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by John Cardullo, sportswriter
Random thoughts on the Boston Bruins, the Boston Celtics and the Boston Red Sox, seasons that where going, going and gone!
As I witnessed what had happened to end the seasons of the Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins seasons, in total disbelieve, it was hard to imagine a story or stories topping these two colossal meltdowns, but then the PGA-Liv story broke putting a new light on professional sports and the athletes who make their living off them. What happened over the last several weeks drove home the fact that athletes on a professional level only care about the bottom line and if the fans get any dividends, that’s good for them but not their priority.
Let’s start with the Boston Bruins, the rough and tough big, bad Bruins. Bruin fans have always had a spot in their hearts for this team. They were as tough as the city itself! The Bruins reflected in many ways the New England region, the everyman who went to work in the cold, dead of winter as hardened has the cold northeastern winter wind that blows in from the Atlantic Ocean. The Bruins fans where a tough and loyal as any fans of any team, of any sport, of any town.
Little than anyone knew, the 2022-23 Bruins team were about to light up a cold winter season in New England. Going into the season there were questions about the team. Have the core group of players gotten old? Is the goalie situation resolved? And after firing the coach Bruce Cassidy, how would the team respond under new coach Jim Montgomery? What the team did was to blow out of the gates and never lifted their foot off the pedal the entire season! The team established themselves in 1st place and ended the regular season with the best record in the history of the NHL, ever, at 65-12-5.
Everything the Bruins did during the season turned to gold! New Coach? No problem! A goalie situation? No worries! The typical seasonal injury? The next man stepped up! The Bruins was firing on all cylinders, and it looked as if no team were going to stop them. That was until the last seeded team in the East, the Florida Panthers took the ice in the 1st round of the play-offs. To many Bruins fans, these Panthers were nothing more than a tune up to the next round. Then just like that the wheels came off the Bruins. There was a goalie problem, there were injury problems, there were an inability to score goals and the new Head Coach couldn’t coach! So instead of the Bruins hoisting up the Stanley Cup, the team was bounced out in the first round of the play-offs by the last seeded team., (a team by the way that has made it to the Stanley Cup finals against the Las Vegas Golden Knights who happen to be coached by none other than the Bruins freshly fired head Coach Bruce Cassidy).
In a matter of a few weeks the Boston Bruins went from being a potential hockey dynasty to a team with a lot of questions about it’s future. Is the head coach the right person to lead this team? What are they going to do to resolve the goalie problem? Are they going to re-sign some high-priced veterans? Free agents? Or start over and rebuild? This is what happens when you go from the penthouse to the outhouse in record speed! One thing is for sure the Bruins are in for an interesting off season!
Let’s move onto the Boston Celtics, a team only a year ago was playing for the championship of the NBA. It looked like a team that was on the rise as well. First year coach Ime Udoka managed to get the green team pulling in one single direction. In today’s NBA, this is not an easy task. The era of the Larry Bird Celtic teams was long gone as former Celtic coach Roaming Rick Pitino once said, “Larry Bird isn’t coming through the door anytime soon!” and for the Celtics, those words floated through the Boston Garden like the smoke of Red Aurbauch’s cigar smoke. The new era of player was emerging, players who went to teams as free agents to try to get their friends to go with them and start a “have basketball, will travel” flavor of the year team. Although this wasn’t started with LeBron James, it certainly was refined and polished under his rule of the NBA. The problem that soon emerged was that star players were just that, star players and many didn’t want to give anything up for the benefit of the team. They all wanted to be “THE MAN!” This was the main reason the Brooklyn Nets haven’t been able to get out of their own way and the Los Angeles Lakers with Lebron running the show, has been ineffective.
Over the last few years, the Celtics began rebuilding through the draft and found their corner stone in Jayson Tatum, and Tatum rose to superstar statis. As the team pieced around him with solid players around Jaylyn Brown, Marcus Smart and NBA journeyman Al Harwfort (not once but in his second go round with the team). Longtime head coach Brad Stephens moved into the front office, replacing on time Celtic star Danny Angie in the General manager position. The question on Stephens was he to soft on the players coaching from the bench? His strategy with the X’s and O’s on basketball was as solid as they came, his knowledge of the game and personal was top notch, but his yearly failures to get the team beyond the first and second round of the play-off’s was beginning to wear on the Celtic faithful. So, when Angie decided to bow out, it opened the door for Stephens to move into the front office.
Stephens brought in little known Ime Udoka to coach the team. After a spotty start, Udoka got the team all on the same page. Players started to work into their assigned roles and pull together and ran the table in the conference play-offs and landed back into the NBA finals where the Celtics fell short of the title to a seasoned Golden State Warriors team. The future looked bright for the Celtics, well that was until the married Udoka was discovered having inappropriate relations with a Celtic low-level subordinate. At first, he was suspended and then ultimately dismissed as the Celtic head coach. Celtic assistant and Rhode Island native Joe Mazzulla was elevated to be the “Interim” head coach, then Head Coach of the Celtics. The former Bishop Hendricken, then West Virginia star moved into the head coaching seat with ease.
The Celtics won the division with a 57-25 record, finishing three games ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers (the team that was predicted before the season to win the division). Entering the play-offs the Celtics moved past the Atlanta Hawks, then beat the 76ers before taking on the number 8 seeded Miami Heat. Going down 3 games to none to the Heat, the Celtics had them where they wanted them. Tying up the series 3-3 the deciding game was to be played at the Boston Garden where to the stunned amazement to the Celtic fans, it was Miami celebrating on the parquet floor of the garden and the Celtics were going home.
