Boone before Monday’s series finale just to congratulate him on a great season, an indication that he never saw Sunday’s midnight ambush coming.
At Fenway, however, chaos is like oxygen to the people running this franchise. They’ve also had three last-place finishes since 2012, and went from worst-to-first twice in the AL East during that span. In the past 15 seasons, the Red Sox have five division titles and nine playoff appearances.
By comparison, the Yankees have six and 11, respectively, and never finished any worse than fourth (once). Cashman is still trying to end a nine-year title drought, but he has managed to establish a consistent winning culture second to none in the sport.
“I feel like they do a great job of creating, fostering, maintaining that stability,” Boone said. “It’s something that I think everyone in our organization really values.”
It’s happened again this year, with the Yankees overcoming more than a dozen key injuries in closing fast on another AL East title. While up in Boston, Cora described the Red Sox as being “consistently inconsistent,” the epitaph to their disappointing 2019 season, and the one that ultimately buried Dombrowski.
“As people that work here, we’ve got to respect it,” Cora said of the firing. “We’ll see what happens. We’ll see where we go. But I do believe that we’re going to be fine.”
While Brian Cashman has been The Man in the Yankees’ front office since 1998, the Red Sox have employed a revolving door of personnel to run their baseball ops department in the last 21 years:
Dan Duquette 1998-2002
Mike Port (interim) 2002
Theo Epstein 2002-05
Ben Cherington, Jed Hoyer (co-GMs) 2005-06
Theo Epstein 2006-11
Mike Hazen 2015-16
Dave Dombrowski 2017-19
Brian O’Halloran, Eddie Romero, Zack Scott, Raquel Ferreira 2019