The Red Sox are struggling this season. In fact, they’ve been struggling since last September.
The Red Sox lost 18 of their final 24 games last fall and have gone 16-19 to start the 2012 season.
But their struggles aren’t all on the field.
The clubhouse problems started last September with the chicken and beer fiasco and continued into this season with Josh Beckett playing golf when he supposedly was “resting” a sore lat muscle.
There’s a definite clubhouse problem that has to be resolved before this team can truly be a contender.
The current four-game win streak has been nice but the lingering clubhouse problems must be fixed.
Here are 10 ways the Red Sox can end their clubhouse drama once and for all.
Bobby Valentine has to take control of his team.
And yes, it is his team.
Valentine needs to be the fiery, alpha-male that Red Sox fans thought they were getting. He has to pull a Bull Durham, throw the bats in the shower kind of move.
It may seem counterintuitive to fix drama by creating drama—but it could have a calming influence on the clubhouse. Like children in a first grade classroom, these Red Sox players may simply be craving some structure.
Now, why hasn’t he provided some structure to his needy team, you ask?
Well, with seemingly little support from upper management Valentine has been resigned to a deer-in-the-headlights mute position. He is a body keeping the manager’s office warm.
If the Red Sox wanted a puppet to manage to the team Valentine should not have been the man the Red Sox hired.
He has to make a bold move.
Remember when Jimy Williams (a very underrated manager by the way) benched Pedro Martinez in 1999 because Martinez arrived at the ballpark just 30 minutes before he was scheduled to pitch?
Williams sent the message loud and clear that no one, not even a sure-fire Hall of Fame pitcher, was above the team.
It’s time for Valentine to prove that same point. He just has to do it soon—before the inmates truly start running the asylum.
Ben Cherington has emasculated Valentine this season.
Cherington went out and hired a strong personality to lead the Red Sox. But early on in this partnership Cherington seems more worried about his players' feelings than allowing Valentine to run the team in his own fashion.
In mid-April Valentine said the following about Kevin Youkilis, “I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason.”(Yahoo! Sports)
That one sentence assessment of Youkilis seemed fair. Last season Youkilis only hit .258 and played in just 112 games. Youkilis is a career .288 hitter. He had an underwhelming spring and Valentine seemed to be stating the obvious.
But then came the clarification. Valentine went out of his way to make sure his comments were simply misunderstood by the public, “I should have been more specific. Physical is about your swing, emotional is about not being happy when he doesn’t hit a ball off the wall.”
Wow. Really Bobby? Red Sox fans are savvy and knew what you meant. You didn’t have to clarify or apologize.
Cherington said Valentine’s apology was the right thing to do:
"I think it was appropriate just because something is printed in a way where it doesn't completely accurately reflect his meaning doesn't mean there is an effect of that. If I was Kevin and I woke up this morning and saw that, it would have got my attention, so I think an apology was appropriate even though it wasn't Bobby's intent to criticize him.” (NESN)
Getting his attention was exactly the point. It seemed to be a simple way to light a fire under Youkilis.
It was only April and Valentine’s personality was already being groomed like a politician in an election year.
Valentine followed, “I’d be surprised if Kevin didn’t know I was totally behind him. We’re big boys. I think he’ll get it. If not, I’ll talk to him a lot more.” (SI.com)
I’m sorry Bobby, you do not have a team of big boys.
Cherington should support his manager at every turn. If Cherington and Valentine do not put up a united front on important clubhouse issues there’s no chance the clubhouse drama will ever end this year.
Josh Beckett has been a lighting rod in Boston since last September’s historic collapse.
Thursday’s May 10 outing only added to the voltage.
After taking heat for going on a golf outing after being scratched from the lineup because of an injury, Beckett had the chance to silence his critics against the Cleveland Indians.
That didn’t happen.
Beckett allowed seven runs in 2.1 innings. He walked two and struck out two. He allowed a two-out, two-run home run to Jack Hannahan, Cleveland’s ninth hitter in the lineup.
His ERA ballooned to 5.97.
