The word curse is a loaded one in Boston. It is all Red Sox fans heard about for 86 years. I don’t care if you are talking about San Francisco’s Krukow Curse, or the Curse of the Billy Goat in Chicago, or even the curse of Tutankhamun's Tomb.
None of them hold a candle to the curse the good people of Boston used to know.
Red Sox fans hold onto the one and only curse that matters—the Bambino. It may seem old, it may seem passé, but the curse seems to have reared its ugly head once again in the Red Sox clubhouse. Call it drama if the word curse makes you uncomfortable. But even the championships of 2004 and 2007 cannot fully erase such a powerful word from a Bostonian’s lexicon.
The clubhouse has been called toxic. It has been plagued with reports of malcontent players. There was the chicken and beer fiasco of last September. There was Josh Beckett's ill-timed golf outing. The laundry list is long and not pleasant.
But fear not, there is reason for hope. Ten players on the Boston Red Sox seem immune to Boston’s clubhouse curse.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia had the monumental task of filling Jason Varitek’s shoes this season. He has done so in fine fashion. Saltalamacchia has been a nice contributor at the plate, hitting .254, with 14 home runs and 35 RBI.
More importantly, he has earned the trust of the Red Sox pitching staff and his manager. Bobby Valentine believes his catcher should be an All-Star and Saltalamacchia has made it no secret he appreciates the sentiment. Saltalamacchia told ESPN:
Obviously, it feels great. You play this game to be the best you can. The fact that some guys recognize that, guys with a lot of experience in this game, a lot of accomplishments in this game, to see what I've done, to see how hard I've worked to get where I'm at, for them to start putting me in that category feels great.
Saltalamacchia is also the unquestioned starting catcher for the Red Sox. There is no rookie breathing down his neck, threatening to take his job (re: Kevin Youkilis). The only pressure Salty has is the pressure he puts on himself.
With the job securely his, and the support of Valentine and his pitching staff, Saltalamacchia is in a comfort zone that makes him immune to Boston’s season-long clubhouse curse.
Will Middlebrooks will go down as the guy who made the Kevin Youkilis trade a necessity. He has simply shredded major league pitching since being called up from Triple-A Pawtucket in early May.
His numbers jump out at you for a rookie. In 44 games he has hit .310, with 9 home runs, 36 RBI, 10 doubles and scored 23 runs.
On June 25, he was named the American League Player of The Week.
The 23-year-old has handled the delicate Youkilis situation with nothing but class. When asked what Youkilis meant to him, he told reporters, “Words can’t even explain it, He’s taken me under his wing and shown me the way and really made me comfortable.” (Boston Herald)
Winning solves a lot of problems—even the perception of clubhouse curses. The Red Sox have the best chance to win when he is at third base. Middlebrooks is a rookie who now has a full-time job on the Boston Red Sox. No toxicity, no clubhouse curse can touch him now.
The 24-year-old lefty has become Boston’s surprise ace this season. Well, ace in the loosest sense of the word. He’s gone 8-4 with a 4.54 ERA and has struck out 87 in 85.1 innings pitched.
With lukewarm expectations entering the season, Doubront has surpassed what anyone could have predicted he would do during the first half of 2012. Most of the pressure in the rotation falls on Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz—as it should.
But the tide on that could be changing a little, with Beckett and Buchholz both on the DL and Lester not having a very Lester-like season.
Doubront is a homegrown pitcher making good on his health and talent. He had a rough 2011, with injuries to his elbow, groin and hamstring. The injuries all but wrecked his entire 2011 season.
But with the injuries in the past, the future looks very bright.
When asked about Doubront, Saltalamachhia said, “You’re seeing a guy that’s just kind of growing up in front of us. He’s going to be an unbelievable pitcher for a long time.’’ (Boston Globe)
Doubront is now healthy and happy. He’s pitching well and no amount of toxicity should distract him from his nice 2012 season.
Cody Ross is on fire right now. He is another player who falls under the guarded expectations-high reward category. In 46 games, Ross is hitting .283, with 11 home runs and 38 RBI.
The 31-year-old outfielder has found a second life in Boston after a disappointing 2011 season with the San Francisco Giants.
In addition to his new-found success at Fenway, his attitude is just what the Red Sox needed this season. The prime example of Ross’ positive attitude affecting other players came when Ryan Kalish had an absolute nightmare of a game on June 19 against the Miami Marlins.
Kalish made an embarrassing drop in the outfield during the seventh inning that gave Miami hope in what would eventually be a 7-5 Red Sox win. Kalish shook off the drop with some help. The help came in form of Ross.
According to ESPN, Ross told the distraught Kalish:
Listen, man, we’ve all done it. We’ve all dropped fly balls. I dropped one this year already. I’ve misplayed a few balls. It happens. Shake it off. You’re a great outfielder and we’re going to get out of this right here.
On a diary he has been keeping for ESPN this season, Ross wrote:
Clubhouse chemistry is big. Sometimes people make it out to be a little more than what it really matters and some people downplay it. I think in order to have a successful team you have to have a mixture of really good talent and people.
Ross is one of those good people. He is feeling good right now. His positivity is rubbing off on other players. He’s smiling in the clubhouse, clubhouse curse be damned.
