1992 versus 2012: How much has changed?

Many members of the Boston media are dubbing this spring THE MOST IMPORTANT EVR!!

Of course they would. Last year didn’t end well. The Red Sox collapsed. Drinks got drunk. Food got eaten. Fingers were pointed. Snitches have not, to the displeasure of some, stopped snitching.

Gleeful reporters knew the stories would provide the building blocks for a plethora of early spring training stories – the kinds that help fill the time between players arriving in camp and players actually doing something interesting like playing in games.

Amidst the rubble of tired storylines, it is oddly therapeutic to look back at dysfunctional spring trainings gone past. Boston’s new manager is a blowhard! The owners are unapologetic money-grubbers! The ace pitcher said that??

All these things may be true. In a general sense, the storylines are always the same during spring training. It may only be early March, but spring training already feels as though it is taking forever.

But compare the 2012 team’s plight to two decades ago in 1992. Things could be a lot worse.

The New Manager. After firing affable fan favorite Joe Morgan (the white one) in October 1991, the team hired former Sox third baseman Butch Hobson. Regardless of what anyone thinks of Bobby Valentine, hiring Hobson to manage the 1992 Boston Red Sox would have been like the team replacing Terry Francona with John Valentin – if John Valentin had a budding cocaine addiction.

Like Valentine, Hobson showed up in Florida, ran a steady hand through flowing white mane and fluttered the hearts of beat reporters by pledging to kick ass and take names. From Nick Cafardo’s column (“Hobson’s Choice: A demanding
camp
”) in the February 23, 1992 edition of the Boston Globe:

“The blueprints are just about in place for Camp Butch….Remember Ralph Houk’s spring trainings? Hit for a couple of hours and go play 18? Forget it, pal. Plan on spending some quality time at the ballpark. Plan on rekindling those ties with fundamentals you learned in high school. And make sure you get there on time. In uniform and on the field by 9:30 a.m. Just try coming late.”

Sounds eerily familiar to Bobby V’s hard-ass rhetoric during the first week-plus.

2012 Similarity Score: 8 out of 10. It’s nice to see Bobby V embracing the job with some emphatic energy. But would anybody be totally surprised if he’s done in two years, moves to some ESPN outpost town and starts overdoing it with the
booger sugar?

The Arrogant Fire-balling Texan. In ‘92, an unapologetic Texas Con Man Roger Clemens arrived late to camp. This year, it is the perennially piss-and-vinegar-filled Josh Beckett sating the media by vocalizing his paranoia over “snitches” in the clubhouse. Both guys tickle the fancy of reporters and columnists looking to stir up conflict. Both prove true the inverse relationship between an increase in hot air spewed out of a man’s mouth and falling fastball velocity out of the same man’s hand.

2012 Similarity Score: 5 out of 10 (try as he might, Josh Beckett isn’t Roger Clemens – which doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing).

The Oft-Injured Young Talent. The Tim Naerhing “If Only” Award for 2012 goes to Clay Buchholz. The righthander’s back problems are supposedly behind him and projection systems have Buchholz likely reaching the 150-160 inning range in 2012. Saying all the right things about the chances for full recovery is a good start. Still, Buchholz’s health over the long haul of the season is a significant wild card. (NOTE: Jed Lowrie would have been a shoo-in for this award had he not been traded to Houston for Mark Melancon.)

2012 Similarity Score: 3 out of 10. Buchholz has already done more earlier in his career than Naehring, who wouldn’t top 500 at-bats in a season until 1995.
Naehring’s career was done two years later at age 30. Meanwhile, asking for the “Tim Naehring Package” at a local chiropractor can cost HMO participants thousands of dollars out-of-pocket.

The Position Battle. Believe it or not, Hobson was on record as unsure who would man first base regularly in 1992: Mo Vaughn or Carlos Quintana. At that point, Vaughn had played only about half a season at the big league level while Quintana had a longer (read: two years) track record. The “battle” ended before position players even reported when Quintana was injured in a car crash while driving two of his brothers to a hospital after they had been shot in Venezuela. In 2012, the team effectively turned the shortstop position into a three-way position battle by trading Marco Scutaro.

2012 Similarity Score: 9 out of 10. “Disastrous, blood-stained car-wreck” is just one of the euphemisms being tossed around to briefly describe having to choose
between Mike Aviles, Nick Punto and Jose Iglesias to man shortstop.

The Departed Veteran Arm. During the 1991-1992 offseason, Lou Gorman opted not to offer 39-year-old Dennis Lamp arbitration. Talk of bringing Lamp back as a coach was put on hold after he signed on with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he was briefly a teammate of Tim Wakefield’s before being released in June.

2012 Similarity Score: 8 out of 10. Like the recently retired Wakefield, Lamp’s
strikeout-to-walk ratio had grown minuscule during his twilight years. Lamp
gave the Sox about 100 innings in each of his last three seasons in Boston, but
the team was not exactly heartbroken about moving on from a pitcher with an ERA+ hovering around 90. Why Lamp didn’t attempt to extend his career into his early-40s by converting to an outfield position is beyond the understanding of top baseball minds.

The Front Office Nepotism. Twenty years ago, team president Jean Yawkey, wife of former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, died just days after camp opened. (Legend has it that slugger first baseman Jack Clark was so upset at the passing of Yawkey that he refused to swing at a single 3-0 pitch he saw during the season.) By contrast, present owner John Henry is very much alive. Just…maybe not on the inside.

2012 Similarity Score: 8 out of 10. Henry’s wife Linda Pizzuti tweets pictures of
players from spring training workouts and has thrust herself into the local fashion
modeling industry. (Coincidentally, Yawkey herself was a fashion model in New
York before marrying into the Red Sox in 1944.)  Two years ago, Pizzuti
took over Janet Marie Smith’s post as vice president of Planning and Development. Bobby Valentine would be well-advised to stay on Pizzuti’s good
side.

The Anniversary Memorabilia. After Yawkey’s death, the front office was so out of sorts during the 1992 season that club-initiated commercialization of the 80th Anniversary of Fenway Park was limited to, best we can tell, a commemorative scorecard that first became available in August. Meanwhile, well before Fenway’s 99th season in 2011 even had a chance to go sour, the Red Sox sold were busy selling fans 100-year commemorative bricks which could be personally engraved.

2012 Similarity Score: 1 out of 10. Talk about an unfair fight. Sure, the century-mark is much more monumental. But is there any doubt the current ownership group would have mobilized a bit more quickly in 1992? It’s difficult to quibble with a team that knows how to optimize its cash flow. Then again, results may vary for “rabid” fans that were moved enough to shell out $250 for a brick.

The Bottom Line. The 1992 Red Sox were a mess on paper even before the season began. Based on their run differential, the team fulfilled on the dot its Pythagorean won/loss expectancy, finishing 73-89. It neither underachieved nor overachieved. It just was. Hobson wasn’t a good fit to manage a major league team and the team’s mainstay veterans (Wade Boggs, Clemens) were already looking ahead to their post-Boston careers. Top to bottom, the team itself was devoid of the talent that the 2012 Boston Red Sox boast. This year’s edition is a legitimate World Series contender with a viable long-term plan to remain competitive in future seasons. It has a core of young All-Star-caliber players and money to spend in July.

So turn off the radio, log off and throw away the newspaper if need be. Things have been better. They’ve also been a lot worse. Negativity this early in the year is so 20 years ago.

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