What a difference a year makes.
Last season, Terry Francona, whom principal owner John Henry described as "the best manager the Red Sox ever had" led his superstar-clad lineup into Fort Myers, Florida to prepare for the foregone conclusion of a season. The Red Sox were destined to win the World Series (against the Phillies, another team that also did not make it to the Fall Classic).
Why would anyone think they didn't have a shot? The team had just traded for slugger Adrian Gonzalez and signed free-agent All-Star Carl Crawford. The expectations were high for the starting five of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Their lineup was stacked, top to bottom.
That is when April happened, and the team lost its first six games. Then 10 of their first 12. Granted, they would only lose 11 games total in the month of April while winning 15, but the questions began.
Quickly all concern was lost as the team went on to play the best baseball in the majors from May through August. Then, well, we all remember what happened in September.
This offseason had a whole different feel than last. There were no major signings. There was, however, a whole lot of people leaving town.
Do you like Bobby Valentine's approach thus far?
Terry Francona, Jonathan Papelbon, Theo Epstein, JD Drew and Marco Scutaro are all gone by various means. John Lackey is out for the season (praise Jesus), and Daisuke Matsuzaka will miss a large portion of the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Enter Bobby Valentine.
The 61-year-old Valentine came into Boston saying all of the right things, making some nice appearances locally. Now it is February, spring training time, and time to go to work.
Be it the initial reports that the Red Sox players were "grumbling" over the signing of Valentine or the more recent reactions they're expressing with his energy and unique approach to camp, Bobby V has been the story so far. Kevin Youkilis is quoted by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports:
“For a guy his age to still do all that is pretty cool,” Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis says. “I’ve seen a lot of young guys (that energetic). But a man of his age, no.”
To any member of the Red Sox who publicly or privately are upset by Valentine's rules and approach to the game, I say good. If it were not for the team's complete collapse and lack of discipline and rules in 2011 they very well could have won the World Series, and they would have retained the more laid back approach brought forth by former manager Terry Francona.
As the saying goes, you reap what you sow. The team literally became fat and lazy at the end of last season. No, Adrian Gonzalez, it is not a matter of "People gotta eat..." as you say. It is a matter of personal accountability and professionalism, something that Valentine is bringing back to Boston in a big way in 2012.