Sunday, September 2, 2012

Earth Opera -- "The Red Sox Are Winning" (1968)

And the weather is strange
No summer this year
In the days of the war
But the Red Sox are winning

If you're a regular reader of 2 or 3 lines, you can probably guess how this post is going to turn out.

For those of you who are new to my wildly popular blog and don't have a clue as to how this post will turn out, I'll tell you.  It's going to turn out to be a nasty rant about the Boston Red Sox, full of sarcasm and gloating and other very unattractive qualities.  (Teddy Roosevelt's daughter Alice famously said, "If you can't say something good about someone, come sit next to me."  I agree with Alice, especially if that someone is the Boston Red Sox.)

This is first and foremost a music blog, of course, so I need to spend a little time discussing Earth Opera and their song.  After I get that out of the way, I can concentrate on trashing the Red Sox.

Earth Opera was the brainchild of two folk/bluegrass types, Peter Rowan and David Grisman.  

Rowan was a guitarist who grew up in Boston and became a bluegrass enthusiast when he was a college student.  Somehow he ended up being hired as the guitarist and lead singer of bluegrass legend Bill Monroe's band.  

Grisman was a mandolin player who grew up in a Conservative Jewish family in Hackensack, New Jersey.  He was also a bluegrass fan -- he met Jerry Garcia at a Bill Monroe concert in 1964, and the two became close friends.

David Grisman (L) and Peter Rowan (R)
Earth Opera was the result of Rowan and Grisman meeting in Boston.  (I suspect they actually met in Cambridge.  Cambridge in general and Harvard Square in particular was full of nerds and boarding-school types playing blues, bluegrass, and other traditional music.  The whole scene was about as authentic as a three-dollar bill.)  

Earth Opera's music was either very eclectic or very confused, depending on your point of view.  Their albums are usually described as psychedelic, but they also had elements of rock, folk, jazz, and classical music. 

There were all kinds of mixed-up albums being released in 1968, when Earth Opera's eponymous debut album was issued by Elektra Records.  Rowan wrote the group's songs -- his lyrics could be just a tad pseudo-intellectual at times.

The Earth Opera album cover
"The Red Sox Are Winning" is essentially an antiwar song.  Like most 1968-era hippie musicians, Rowan was no sports fan.  His mention of the Red Sox is ironic.  Here's a rough translation of what the song is really saying: "We're fighting an unjust war in Vietnam and the world in general is going to hell in a hand basket -- but the Red Sox are winning, so most of you people don't give a damn."

The Red Sox were winning when this song was recorded.  In 1965 and 1966, the Red Sox had finished in 9th place in the 10-team American League.  But the 1967 "Impossible Dream" team came out of nowhere to win the AL pennant on the final day of the regular season.

Naturally, they lost the World Series in heartbreaking fashion that year.  Losing in heartbreaking fashion is what the Red Sox do, after all.  They don't lose all the time like the hapless Cubs -- they mostly lose when they are supposed to win . . . when they are just a whisker away from winning . . . when losing really, really hurts.  (What's that you say about 2004 and 2007?  I couldn't hear you.  I still can't hear you.)

One of the highlights of my annual trip to Cape Cod in August was that I could listen every day to the Boston sports-talk radio station as the 2012 Red Sox were self-destructing in a truly spectacular way.  It was such an unanticipated delight -- I never saw anything this juicy coming.

Perhaps I should have.  After all, last season's team was nine games up on the Tampa Bay Rays in the race for the American League wild-card spot with only 24 games left to play.  

But they gagged down the stretch like few teams had gagged before, losing 18 of their final 24 games.  That's a collapse that's impressive even by the high standards of this organization, which has set the bar pretty darned high.

And it was even worse than you realize.  On the final day of the 2011 season, the Rays trailed 7-o in the 8th inning of a game they had to win to have a chance of catching the Red Sox and getting into the playoffs.  They scored six runs in the 8th, but were still losing by a run in the 9th with two outs and two strikes on a pinch hitter who was hitting a ghastly .108 for the season.  Naturally, he hit a home run -- and the Rays eventually won in the 12th.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox had a lead in the 9th over the Orioles with Jonathan Papelbon, their best relief pitcher, on the mound and the Orioles down to their very last strike.  Yes, the Orioles somehow rallied to win off Papelbon.  (It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.)

