Playing the Blame Game

QUIZ TIME, boys and girls.

Some background info: The Boston Red Sox didn't win the American League East this season. They finished second.

Now imagine you're Red Sox general manager Lou Gorman. What do you do?

a. Blame Matt Young. Signed to a multi-million dollar free agent contract over the winter, Young posted a pitiful 3-7 record with a horrific 5.18 earned run average. He also developed a psychological tic that has rendered him constitutionally incapable of throwing the ball to first base. (I am not making this up.)

b. Blame Danny Darwin. Signed to a multi-million dollar free agent contract over the winter, Darwin posted a 3-6 record with a 5.16 ERA. Then he blew out his elbow.


c. Blame yourself. After all, you signed these big-time busts. You shelled out $32 million of the club's money to pay a mediocre band of chronic underachievers for a year. You made the series of dunder-head trades (Dave Henderson for Randy Kutcher?) that made the Sox so lousy in the first place.

d. None of the above.

The correct answer, of course, is d. For general managers, the correct answer is always d. You're not about to blame yourself. You can't risk alienating your players. And second place is not to a tolerable result.

So you blame the manager. You fire Joe Morgan.

GORMAN IS NOT ALONE. Americans love to find scapegoats.

Did Marion Barry get caught smoking crack? Well, then it must have been a racist conspiracy. Or maybe the bitch set him up. Or maybe the devil made him do it. But it certainly wasn't Barry's fault. Just like those serial killings weren't Ted Bundy's fault (the porn made him do it) and those assassinations weren't Dan White's fault (the Twinkies made him do it).

Usually, this don't-blame-me syndrome manifests itself in that quintessentially American activity--the lawsuit. Over the summer, New York magazine told of a man who threw out his back in a refrigerator-carrying race, then sued the company that manufactured the refrigerator for failing to warn him not to run races with it strapped to his back.

A recent issue of Time had an anecdote about Christopher Duffy of Framingham. Duffy stole a car from a poorly lit parking lot, wrecked it in a high-speed chase with police, then died of his injuries. His estate sued the owners of the parking lot, claiming that they should have done more to prevent auto theft.

First, Ted Bundy. Next, Marion Barry. Now, the Boston Red Sox. Everybody points the finger at somebody else.

It's a familiar American story. We expect our lives to be perfect, and when they are not--our babies are born with nine toes, our fenders are dented, our bonds are devalued, we slip on an icy sidewalk, we get hit by a foul ball--we blame somebody (the doctor, the garage, the broker, the city, the team).