This was Beckett’s briefest outing since 2008. (mlb.com)
While Beckett was struggling, Twitter blew up on him.
ESPN reporter Gordon Edes found himself answering tweets from Red Sox fans about the tradability of Beckett.
This led to an interesting series of tweets by Edes during Beckett’s outing.
Edes tweeted about the “foul” mood of the game, which according to Edes involved mock golf swings from the fans, excessive booing and a possibility of an “insurrection.”
Fan does a mock golf swing behind dugout as Beckett departs to wincing level of booing
Sounds of silence? No, sounds of booing. And cheers for Bobby V as he comes out to get Beckett
4-1, and we may be on the verge of an insurrection. Mood getting foul
Those tweets represented the thoughts of Red Sox fans everywhere.
What happened to Josh Beckett?
What happened to the young gunslinger who shutdown the Yankees in the 2003 World Series? Beckett was the World Series MVP that year and seemed to have ice water in his veins.
Something has changed.
It’s easy to forget Beckett was a great pitcher for all but one month last season.
Last year Beckett went 13-7, with a 2.89 ERA and 175 strikeouts but he couldn’t buy a win in September.
Red Sox fans remember that.
Maybe Beckett has chicken grease in his veins now.
If Beckett wasn’t injured enough to not play golf he should not have been injured enough to miss his scheduled start.
Still, the bleep-storm that followed could have been avoided if Beckett simply showed any ounce of contrition.
So what did Beckett have to say for himself after one of they worst outings of his career? An outing that came immediately after the public learned he played golf when he could have been resting his lat injury?
John Tomase of the Boston Herald asked Beckett just that.
“I spend my off days the way I want to spend them. My off day is my off day. We get 18 off days a year. I think we deserve a little bit of time to ourselves.”
If Beckett did understand the entire situation looked bad for him he simply didn’t have the guts to say so. If he didn’t understand then perhaps he just doesn’t care anymore.
Jackie MacMullan of ESPN recently wrote:
“I really do think he’s hit the point of no return and I’m interested to see what the Red Sox will do because they are one of the most PR-conscious organizations in sports history that I’ve seen. They care what the public thinks. And what the public thinks of Josh Beckett right now isn’t very good. So if Josh Beckett is poisoning your brand, and I think he has, very much so … I think the Red Sox have to look very hard at getting rid of this guy.”
Beckett is poisoning the brand and the clubhouse. In order to start the clubhouse healing process it’s time the Red Sox and Beckett part ways.
Dustin Pedroia is the closest thing to a captain the Red Sox have right now. Pedroia was also very close to Terry Francona.
After the Red Sox let Francona go in the offseason Pedroia told ESPN:
“I love him. He's given me every opportunity in the world and given me the respect to play the game with a freedom, and that's what he allows us players to do. Geez, man, he's done everything for me and everything for my family, and he's done everything for me in the five years I've been in the big leagues. My heart's broken for him, and I wish he was back and I wish I could have played my whole career for him. It's going to be hard.” (ESPN)
Pedroia doesn’t have that same love for Valentine and he really doesn’t have to. But he does have to show some level of respect for Valentine.
After Valentine questioned Youkilis’ physical and emotional commitment Pedroia spoke out against his new boos.
Pedroia told ESPN, "I really don't know what Bobby is trying to do, that's not the way we go about our stuff around here. He'll figure that out. The whole team is behind Youk. We have each other's backs here."
Since when does the manager, the boss, have to figure out how things are done?
The manager sets the rules. The players follow.
That’s simply not the case for this team.
But by stating the whole team was behind Youkilis, Pedroia may have unintentionally set the troubling tone the team wasn’t behind Valentine.
Perhaps Pedroia forgot the past clubhouse problems, namely the chicken and beer fiasco, combined with missing the playoffs, were key factors that got Francona tossed to the side.
The way things were done down at Yawkey Way haven’t worked for the past three seasons.
Red Sox fans should hope Valentine doesn’t learn the way the Red Sox used to go about things in the clubhouse.
Pedroia must get used to fact Valentine is not Francona. Francona was the ultimate players manager. Valentine, at least by reputation, is not.