Papelbon after blowing the save
and the 2011 season
What were the chances of the Red Sox blowing a nine-game lead with 24 games left, the Rays winning a game when they were down 7-0 in the 8th and down to their last strike in the 9th, and the Red Sox losing when they were ahead in the 9th and their opponents were down to their last strike?  One statistician has estimated the odds of things turning out the way they did at one in 278 million.  (Anyone who doesn't believe in God had better start rethinking his or her position because there is simply no way that all that happened without a higher power pulling some strings.)

The aftereffects of the shocking collapse of the 2011 "beer-and-fried-chicken" Red Sox (so-called because it was later revealed that the team's starting pitchers spent their off days eating Popeye's, drinking beer, and playing video games in the clubhouse) carried over into the 2012 season: the Red Sox got off to a 1-5 start.

"The Official Fried Chicken
of the 2011 Boston Red Sox"
April 20 was the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, the oldest baseball stadium in the country, but the gala celebration was ruined when the big bad Yankees beat the Old Towne Team.  (That's not exactly a man-bites-dog story, is it?)

By the way, the team used the 100th anniversary celebration to announce that fans could now buy personalized commemorative bricks that would be placed inside the stadium.  I guess it's not enough that the Red Sox already have the highest average ticket prices in the major leagues -- the owners need to gouge their fans for an extra $250 (for a small brick) or $475 (for a larger one).

There IS a sucker born every minute!
Here's the brick that the local PETA chapter purchased to publicize its efforts to halt the barbaric practice of boiling lobsters alive and eating them.  The initial letters of the words in the message on this brick -- which reads like it was written by someone who spoke English as a second (or third) language and had never seen a baseball game -- spell "lobster liberation."

Anyhow, things went from bad to worse for the poor Red Sox and their fans the next day, when the Yankees erased a 9-0 deficit by scoring a run in the 6th, seven runs in the 7th, and seven more runs in the 8th.  It may have been the worst Red Sox el foldo against the Yankees ever, and that's saying something.

In May, star pitcher Josh Beckett skipped a start due to a sore shoulder.  The day after the team announced Beckett would miss a start, he played 36 holes of golf.  When the local press sniffed this out and grilled him about it after he pooped his pants in his next start -- he left in the 3rd inning after surrendering seven runs -- Beckett (who had been given a four-year, $68 million contract extension in 2010) responded by saying that his golf outing took place on an off day, and it was no one's business what he did on his off days.

This video is priceless:

Beckett's partner on the links that day was fellow pitcher Clay Buchholz, who infamously broke into his middle school while home from college for Christmas a few years ago and stole 29 laptop computers to sell on eBay.  His daddy was a local big shot and Clay was a big sports star, so he skated on the bungled burglary.

Here's a picture of Beckett's wife.  He apparently used spent of that laptop money on engagement implants:

Mrs. Clay Buchholz
The Sox worked their way up to three games over .500 by June 2, but things went south after that.  By the time I got to the Cape, they had a losing record and were a distant 4th in the AL East -- their chances of sneaking into even the 2nd wild-card spot were all but nil.

And then things blew up completely.

Hiring Valentine as Red Sox manager
seemed like a good idea at the time
The Red Sox had hired the volatile and voluble Bobby Valentine as manager after the wheels came off at the end of the 2011 season.  Valentine immediately got on the wrong side of his veteran players by questioning the motivation and desire of veteran infielder Kevin Youkilis (who was later given away to the White Sox).  

Kevin "What, Me Worry?" Youkilis
In July, star slugger Adrian Gonzalez -- who had signed a seven-year, $154 million contract in April 2011 -- sent a text message to the team's ownership, asking for a meeting.  A couple of weeks later, a writer for Yahoo Sports reported that most of the team's players attended the meeting, the purpose of which was to bitch about their manager and ask the higher-ups to fire his sorry ass.

Click here to read the Yahoo story.

All hell broke lose in Boston when that story came out.  The first casualty was backup catcher Kelly Shoppach, who was quickly traded to the Mets.  It was subsequently reported that Shoppach had written the text message asking for the meeting, but sent it from Gonzalez's phone (with his permission) because Gonzalez was a big star whose opinion would be taken more seriously by ownership.

McKayla is not impressed by the Red Sox backstabbers
Shortly thereafter, the pitching coach was fired.  It was speculated that he was given the boot because he was the "rat" who had talked to the Yahoo reporter.  (The Yahoo writer had covered the Royals for the Kansas City newspaper when the pitching coach had worked for the Royals, so it was presumed they were old buddies.)  That may have been true, but the team's pitching performance was so lackluster that there was plenty of cause to give the coach a pink slip.

