After its playoffs collapse, Red Sox losing free agents

Jonathan Papelbon's departure marks the first among Red Sox players, several of whom also are free agents and were stalwarts during the ball club's successful decade.

Winslow Townson/AP
In this Sept. photo, Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon pumps his fist after striking out Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria to end the game at Fenway Park in Boston. Papelbon is moving to the Philadelphia Phillies under a $50 million, four-year contract.

Ever notice the gestures, sweeping and not so much, your home-town baseball team's players perform? Often they are more noticeable by their absence once a player gets traded or dives into the free-agency pool

Up in Red Sox Nation, they can be the stuff of legend: Nomar Garciaparra's endless series of batting-glove adjustments before each new pitch; David Ortiz's spit-in-the-palms hand claps between pitches; and now, missing from the array, Jonathan Papelbon's fist bumps with the security guard manning the bullpen gate when the closer took the mound, or the energetic fist pump after the final out of a save.

Boston's once-wunderkind and still formidable closer is to don a Phillies cap – for a cool $50 million and four years' worth of work.

For seasoned observers of the national pastime, the departure was no surprise. After the St. Louis Cardinals knocked the Phillies out of World Series contention during the National League Championship Series this fall, the Phillies are angling for another run at the title.

And the Red Sox closer was up for free agency coming off a largely respectable season. 

Largely, but not completely. The Bosox ended the season in a collapse from playoff contention that has to rank with sending Babe Ruth to the Yankees or Bill Buckner's fielding gaffe during the 1986 World Series, which kept the Mets alive to ultimately capture the title.

This season's collapse cost manager Terry Francona his job. General manager Theo Epstein headed for the land of the ever-hopeful Cubs fans.

Papelbon's departure marks the first among Red Sox players, several of whom also are free agents and were stalwarts during the ball club's successful decade. Five other players, including Ortiz, knuckle-baller Tim Wakefield, and long-time team captain Jason Varitek, also are free agents.

For lifer-type Red Sox fans, this off-season of shake-ups is traumatic, if necessary, to pave the way for such future glory as may loom on the horizon. Hope does spring eternal.

But some fans are geographic transients, enjoying the teams in whatever city they currently call home.

I had just moved to Miami when the Dolphins won their historic back-to-back Super Bowls, the second coming at the end of an undefeated season, co-produced by the experienced arm of an aging Earl Morrall, who took over during game 5 of the season when Bob Griese was sidelined by an injury.

A much longer stay in New England has netted the end of the Red Sox's 86-year "Curse of the Bambino," plus an additional World Series title, and three Super Bowl victories for the until-then titleless New England Patriots.    

In a time of change, and without foreclosing on the possibility of more team successes to come, perhaps the best words for the departing under such circumstances are: Thanks for the memories.  

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