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This is “The Dead Zone” in the sports calendar. It begins the Monday after the Super Bowl and usually ends with the opening tip-off of March Madness. Included in that Dead Zone is the charade of pitchers and catchers playing long toss in late February while local media members take advantage of the timing to trek to Florida to work on their golf games and tans. It is the ultimate media boondoggle and sorry, Spring Training practice is not interesting, it’s not compelling and it just doesn’t excite fans the way it did when baseball was the most popular sport in America.
It is also a quiet time for the talking heads both on TV and radio. The NFL has a long offseason. There is some activity when the franchise tags go out. Then, free agency begins and even though lately it has become more exciting than baseball’s free agency it is closer to mid-March and we are nearing the end of the Dead Zone.
This is also the “dog days” of winter for both the NBA and NHL. In the NHL, the post All-Star break offers little drama as fans wait eagerly for the playoffs to begin. The same is usually true of the NBA, but this season with the lockout, the condensed schedule, the injuries, the lackluster performances and the overall poor play, well, it’s been one of the worst NBA seasons in recent memory and Bill Simmons, Mike Wilbon or “Linsanity” himself can’t convince me otherwise. So this is the time when the TV and radio topics become more personal. They look for the story, the individual, the TARGET.
The Boston Bruins are 3 UP and 5 DOWN since Thomas decided to skip the White House visit. Now, I said at that time that I didn’t agree with Thomas’s decision but supported his right to not attend. I also pointed out that the media acted liked complete hypocrites since they didn’t even mention Theo Epstein’s similar boycott of then-President Bush’s invitation to the Red Sox.
Thomas has since brought extra unneeded attention to himself and his teammates by chiming in on Facebook about the contraception provision’s in President Obama’s health care plan. Thomas also touched my own personal “third rail,” which are Nazi comparisons. Nazi comparisons are for the ignorant who hope to attract attention simply by mentioning that word. Unless you are comparing a genocide to the Nazis then you’re argument loses merit.
Thomas deserves some of the criticism he is receiving from the media because he made himself the story. He also has decided not to expand on his position, which has left those questions to fall on his teammates. I do agree with Michael Felger on this point, if the Bruins struggle through the rest of the season people will look back at the White House snub as the beginning of the end.
Leading that march will be the Boston media and they will be 100% WRONG. The fans really don’t care about this story. Hockey fans like to talk hockey, and 98.5 should know that more than anyone. The players have said that this behavior is typical of Tim Thomas during his time in Boston, so outside of the annoying questions, they don’t really care. So, that leaves the media to continue to advance the story. They care, because it makes for interesting discussion, it’s controversial and it’s negative. Sports and politics together is talk radio nirvana for hosts.
It will be an interesting ping pong match the rest of the year. You’ll have Joe Haggerty tweeting to us every time Tim Thomas lets in a soft goal. Kevin Paul DuPont will continue to offer his pompous opinions on why Thomas has hurt this team. As for Felger, topics like these are right up his alley, even while he’s telling you how much he hates to discuss them.
The Monkey wrench for the media will be the fans. Bruins fans have had a taste of winning and that’s all they care about. Combine that with Tuuka Rask’s four-game losing streak and recent erratic play and all of sudden Bruins fans realize one thing: they can’t win anything without Tim Thomas. Not this year and probably not next year.
So, while I expect we will hear stories from Haggs and Fluto and DuPont about how management would like to move Thomas at the end of the year and hand the reigns over to Rask, it will be interesting to see if the fans take the bait. This isn’t in Claude or Cam we trust. The Bruins won last year because Tim Thomas had one of the best seasons in NHL history. If the media finds that they can’t get traction with the Thomas controversy, they will move on to another target, like…
Beckett will always be symbolic of the Red Sox collapse of 2011. As the Red Sox fell apart completely in 2011, Beckett was eating chicken, gaining weight and blowing leads in key games against bad teams. He was the team’s number one starter and one of the highest paid pitchers in baseball last year. He is a man who has carried two teams (the 2003 Florida Marlins and 2007 Boston Red Sox) to World Series championships. But, patience with Beckett has run out. The 2007 season was almost 5 years ago and the fans who have longer memories than the media will eventually start to point fingers.
If you want clear evidence of that, just see the some of the venom toward Tom Brady just minutes after the Patriots lost the Super Bowl. So far, Beckett has not been contrite, and if he takes off his jacket next week in front of the cameras and exhibits Popeye’s stomach, and I am talking about the chicken, not the cartoon character, then he will be attacked daily by the local media AND the fans.
The only way for Beckett to avoid that is to take responsibility for last season’s collapse and pitch his ass off to start the season. Whether a fast start from Beckett will make a difference is unknown, and that is because of another target and that would be…
John Henry, the Red Sox majority owner, is in the media crosshairs right now. At this point, I bet John Henry would much rather be viewed as the charismatic owner of the Red Sox played brilliantly by Arliss Howard in the Academy Award nominated “ Moneyball,” than the confused out-of-touch owner of two teams with gigantic payrolls, rabid fan bases and infamous players. Josh Beckett and the Popeye’s crew have become symbol of laziness and the deplorable striker Luis Suarez of Liverpool became a clear symbol of bigotry.
I’m torn on John Henry. There is no doubt he was an enabler in the Red Sox collapse last year. However, in his 9 years of ownership, he’s been very successful and his spending has kept the Red Sox competitive with the Yankees in the American League. Right now, he’s taking criticism for not spending money on the Boston Red Sox. The reason for that, according to national sports writer Jon Heyman and the local Boston sports media, is because of financial commitments to Liverpool in the English Premier League. The Red Sox do have a payroll close to $180 million. They spent over $300 million last year on two players and failed to win anything. Yes, it appears the Red Sox were cost conscious in the offseason but you should be able to win with this payroll. The Red Sox are more a victim of wasteful spending than a lack of it. Henry has a lot of pressure on him this season, but if he can win with team, he would have changed the game. (Moneyball reference)
Honorable mentions for Target Practice – Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, David Kreici, Carl Crawford and the Patriots front office if they are quiet in free agency.