LONGSHOTS: Life can be like riding a tiger by the tail
by Dave Long
Isn’t amazing how quickly things can change?
Just think back to 2007. The Red Sox had just won their second World Series in four years. The Patriots were rampaging to the first undefeated regular season since the 1972 Dolphins, while breaking the league record for most points scored and pretty much everyone thought they would seal the deal with their fourth Super Bowl title in six years. Optimism abounded on the parquet as the Celtics were starting the season with a second version of The Big Three — which became the precursor to winning championship number 17 the following June.
Bill Belichick was called a “genius.” So was Theo Epstein, and while not calling him a genius, everybody was starting to realize the plan Danny Ainge had all along was a pretty good one after years of mocking that plan. Now two thirds of that has changed and the other third was tittering a short time ago Thanks to losing three of four prior to Sunday and an onslaught of risky to “Are you out of your mind?” attempts on fourth and short, for the first time people are outwardly second-guessing what Belichick has done of late. And for Theo Epstein the head-scratching was even more pronounced prior to Monday’s big signings as he was talking of building a bridge to minor-league talent that won’t be fully functional at the major-league level until 2012 and willing to pay $9 million NOT to have Mike Lowell around.
But that’s a veritable lifetime compared to where the Celtics have traveled in two weeks. After losing at home on three straight Fridays — the Celtics and especially Kevin Garnett were being called “old” by the hand-wringers and those like Michael Felger who prefer snap judgments over a little time for reason. Now, after winning their last 11, eight on the road, they have the best record in the league, are back on top of the ESPN Power Rankings and everyone is talking title again. That was a pretty quick trip from (Tim) nearing despair to exaltation, wouldn’t you say?
And that was nothing compared to the runaway train Tiger Woods has ridden during the exact same time, when he’s gone from a global icon to a national joke as an endless string of bimbos kept surfacing to make James Bond look like a 15 handicapper compared to him in the Lothario department. And when you consider he’s not broken any law or even been charged with a serious crime, as Kobe Bryant was, it is absolutely stunning how fast he has fallen from his perch to where he’s now taking an extended break from golf to try and put his shattered home life back together (as the PR spin says) or, more likely, let the whole thing blow over in hopes of salvaging some of his fading business empire.
So what’s the lesson in all this?
Well, the most obvious is, like in the case of OJ Simpson, which I hate to put in this sentence because Tiger doesn’t remotely compare to him, things aren’t always as they seem. Second, since track records are built over time, snap judgments rarely are the best way to arrive at a full answer, even though it’s hard to avoid it in the 24/7 cable/Internet world.
So what should we be thinking about Coach B, Theo and Tiger? Mostly that they’re not as great as most thought at peak and not as bad as they seem as the public grumbling is now the loudest it’s ever been. As Herald columnist Ron Borges said the other day: do you think Belichick has forgotten how to coach? It was a comment saying the problems have more to do with Belichick the GM than the coach as his drafting record in his first four drafts is far superior to what it has been since 2005, where 13 players were major contributors to great teams and only five fit that description on the less successful current team, as he also let Assante Samuel walk from a talent-deprived secondary and overpaid for Adalius Thomas. But the coach has also fallen in love with offense over the defense — which was the backbone of the five Super Bowl-winning teams he’s been part of here and with the Giants. They’re still in good hands, but he needs to snap out of that and get back to thinking D first.
In the case of Theo, he’s made some bold, very shrewd moves like having the guts to trade Nomar and the smarts to get Victor Martinez. He’s done a terrific job with the farm system, but before he’s on par with the Braves of the 1990s, we’ll need to see if this was a nice run like Belichick had drafting from 2000 to 2004, or a continuous flow. On the down side is the maddening revolving door at shortstop (nine and counting since 2003) and at times it seems he’s fallen too in love with his farm system over the real goal an upper-tier-of-payroll team has for a productive farm system — use it to win NOW as the Yanks just did in their deal to get the dynamic Curtis Granderson!
But maybe that’s just my perception. Low costs for Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury helped him get John Lackey this week and that could lead to Clay Buchholz being the one to go for Adrian Gonzalez. Of course, I’d rather trade Lackey and keep Buchholz — who will be better than the newcomer by 2011. But that’s a story for another day that I just wanted to get on the record. And, as you probably know, I think he relies too much on the stat geek numbers, which has led to failure or vastly overpaying for free agents, as he did with Lackey, and is perhaps why 97-year-old Mike Cameron is now the left fielder instead of the more expensive Jason Bay. But he’s won it twice and that’s the bottom line, isn’t it, even if it’s tempered by really competing for the title in a league of only about eight high-payroll teams with an occasional cameo from a Tampa Bay.
So what we finally have with Theo is a real track record to evaluate. One that has a lot more good than bad, which says the job is in pretty good hands overall, just not those of an infallible genius.
As for Tiger, let’s hope this trip to oblivion really does help Humpty Dumpty put his marriage back together. Although if someone cares so little about it in the first place as he seems to have, you have to wonder. But whatever the outcome, here’s the script he should follow when he comes back: I made mistakes, paid for them dearly, am sorry and I intend to learn from this. If he’s believable and lives up to it, America’s forgiving and he’ll have a chance to earn back a measure of the respect he lost. Unless the PED story surrounding a Canadian doctor who once treated him has substance — then it’s ballgame.
In the end what it all says is that life is filled with ups and downs and the ones who get through them all are the ones who just keep pushing through when times are worst.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.