What do the Maine Legislature and Red Sox manager Terry Francona have in common? Both made unpopular decisions regarding important people this week, in response to present conditions and to improve the long-term viability of the organization.
They did what needed to be done.
On Francona’s part, it was acknowledging that David Ortiz cannot hit third anymore. Whatever the storied slugger is experiencing has transcended a slump and is, perhaps, signaling decline. The manager knew his team was suffering. The numbers didn’t lie.
So, Big Papi has been demoted to sixth. For a player whose on-field achievements have become legendary, this decision was unquestionably difficult, maybe anguishing. There was Ortiz’s pride and reputation at stake. Yet Francona knew — as good stewards should — the team comes first.
Then, there is the Maine Legislature, which enacted a biennial budget that carries significant cuts to state workers, in the form of 20 shutdown days, elimination of merit and longevity increases and added employee costs for health insurance.
Savings from this move are calculated at $34 million, which the organization desperately needs to balance its books. State workers have protested cuts at every turn, first by fending off a 5 percent across-the-board pay decrease, then by rallying in the State House to oppose the current plan.
Lawmakers have been unmoved, though. The budget containing these provisions received a unanimous vote of the bean-counting Appropriations Committee. The House of Representatives passed the budget Tuesday, with minimal amending. The Senate passed it Wednesday, with nary a change. Gov. John Baldacci is scheduled to sign it at 3:30 today.
They know — as good stewards should — the needs of the organization must take precedence over the concerns of any single constituency. The state’s worst budget fears have come true and, in this economic climate, there was little chance the public sector workforce would be unaffected.
Nor, one may argue, should it. During Ortiz’s season-long struggles, an atmosphere of inevitability surrounded him, with the conclusion known, but unsaid: Unless something significant changes in the immediate term, the organization cannot continue on this course. Fans knew it. Players knew it. The manager knew it. Ortiz knew it. 
The same with state workers. Unless the economic situation in Maine improved dramatically, workforce sacrifices were almost preordained. Private-sector struggles in Maine foreshadowed a confrontation in Augusta over compensation and insurance.
Both Francona and lawmakers were patient. They gave the situation chances to turn around, before succumbing to reality. Then, they made the choice without malice or haste, merely the uncomfortable regret that comes from doing what is necessary.
Of course, not everything in these scenarios is parallel. While Ortiz has accepted his assignment with dignity, workers have responded with indignation. This rebuke shows a deafness to the circumstances that precipitated these cuts. Ortiz heard things loud and clear.
“I’ve got to work my way up, right? That’s about it,” he told the Boston Globe.
Now that sounds like a team player.  

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