4 Boston Red Sox Players Who Have to Go NOW to Save a “Toxic” Clubhouse
In professional sports, athletes generally spend much more time with their teammates than they do with their own families during the season; eating, sleeping and traveling together for at least seven months a year.
In Major League Baseball, that means that 25 players plus an assortment of coaches and other team personnel are together from mid-to-late February until as late as October each and every year. With the diversity of personalities, it's natural to assume that not everyone on every team is going to get along all the time.
While the Sox shook things up by bringing in a new general manager (Ben Cherington) and manager (Bobby Valentine), apparently the toxicity of the clubhouse hasn't changed much.
ESPN's Buster Olney spent time with the Red Sox this weekend during their weekend series with the Chicago Cubs. According to his observations, and conversations with team officials off the record, the Red Sox clubhouse is still a mess.
One line in particular really stood out:
The unhappiness that exists among the Boston players and staff is multilayered and deep.
Olney would not name names, and quite frankly, the entire article was very vague as to the specifics of the source of the toxicity within the Red Sox's clubhouse.
To me, Olney spending a few hours with the team because of an obligation to ESPN doesn't exactly qualify as a great source for airing issues about the Red Sox, but I digress.
However, just to play along, here is a list of players who could be viewed as a source of the toxicity.
1. Kevin Youkilis
Winslow Townson/Getty Images
Third baseman Kevin Youkilis could be on his way out of Boston within a few weeks.
FOXSports.com reported on Monday that talks concerning Youkilis have intensified, with the Sox willing to throw money into the mix in order to sweeten the return package.
Youkilis has had issues with teammates in the past, most notably Manny Ramirez, with whom Youkilis nearly got into a nasty dugout fight with in 2008.
More recently, players in Boston actively sought out who leaked information about clubhouse issues, with some thinking that Youkilis may have been one of the sources.
2. John Lackey
Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images
Much has been written about the signing of pitcher John Lackey to a five-year, $82.5 million contract back in December 2009.
Former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein discussed the signing in an interview with Boston radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub last week. When asked specifically about the signing of both Lackey and Carl Crawford, Epstein would not comment on the players themselves, but expressed regret with some of the free-agent signings during his tenure.
"Some of the offseasons that we had were more offseasons of convenience -- giving in to the need to be good next year," Epstein said.
"If I have a regret about the way we handled that offseason (after the 2009 season), it was that instead of being more patient and saying, 'We'll strike when the time is right,' there was a lot of pressure in the environment at the time to do something. If I learned a lesson from the offseason, it's never feel the need to do something. If you're trying to avoid one move that you don't think is going to work out, don't then settle for a different move that maybe doesn't check all the boxes. Be true to the philosophy and understand the bigger picture. There's always another day to fight. You don't have to get everything done in one offseason just because of what's going on in the environment around you."
I don't know about you, but it certainly sounds like regret to me.
Lackey was one of the players named in the infamous chicken-wing-and-beer-drinking scandal last year, and has always had a prickly relationship with the media.
While he's not actively a member of the team with his current rehab from Tommy John surgery, it's clear that his presence is still an area of concern.
3. Jon Lester
David Banks/Getty Images
Starting pitcher Jon Lester was also one of the players named in the clubhouse scandal that was revealed shortly after the Red Sox epic collapse last September.
Red Sox fans simply don't have short memories when it comes to issues with players. While Lester expressed regret for what happened last year, the only thing that will erase that memory from the minds of Sox fans is performance, and becoming more of a leader in the clubhouse to make sure prior events are not repeated.
As of yet, Lester has done neither.
4. Josh Beckett
Sarah Glenn/Getty Images
Red Sox starting pitcher Josh Beckett is now on the disabled list for shoulder inflammation, the second time this year Beckett has had an injury issue, missing a start in early May with a lat injury.
Beckett's explanations for both events weren't even close to satisfactory. Beckett blamed "snitches" in the clubhouse for leaking information about last year's chicken-wing-and-beer scandal, and then arrogantly proclaimed that he can do whatever he wants during his off days in response to his golf outing in early May of this year.
One word comes to mind when seeing Beckett's responses to the various issues surrounding him and the Red Sox—entitlement.
Contrarian View to Buster Olney's "Observations"
There is no question that there is still backlash from last year's epic September collapse by the Boston Red Sox. Memories of that collapse are still fresh on everyone's mind, especially with the team currently struggling around the .500 mark and occupying last place in the AL East.
However, the current Red Sox struggles have a lot more to do with stars currently on the disabled list than any other perceived issues in the clubhouse.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Andrew Bailey, Carl Crawford, John Lackey, Cody Ross, Kevin Youkilis, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Ryan Sweeney and Ryan Kalish have all spent time on the disabled list this season, and new manager Bobby Valentine has had to constantly shuffle his lineup, and play several players out of position, just to field a team.
Are there still issues with this current version of the Red Sox? Absolutely, but every team has issues at one point or another. ESPN had a nationally televised game that for them featured some juicy storylines—a former GM facing his old team for the first time (Epstein) being one of the biggest.
ESPN saw opportunities for stories, and they went with it, rehashing what happened last year coupled with current storylines revolving around Youkilis and Josh Beckett. And Olney was around to stir the pot.
Winning takes care of a whole lot of perceived issues. When the Red Sox get their injured stars back and the team starts playing to their capabilities, every one of these issues will suddenly disappear. That's not to say that issues don't need to be dealt with, and new GM Ben Cherington will be tasked with resolving those issues.
But to have a reporter visit with a team for a few hours and say that there is a "multilayered and deep" level of toxicity without going into specifics or citing sources is disingenuous to say the least.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle. Follow Doug on Twitter, @Sports_A_Holic.