A few days later, the Red Sox announced that Carl Crawford -- a starting outfielder who had been given  a seven-year, $142 million contract to join Boston as a free agent prior to the 2011 season -- would have season-ending elbow surgery.  Crawford could have continued to play with the injury, but going under the knife in August instead of October, he hoped to be ready to play by Opening Day of 2013 instead of missing a month or two of that season.  This was widely (and correctly) viewed as the equivalent of the Red Sox running up a white flag and writing off the 2012 season with six weeks left.

Then came the final straw.  

On August 13, 92-year-old Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky died.  Pesky was greatly beloved by all Red Sox fans, young and old.  He had a long association with the team as player, coach, manager, and broadcaster, and was one of only six Red Sox players to have had his number retired by the team.  (All the others were Hall of Famers.)

Pesky's funeral was held the following Monday.  Exactly four current Red Sox players showed up for the service -- even though the team had chartered a bus to drive everyone to the funeral.  

That night, Josh Beckett hosted a bowling party to raise money for his charitable foundation.  Most of his teammates came out to bowl and then headed to the House of Blues for some music and perhaps a cocktail or two (or ten or twelve).

Once that news got out, the phone lines of the sports-talk station were flooded with calls from angry fans who wanted to tear the players a new one for dissing Johnny Pesky and then going out to whoop it up at Beckett's party.

I was driving back home that morning and listened in awe until I was out of range of the radio station's signal.  You have never heard such venom -- and from people who mostly claimed to be life-long fans of the team whose players, manager, and owners they were verbally crucifying.  I could have listened to that all day.

A few days later, the other three shoes dropped.  The aforementioned Beckett, Gonzalez, and Crawford -- all three had been All-Stars in either 2010, 2011, or both, so we're not talking about chopped liver here -- were traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for some minor-leaguers and the Dodgers' willingness to take on the trio's bloated salaries.  (The three stars' contracts had a total value of $364 million.)  

I can't say for sure that there's not a single Red Sox fan who wasn't thrilled to get rid of them, but I have yet to find one willing to say he or she was sorry to see them go.

ESPN's Bill Simmons -- he's a diehard Red Sox fan -- had this to say about the whole mess:

I wanted to name our newborn son "Beckett" right after the Red Sox won the 2007 World Series.  If not for a reader intervening, my son might be named Beckett Simmons right now.  We could start there.
The Red Sox have trotted out eight "superstar" hitters in my lifetime: Carl Yastrzemski, Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Mo Vaughn, Nomar Garciaparra, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez.  The first seven guys played a combined 83 seasons in Boston.  Gonzalez lasted 21 months.  We could start there.
My favorite baseball team just traded its best offensive player and a proven playoff starter in a massive salary dump that had no correlation to anything that's ever happened in Red Sox history except for . . . you know . . . the time we sold Babe Ruth.  Somehow, Red Sox fans are delighted about the trade. We could start there.
Simmons eventually concludes that the Red Sox were actually bailed out by the Dodgers, and will be better off for jettisoning Crawford, Gonzalez, and Beckett.  He's convinced the team has hit bottom, and has nowhere to go but up.

He's probably right about the hitting bottom part.  And it's true that when you hit bottom, you have nowhere to go but up.  But sometimes the bottom is a very long way down indeed -- meaning there's a very long way to go to get back to the top.  

The Red Sox clearly are either at the bottom or much closer to it than they have been for years.  They are completely irrelevant this year and will continue to be completely irrelevant for some time to come.  Except for the colors of their uniforms, you'd be hard pressed to tell the Red Sox from the Kansas City Royals.

As a Yankees fan, I couldn't be more delighted.  Now I know how Ronald Reagan felt after the Soviet Union fell apart.  

The Yankees don't win every year, and the Yankees make their share of mistakes.  But you'll never see the Yankees experience a clusterf*ck like the one the Red Sox are going through.  And it's impossible to imagine the Yankees just throwing in the towel like the Red Sox have just done.  (A team captained by Derek Jeter, writing off a season before the last game has been played?  That's unthinkable.)

Here's "The Red Sox Are Winning":

Use the link below if you'd like to buy the song from Amazon:


  1. I chuckled all the way through this one, not that I give a flip about the Red Sox. I had totally forgotten this 1968 song, and its bizarre/eclectic mix of instruments, lyrics, and effects...paralleled nicely by your parapatetic musing on the Sox. I can't believe you managed to work in breast implants and the McKayla meme. What a hoot!!! Joyce D.

  2. Glad you enjoyed it, Joyce. I plan to feature another Earth Opera song in the future -- that song is even more off-center than this one. As for working in breast implants, look at that picture -- those have got to be fake, don't you think?