At 36 years old, Scott Atchison is enjoying the best season of his professional career. He has a 1.36 ERA in 39.2 innings pitched. Atchison has 30 strikeouts and has only allowed one home run.
He has been practically automatic for Valentine this year—in May he did not allow a run.
He had a run of 19.2 straight scoreless innings and made 15 straight scoreless appearances. The fountain of youth seems to have landed on Atchison’s doorstep.
That fountain of youth comes in the form of a perfected cut fastball. Didier Morals of NESN.com notes, “The late-breaking movement has stifled opposing batters this season.”
Atchison is another player Valentine believes should get an All-Star nod. Valentine said:
I think he’ll get mentioned. I think he should get attention and mention. If you hit against him, you’d vote for him. I’d bet that. (NESN.com)
A 36-year-old in the middle of the season of his life will not allow any form negativity to affect him. He is a curse-free, toxic-free, slightly graying veteran with no time for the drama that has surrounded the Red Sox clubhouse.
Nick Punto is a proven winner and gives the Red Sox defensive depth at shortstop and second base. But his most important asset may just be his reputation as a clubhouse leader and prankster.
While playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, Punto earned the nickname The Shredder. Per aol.sportingnews.com, “Nick Punto's alter ego is The Shredder, a maniac who rips dress shirts right off a teammates' torso.” Punto says of his Shredder alter ego, “I've actually shredded people's dress shirts on airplane flights."
This is just the kind of lighthearted fun this Red Sox team needs. Gone are the days of Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar and Pedro Martinez. The Idiots are no more and this version of the Red Sox can seem downright stuffy at times. Punto is a guy who would have fit right in on the 2004 and 2007 championship teams. He knows how to lighten things up.
Role players are an important part of the makeup of a championship roster. Punto is the ultimate role player. He is also the type of player who creates a positive atmosphere—just the type of player immune to clubhouse drama.
Mark Melancon has been humbled this season. He was historically bad to start his Red Sox career. Melancon gave up 11 runs in two innings pitched in April. In an early season game against the Texas Rangers, he faced six batters and did not get an out. He did give up three home runs.
Melancon was at rock bottom.
But hitting rock bottom is sometimes just what a player needs to turn it around. And turn it around he did. He was sent to Triple-A Pawtucket and dominated. He did not make a peep about being sent down. He simply did the necessary work.
In 21 games in the minors, Melancon compiled a 0.83 ERA, with 27 strikeouts and no home runs allowed. He showed the mental toughness of a true professional.
Melancon is a man who literally swam with sharks over the offseason. The pressure cooker of pitching in Boston doesn't seem all that different. But after getting beaten down to start the season, expect a focused Melancon to be completely focused on issues on the mound, not issues in the clubhouse.
Brent Lillibridge is the new guy. But a new face in the clubhouse could be just what the Red Sox need.
Lillibridge will never be a star. He may not even be a full-time player. What he will be is a great utility man who will bring clubhouse positivity with him. Lillibridge is incredibly versatile and has played every position except pitcher and catcher.
On being traded to the Red Sox, Lillibridge told Mike Daniels of the Boston Herald:
I’m willing to play wherever I need to and be a part of this. I don’t have any expectations other than being on a winning team. I’m just ready to get going.
Assistant clubhouse and equipment manager for the Chicago White Sox, Bob Warren, tweeted about Lillibridge:
Lillibridge is a veteran who comes with a good reputation. His positive attitude and willingness to play any position should keep Boston's clubhouse curse at bay.
Ryan Kalish, Boston's 24-year-old outfielder, has had a long road back to the big leagues. Kalish missed almost all of the 2011 with injuries. Last season Kalish underwent shoulder and neck surgeries and spent the entire year recovering and rehabbing.
He finally made it to Triple-A Pawtucket on June 5. He simply ate up minor league pitching. In nine games, he hit .378, with four home runs, 10 RBI and four stolen bases. He made his 2012 Red Sox debut on June 17.
Kalish is a player who goes all out all the time. He resembles Trot Nixon in his style of play. He'd run through a wall to make a catch.
Joe McDonald of ESPNBoston.com recently wrote, "Physically, he’s in a good place. Emotionally, he’s content. Mentally, he’s prepared for his next opportunity."
Kalish is a player who appreciates where he is right now. After a long and painful road back to Boston, no amount of toxicity or drama should affect him.
Franklin Morales has emerged as a surprising starter for the Red Sox in June.
Overall, Morales has appeared in 24 games, compiling a 1-1 record, with a 3.12 ERA in 34.2 innings pitched.
In the two games he has started in June, he is 1-0, with a 3.27 ERA. Morales has 17 strikeouts in 11 innings pitched. His fastball has hit 96 mph and his changeup has been terrific.
With his effectiveness and the injuries in the rotation, Morales has given Valentine an interesting dilemma: who should be in the starting rotation?
This dilemma has been handed to him by a pitcher who had not made a start since 2009.
With Buchholz's latest health problems and the uncertainty surrounding Beckett, it seems the Red Sox are going to go with a six-man rotation.
Morales is confident, pitching well, and the Red Sox have not promised him anything like they did with Daniel Bard. Any drama Red Sox fans see will come on the mound, not in the clubhouse.