Struggling Sox tuned out by fans

Posted July 30, 2010, at 1:25 a.m.

Perhaps this is a “bridge” season not only for John Henry and Theo Epstein, but for the fans of Red Sox Nation, too.

Henry and Epstein alluded during the most recent off-season that the Red Sox would not be willing to sacrifice the Boston Red Sox’s long-term future for instant gratification in 2010, with Epstein suggesting that “we’re kind of in a bridge period.”

The Sox then went out and shored up their starting pitching by re-signing Josh Beckett and plucking John Lackey from free agency, both for big bucks, but turned more economical in their search for field replacements with the likes of Mike Cameron, Jeremy Hermida, Marco Scutaro and Adrian Beltre.

Now it’s past the halfway mark of the season, and nearly as many discussions are being held about whether the Sox should be buyers or sellers as the trade deadline approaches this weekend.

What’s more, some fans are tuning out the team, at least on TV and radio.

News out of Boston this week reported that television ratings for Red Sox games on NESN are down 36 percent from a year ago, while ratings on flagship radio station WEEI-AM that serves greater Boston are down 16.5 percent overall, 28 percent among male listeners ages 25-54.

Attendance has seen no such downturn, with the team recently hosting its 600th consecutive sellout.

But some of that can be attributed to the small seating capacity at Fenway Park, as well as the appeal of the park itself as a New England landmark.

As for the ratings issue, there are plenty of excuses being floated, ranging from the competing deep playoff runs of the Celtics and Bruins last spring to the injuries that have robbed the team of several of its top players for extended periods.

Others even point to the weather, saying it’s been so good that people are choosing not to stay indoors to watch the Red Sox on TV for 3 ½ hours when they could be outside basking in the sun.

Then there are the more cynical reasons, such as the lack of star power and personalities on this year’s team.

These certainly are not the 2004 Red Sox, the “idiots” like Manny Ramirez and Kevin Millar and Johnny Damon who not only loosened up the clubhouse enough to help their team end 84 years of championship futility, they made the team thoroughly entertaining for the masses.

Or perhaps Red Sox fans have been spoiled by their success, so being seven games out of first place or five games out of the wild-card spot with 60 games to play isn’t a compelling enough reason to turn on the television or the radio.

Or, heaven forbid, perhaps the Red Sox have written off this season because the New York Yankees are just better, and as much as the Sox may or may not be willing to spend, the Yankees may be willing to spend more in their quest to honor late owner George Steinbrenner with yet another World Series title.

I don’t know for sure whether the ratings decline is limited to Boston and its suburbs as the radio numbers suggest, or whether it plagues all of Red Sox Nation.

I sense that to some extent it is more widespread, for as much as Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava and Bill Hall have contributed well beyond expectations, Red Sox fans in the post-World Series drought environment demand star power.

And that might be a bridge too far for this year’s team to cross – although won’t one 10-game winning streak just change everything?

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