The truth is that in baseball, as in other competitive lines of business, when you think you're standing pat you're really losing ground because everyone else is still swimming against the tide while you're drifting backwards.
When Dave Dombrowski was brought on to head up baseball operations for the Boston Red Sox, he was hired to win "now" -- and he did. His problem was that "now" doesn't have a very long shelf-life; it soon becomes "then."
The Sox had the most successful season in their history in 2018, winning a total of 119 games as they romped and stomped their way to a world championship. But 2018 isn't "now" any longer; it's "then." Now they are a team with the biggest payroll in baseball, limping toward the finish line of the 2019 season, well back in the pack. They have made history again, this time as the most expensive also-rans in the annals baseball.
Last off-season, when he was still a genius -- remember? -- Dombrowski elected to stand pat. He re-signed at exorbitant rates some of those who had brought him to baseball's holy grail (Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, Lamont Cranston -- oops, I mean Steve Pearce) and essentially went with the same roster this year as that which won for him in '18. With that, he signed his own death warrant. The truth is that in baseball, as in other competitive lines of business, when you think you're standing pat you're really losing ground because everyone else is still swimming against the tide while you're drifting backwards.
Ownership realizes as it looks toward the future it's going to be saddled with huge contracts that will continue to make the Red Sox one of, if not the, highest paid teams in the game; plus they'll have hard decisions to make regarding the contracts of Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. That doesn't even take into consideration the unsettling fact that the farm system has been pretty much stripped of A-list prospects who have been used as chips to acquire big-name players.
Is it any wonder, then, that the guys who pay the bills decided to say, "Just step this way, if you will, Mr. Dombrowski, and rest your head comfortably on this chopping block. This won't take but a minute."
And it didn't. Before the sun came up the morning after still another dispiriting loss to the dreaded Evil Empire of Gotham City the deed had been done; carried out with the cold efficiency of a Whitey Bulger hit. The miracle worker of 2018, the same guy who had morphed into the over-spending doofus of 2019, was gone.
Baseball is a great game. It's also a cold, tough business.
An old pal and I were commiserating about that and other issues relating to the mortality of man while having lunch on the day after the news broke of Dombrowski's demise. He -- my pal, not Dombrowski -- and I have known one another for about half a century, dating back to when he was a young reporter assigned to the the State House and I was a wet-behind-the-ears press aid and speech writer. We were the same age, had common interests, and just seemed to hit it off. As time went by, he developed a long and productive newspaper career as a writer and editor, while I gravitated toward the electronic media. Our careers followed parallel paths, but he was busy with his, and with his family, and I with mine, and we didn't see one another for years. We were always aware of what the other was up to -- I was with him, anyhow, and he became a big deal at The Boston Globe, but our paths never crossed.
A few years ago, we reconnected (more to his credit than mine) and have since fallen into a pattern of having lunch together every five or six weeks. We are still, alas, the same age and neither one of us hears nearly as well as we used to, so on days when the restaurant we go to (always the same one) is busy and the hum of many conversations fills the air, we have trouble hearing what the other guy is saying. So, we do what old guys do. We fake it. We nod sagely in agreement when the other makes a point we haven't quite picked up on. As a result, both of us are convinced that the other is a pretty smart fellow because he seems to agree with me or I with him on so many things. If we ever break down and get hearing aids, we might discover that most of the time the other guy doesn't know what the devil he's talking about.
That said, we have each been around long enough not to be shocked when someone in the news -- someone like Dave Dombrowski -- falls from a position of lofty heights. After all, we remember when President George H. W. Bush had approval ratings of 90 percent, only to lose the next election to Bill Clinton. Conversely, we also remember when Tom Menino was thought of as an accidental mayor, just inhabiting the office until a real one came along. Menino, of course, wound up being the longest serving mayor in Boston history.
So you never know. None of us does.
Think of the odds you could have gotten if you had placed a bet last New Year's Day that Dombrowski would be out of a job before this season was over. But when you factor in that David Price, Chris Sale, and Nathan Eovaldi have only 14 wins among them with less than 20 games left in the season, and that they all are locked into contracts that will cost the Red Sox 77 million big ones next year alone, his axing seems foreordained.
It was the suddenness of the execution that came as a surprise. Nobody saw it coming, maybe not even John Henry and Tom Werner. But when there was still another beatdown at the hands of Damn Yankees, it became too much to bear. In retrospect we should have seen it coming.
Hindsight is always 20/20; foresight is always myopic.
- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox “Poet Laureate” and The Pilot’s recently minted Sports’ columnist.