Sunday, April 13, 2014

Building a Champion

So, lately I’ve been staring at a picture on my computer. It’s from Opening Day, of all the Boston sports champions lined up on the pitcher’s mound displaying the collection of trophies. It’s mesmerizing as a stare at it, remembering all the good times associated with those championships.

I’m reminded, as I’m sure we’re all aware, that the Patriots titles came much earlier than the others. They had three of the first four in the group, but none of the last four. That has led some people to think that they don’t care about winning anymore. That Kraft has his three rings, so now he’s happy to just compete. He just wants to make AFC Championship games, but doesn’t want to go the extra mile to push them over the top. My reaction to that has usually been that, especially in a salary cap league, you can’t build an automatic champion. You can’t get the most talented player at every position. You can’t just go get a team that steamrolls the league on their way to a title. The best you can hope for is to get one of the top two or three teams in the league, and hope you can win the last game. Not only that, but the one time they really came the closest to the dominant team, they went 18-1 and didn’t win a thing.

Conversely, I’ve had the exact same complaint about the Red Sox. Theo always said that he wanted to model the Sox after the Braves and their player development machine. He always ignored that the Braves only won one title in their decade plus of dominance. Contrast that to the Marlins, who won twice in that time frame by going all in. It was also, really, how the Sox won in 2004. They had four players in the last year of their contracts, and went out and grabbed two studs to make a run. It wasn’t about being good enough to compete. It was about building a team to win.

Then what about 2013?

Was last year’s team exactly what Theo and the Pats were talking about?

They certainly weren’t built to dominate. They were built to be darn good. They just had to hope a little luck would take them the rest of the way. Which, thankfully, it did.

It might be that the Braves plan only really works if you have a ring. Otherwise using the argument that, “If we keep getting close, one of those time it will fall our way” leaves open the possibility that it might not. It might never. Can Theo stay in Chicago and build a team to be good tomorrow, as opposed to one that’s great today? Can you build the division winner, and hope that one of your pitchers spins some gems come playoff time? Probably not. Once you’ve got the first one, it’s easier to say you’re building a team that could get a bunch of them.

Until then, you need that first one.

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