It just might mean the difference between winning a title and going home early.
That is a lesson the 2010 Red Sox may want to take to heart.
While there are some fun-loving guys in the clubhouse, the team as a whole can sometimes take on a serious tone. And while there have been some regimented, business-like teams in the past that have won it all, recent Boston squads with a casual attitude have fared a bit better.
The "Idiots" of 2004 set the standard. Their facial hair, their runny eye black, their never-say-die attitude and those ever-ready smiles and hugs — it all created a vibe unlike anything seen at Fenway Park before or since. If all else failed, shots of whiskey in the locker room would lighten the mood.
Kevin Millar was a clown, Johnny Damon was a deity and Manny Ramirez could be himself (I won't bother with the hackneyed line used to describe his individuality), and each was adored for it.
When the Yankees lost a three-games-to-none lead in the ALCS that year, it was more than just a matter of being outplayed on the field. The Sox, despite being the ones without a World Series title in 86 years, acted like it wasn't the end of the world if they went one more. The then-26-time world champion Bronx Bombers were tight and played like it.
The buffoonery of that run has etched itself in Red Sox lore, but do not discount the effect that good, old-fashioned fun had on the 2007 championship team as well.
Remember, Manny could still act like himself (you won't get me to say it) with impunity. The Julian Tavarez–Daisuke Matsuzaka love affair was in full bloom. To pass the time until their number was called, Red Sox relievers created the bullpen band, banging spoons on the roof of their enclosure in a persistent percussive display audible on television mikes.
The indelible image, perhaps, was closer Jonathan Papelbon breaking out the "Lord of the Dance" jig after the Sox locked up the AL East and again upon completion of the ALCS. Sure, he looked like a fool, but that's what made it so effective. He didn't care, and his teammates and fans loved every minute of it.
The club had sent a message: If you don't like us acting like birdbrains, then beat us. Facing such distractions, nobody could, and title No. 2 of the decade was theirs.
For whatever reason, the carefree nature of previous Red Sox teams has vanished just a bit in recent years. The 2004 title had a once-in-a-lifetime feel to it, especially after a quick playoff exit the next year and a third-place finish in 2006.
However, after 2007, there were expectations. No longer were the Yankees the de facto division winners. Forget another 86 years, the fans had seen two titles in four years and didn't want to wait anymore.
With expectations comes the issue of stress if and when things do not work out quite right. With stress comes tightness. We saw what that did to the Yankees six Octobers ago. (We also saw what happened to New York one October ago when the Yanks finally imported some carefree characters.)
Although fans might care now more than ever, the 2010 version of the Red Sox might do well to care a little less. Not that wins and losses aren't important, but really enjoying the highs and getting over the lows has a way of creating a winning atmosphere.
After all, it's just a game.
From now until Opening Day, NESN.com will run
things that need to happen for the Red Sox to win the World Series.
27: Opposing rookie pitchers can't surprise them.