The Celtics went from the team to beat for years to come, another green and white dynasty to the team that needs to make wholesale changes from the top to the bottom. Mazzulla is too young and inexperienced, Tatum is too soft, he relies on the 3-point shot too much! Brown needs to go! Smart needs to go! Etc., etc., etc. Fans wanted the team “blown up” and reassembled, but that’s not how they do it in Boston. Smartly selected free agents, strategic resigning’s and players understanding their roles have been the Celtics bread and butter for years. This is how the Celtics will proceed, despite the fans outcry and temperature currently is. The Celtics always made decisions based on the long-term success of the franchise first and foremost. But the fact is, somethings need to happen to get them to be more stable in higher pressure situations. Games played in the middle of a cold January changes in the middle of a play-off run in May, As far as Joe Mazzulla is concerned, he will gather the experience and grow as a NBA coach, some of the best coaches are the ones that you had and let go and wished that you had them back!
The bottom line is that like the Bruins, and the Celtics may have put too much into the regular season and had nothing left in the tank for the play-off run where as the Miami Heat and Florida Panthers accepted their position in the play-off’s and rested players, allowed those hurt to heal up and get them set to make their run, at this point both the Panthers and Heat made it to the finals and the Celtics and Bruins are on vacation! Are we the fan base disappointed? We sure are! Are we going to desert them when next season? Absolutely not! That’s not how Boston fans roll, we accept, we heal, and we move on to the next season.
The hope for the local fan remains the Boys of Summer, the Boston Red Sox. Since the turn of the century the Red Sox have been amazing. Winning World Series Championships in 2004, 2007, 2013 and 2018. Finally shaking of the “curse of the Bambino” the Red Sox under the ownership group John Henry, Tom Warner, Michael Gordon and David Ginsberg forming the Fenway Sports group changed the culture, bringing talented people both to the front office and onto the field. The result has been the Red Sox are the dynasty of the early part of the century. Recent events have changed, and it has been reflected on the field.
Expanding their interest in other sports ventures such as over seas soccer and live musical and event entertainment. The business of the baseball business seems to have taken a back seat. Reduction to minor league farm systems may have played a role in the drought of quality players moving up to the major league level, but this is the case for all major league baseball. The ownership group brought in Alex Cora to manage the team and in his first season Cora brought home the World Series championship. He was dismissed the next season when a scandal dealing with sign stealing came to light while he was the bench coach of the Houston Astros. For Cora, he went from the toast of the town to run out of town on a rail!
Although Cora’s Astro’s practiced the art of stealing opponents pitching signals has been used by virtually every team in the entire history of the sport since signs were used between pitchers and catchers from when Abney Doubleday invented the sport in the1839. But it is illegal and frowned upon even today. Cora, who was credited for using a banging signal against a trash can, to make his players who were at bat aware what pitch they should expect. He developed this scheme while in Houston when the Astros won the 2017 World Series. It was claimed that he brought the same system to Boston, who went onto win the 2018 World Series. Cora was fired and looked as though his future in baseball was finished.
As the next season rolled around and the pandemic took hold of the world, the fortunes of the Red Sox began to go south and the team unachieved. Listless and uninspired the teams on field failures was too much for the ownership group. Brian O’Halloran was named the teams General Manager and in the delayed 2020 season the team named Chaim Bloom being brought in as the teams Chief Baseball Officer. Bloom rehired Alex Cora as the Red Sox manager in 2021. The team responded and followed up a play-off less season by qualifying for the Wild card and moving his team into another World Series before losing to the Houston Astros. The 2022 season fell nothing short as a complete failure when the Boston Red Sox ended the season with a 78 win and 84 loses, with the team finishing if 5th place of the first place New York Yankees. So far, the 2023 season has not been any kinder to the Red Sox, currently they are sitting at the bottom of their division with a 30 win and 30 loss record and 15 games behind the division leading Tampa Bay Rays.
Some of the issues that are plaquing the team is their starting pitching has been inconsistent. Paying millions of dollars to Ace Chris Sales who came over by way of the Chicago White Sox has been often on the team’s injury report and ineffective. Since the team won its last World Series in 2018 the mass departures of several of the teams best players, Mookie Best, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. while getting nothing to replace them. An anemic offense and shotty defense have plagued the team for over a year and the outlook doesn’t look bright.
The franchise that once would go through any lengths to put a winning team on the field seems disinterested. It appears as they have lost interest on the comings and goings of their once flag ship of their sports empire. In a new baseball era that has the average fan with a family of four, going to a major league baseball game that sees them spending over $1,600.00 to go to that game. Figure the price for tickets, travel expense to and from the game, parking and food at the game. Gone are the days of the disposable income to sit through 3 hours of mostly unexciting game. where the players are only looking to their next big contract rather than playing as their career depends on it. Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice and Carlton Fisk would be ashamed of the culture of the players playing today.
What the Red Sox need to do is rather than selling us on the team is in contention right now and it business as usual up at Fenway, they need to start making changes now. Shipping players out and bringing players in who want to play in Boston, who want to stay in Boston but most importantly who want to win in Boston! For most of the last twenty years Boston has been the leader and place to play when it has come to the four major sports and the Boston fans has been spoiled by the riches. The winds have shifted, and times have changed, if these iconic franchises fail to keep up with these changes they will fall by the wayside and who know when or even if they will be relative again? All we know is that the future is in their hands!
John Cardullo, sportswriter