Although the 2010 Red Sox were technically in the playoff chase until the final week, the lack of star power due to injuries seemed to sap the team of a little panache. Many admired the cool of Darnell McDonald and the youthful grit of Ryan Kalish, but would often leave Fenway Park or turn off their televisions lamenting the absence of Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, essentially the heart and soul of the club.
By acquiring both Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford in the span of a few days, the excitement level among the fan base has gone through the roof. As the Patriots, Celtics and Bruins are each at or near the top of their respective sports, the Red Sox, nearly four months from playing a game that counts, are the ones in the headlines.
In Gonzalez and Crawford, the team has filled two lockers with guys who will disappoint neither the fans nor their teammates. Both players have already expressed their desire to join the organization and a dream fulfilled, and both enter the fold with reputations as men who have had respect every step of the way.
Even a seasoned skipper such as Terry Francona was able to note, with appreciation, Gonzalez’s ability to take the initiative.
“I was trying to round his number up I guess yesterday, and he called me, which you don’t see that very often,” Francona said of Gonzalez at this week’s winter meetings when asked if he had spoken with his new first baseman.
Every individual at the meetings who discussed Gonzalez, notably his former bosses in San Diego, noted his abilities to be a true student of the game. He is a notorious film-hound, and the results are almost always evident once he finds something that works — his great success vs. left-handers in 2010 was credited to that time in the film room, according to manager Bud Black.
Crawford, meanwhile, said he had texted with Pedroia after the signing and even joked with Jason Varitek about the history between the two (Crawford had swiped his last 35 bases without being caught vs. Varitek and the rest of the Red Sox’ catching corps). The speedster has been ripping the hearts out of Boston for years while a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, so there is loads of familiarity there. And respect.
The additions could have mammoth effects in the clubhouse.
In 2008, the New York Yankees finished third in the American League East (sound familiar?) with 89 wins (sound familiar?) and proceeded to blow the rest of baseball away by acquiring multiple big names during the offseason (sound familiar?). For all that CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett gave to the team the following season in the way of performance, they added a dose of professionalism mixed with an easy-going air that seemed to transform a previously staid clubhouse.
The hope is that two guys the Red Sox now possess have a similar effect. There is immense talent in both, but also a work ethic, a personality and an appreciation for the team concept that will help turn an already top-notch clubhouse into a refined one.
Crawford himself said he takes pride in the process that has made him one of the best athletes in the game.
“I approach [the game] with intensity…get up early, leave late,” he said during Saturday’s news conference. “Keep my body good.”
Crawford went on in the same answer to elaborate on the intensity he brought to Tampa Bay for nine years. He then admitted that he might not have much of an impact on guys like Pedroia and Youkilis in that department, given their already uber-intense approach.
Maybe so, but both he and Gonzalez figure to certainly have an impact on the team’s personality and chemistry. Put it all together, and it’s a potent mix.