Pedroia is the key player who must be on Valentine’s side in order for this clubhouse to fall into line.
If Pedroia never fully accepts Valentine as his manager the Red Sox will be in for a long season.
When Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek retired, a huge leadership void was created in the Red Sox clubhouse.
It’s time for Gonzalez to help fill that void.
Gonzalez acknowledged he had to stand up as leader in the clubhouse in February:
"I'm more of a leader by example, but I can be a guy that takes a guy to the side and talks to them. I think I'm more of a mentor than a guy that will yell at the team, and try to hype the team up in that sense. I'll make sure everybody's comfortable and happy and things are going well so each individual player can play to their full potential." (ESPN)
Leadership doesn’t necessarily mean yelling and screaming every time things go wrong. But it does mean facing the music when things don’t go right.
But on May 6, after an 0-8 performance at the plate, a game the Red Sox lost, Gonzalez showered and snuck away before answering questions.
A team leader cannot do this. If Gonzalez wants to be a "leader by example" that example extends to the clubhouse as well.
After the May 6 game Eric Wilbur of the Boston Globe wrote:
“The fact that Gonzalez refused to answer any inquisitions about his failures yesterday is simply the perfect way to sum up what this team has become. It's one thing to fall apart, it's something else to not stand up for your actions. The Red Sox are in freefall mode, losers of five in a row, and when it comes time to face the music, their star player plays coward.”
The Red Sox have a young crop of talent poised to make the leap to the big club. Those players will look to stars like Gonzalez on how to carry themselves in Boston’s intense media market.
Walking away after a bad performance is not the leading by example lesson Gonzalez should be setting.
Leaders know by talking to the media they are effectively taking some of the heat off the clubhouse. It’s a thankless but important part of truly being a leader and keeping the clubhouse drama to a minimum.
Over the course of a long season every player is going to have a bad game. Gonzalez must be accountable for his play if he truly wants to be the mentor he claims he can be.
The Red Sox have been struck by the injury bug hard this season. It threw the entire bullpen out of whack before the first game was even played.
Andrew Bailey has been sidelined by a thumb injury and Aceves has been thrown into the closer role with mixed results.
Aceves has seven saves but a 6.14 ERA.
Calls for Daniel Bard to return to the bullpen erupted and were an early season distraction.
The ticking time bomb is Bailey’s return to the Red Sox bullpen.
According to ESPN, “Bailey said his thumb feels normal and is hoping to get clearance from Dr. Thomas Graham to begin throwing. He said he's been performing strengthening exercises and his range of motion is all the way back.”
When Bailey does return he will return as the closer. This will once again change bullpen roles.
Aceves will be moved out of the closer role and could become Boston’s set up man in the eighth.
If Aceves looks at that move as a demotion an entire new round of clubhouse drama could ensure.
Valentine could erase that drama right now by preparing Aceves for the move. Professional athlete’s egos need to be massaged once in a while and this could be one of those times a major league massaging should be on the menu.
Aceves is the Swiss Army Knife of relief pitching, he can perform in any role. Valentine has to let Aceves know how important he is to Boston’s long term success.
In 55 games last season Aceves went 10-2, with a 2.61 ERA in 114 innings pitched. He was arguably Boston’s best relief pitcher.
He needs to be reminded of that now. If the Red Sox wait to clearly articulate what they expect from Aceves when Bailey returns another round of clubhouse drama could be on the docket.
A confident team is a drama free team. Part of that confidence comes with strong starting pitching.
Confidence breeds confidence. Confidence breeds a sense of calm the Red Sox have lacked all year.
Part of that problem is Valentine’s tendency to leave his starting pitchers on the mound when they seem fatigued and are in trouble.
On April 30 Clay Buchholz desperately needed a strong start. He finally had one going. Through six innings against the Oakland Athletics Buchholz only allowed one run on four hits. He had only thrown 72 pitches and Valentine was obviously right to put him back out there for the seventh.
But things started coming unglued. He walked two batters and let up a single. Buchholz looked tired and the bases were loaded. It was time to get him out of the game.
Valentine left him in.
Buchholz went on to allow a two-run single to Coco Crisp. He followed that up by allowing a three-run home run to Josh Reddick. (mlb.com)
Valentine finally pulled him. Two batters too late.
What could have been a confidence boosting start turned into a seventh inning nightmare.
On May 8 Bard was on the mound against the Kansas City Royals. He pitched seven strong innings allowing three runs and had the lead.
Bard is still learning how to be a starting pitcher and Valentine should have been satisfied he received a solid seven innings from his fifth starter.
But then Valentine put Bard back into the game in the eighth inning.
Bard quickly allowed two walks and was pulled from the game. Bard really should have been pulled after he issued his first walk of the eighth.
Matt Albers came into the game and allowed a three-run home run to Billy Butler. (mlb.com)
Bard’s strong seven innings were quickly erased. Instead of leaving the game with the confidence of a strong seven-inning outing, he left with the deflating feeling of not being able to finish a game.
To be fair Bard had only thrown 87 pitches through seven innings but did say:
You get to 90 pitches, I'm not tired to the point where I need to come out of the game by any means. But there is a fatigue that sets in. It's about learning how to pitch with that little bit of fatigue. It’s not my arm. My arm felt great. It's your whole body—your legs, your lower back. You have to learn how to pitch under those conditions. It's kind of where I'm at right now—trying to learn how to finish games and get through that 100-110 pitches, strong all the way toward the end instead of tailing off and losing command late. (csnne.com)
A starting pitcher will never want to be pulled from the game. It’s Valentine’s job to look beyond the pitch count and decide if his pitchers are too fatigued to continue.
Red Sox starters need confidence right now to keep the clubhouse karma positive. Leaving pitchers in too long can quickly turn a confidence boosting start into a confidence crushing performance.
Will Middlebrooks has been on fire since joining the big club on May 2.
In 11 games he’s hitting .304, with four home runs and 13 RBI. He’s smacked five doubles and has scored nine runs.
Middlebrooks has been the spark the Red Sox desperately needed.
Kevin Youkilis is close to returning to the lineup. A decision on playing time has to be made.
The worst thing the Red Sox could do right now is place their spark plug on the bench.
Middlebrooks’ play has made that a highly contested decision.
As for Youkilis, he’s saying all of the right things. He recently told ESPN:
"Wherever they put me in, I'll play. I've always been that way. I made the move from first to third. I raised my hand and played left. That's the type of person I am when it comes to baseball, and the type of person I will be.
I get paid a lot of money to do a job that's a great job. For me to complain about this or that, I can't do that. I just control what I can control, which is playing the game and loving it as much as I can."
If Youkilis can keep his cool while spending time on the bench it could go a long way to keep the clubhouse drama to a minimum.
No player is happy riding the bench, especially an established veteran like Youkilis. Handling this situation like a true professional is something the Red Sox need.
Red Sox fans can only hope Youkilis backs up what he’s been saying with his actions when he finally returns from the disabled list.
The Red Sox gave Crawford a seven-year, $142 million contract. They really have no choice but to give him playing time.
But the Red Sox should be patient when he does return.
They need to treat him with kid gloves if they have to. If he slumps early they still must throw him out there as much as possible.
If Crawford can comeback after a disastrous 2011 campaign it would be a great feel good story for Boston’s clubhouse.
Crawford is only two years removed from his brilliant 2010 season when he hit .307, with 19 home runs and 90 RBI. He had 47 stolen bases, won a Gold Glove, and came in seventh in MVP voting.
Crawford can be an absolutely electrifying player.
If the Red Sox can harness that electricity they will be one step closer toward building a winning team.
Ryan Sweeney has been a nice player for Boston this season. But there’s nothing like a true star, playing at his peak, to ease the tension in a clubhouse.
The easiest and most complex solution to every problem in sport: just win.
Winning solves problems. It’s the grand elixir to every team’s biggest ailment.
If the Red Sox go on a monster winning streak all of their issues will magically dissipate into the clouds above Fenway.
It’s the ultimate band aid.
It’s the magic pill that can erase all clubhouse drama once and for all.