The Boston Red Sox spent much of their Tuesday in Baltimore dealing with yet another media report about their internal strife, this time a Yahoo! Sports report about a meeting that took place between a group of Red Sox players and team management late last month in New York.
According to Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan, some of the players in a meeting described as “heated” told ownership they no longer wanted to play for first-year Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine.
The meeting was reportedly prompted after first baseman Adrian Gonzalez sent a text message to ownership following a July 22 game during which Valentine left starting pitcher Jon Lester in the game to absorb an 11-run pounding.
After the Red Sox lost to the Orioles 7-1 Tuesday night, second baseman Dustin Pedroia acknowledged that meetings took place but denied that players want a new manager brought in.
It’s difficult at this point to know who to believe; Yahoo! Sports cited three unnamed sources who claimed the meeting was an ugly one, with Gonzalez and Pedroia leading the charge in their criticism of Valentine. But another player who was one of the 17 at the meeting told ESPNBoston.com that “it was just like any other meeting.”
The Red Sox haven’t bounced back from last September’s epic collapse, the one during which Boston went 7-20 in September and were passed by the Tampa Bay Rays—who trailed the Red Sox in the American League wild-card race by nine games when September began—on the final night of the regular season.
The aftermath was brutal. Allegations surfaced regarding starting pitchers eating fried chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse during games when they weren’t pitching. Terry Francona was fired as manager, taking the fall for a clubhouse culture that, from all appearances, had become complacent and undisciplined. General manager Theo Epstein exited stage left, leaving to attempt to rebuild the Chicago Cubs, and assistant Ben Cherington was promoted to the GM post.
Cherington’s first priority should have been to hire a manager, but he was upstaged by club president Larry Lucchino, who brought in the controversial Valentine.
That Valentine has rubbed some players the wrong way can’t come as a complete shock. Valentine left scorched earth behind in both of his previous managerial stops with the Texas Rangers and New York Mets and was deemed so toxic after his 2002 dismissal by the Mets that he was basically in exile for a decade, managing in Japan and doing television work for ESPN, before the Red Sox gave him another opportunity.
Lucchino apparently believed the Red Sox needed a firmer hand after eight years under the laid-back Francona. But for all his time in the media, Valentine still hasn’t really learned how to handle the press. The same old Bobby V routine of “open mouth, publicly throw player under bus” resurfaced as early as spring training and the Red Sox hadn’t been north from Florida for two weeks before rumors of a Valentine-Kevin Youkilis rift began to percolate.
It didn’t take long for the rumors to become reality and Youkilis and Valentine struggled to co-exist until late June, when Youkilis was dealt to the Chicago White Sox.
To be fair, it is obvious Valentine didn’t do any extended studies in human relations while he was out of Major League Baseball. On the other hand, some of the Boston players seemed to be genuinely shocked that their new manager wasn’t the same as their old manager.
Valentine and Francona are about as far apart on the managerial spectrum as two skippers can be, which is why Lucchino pushed so hard for his hiring. There was a desire to change the culture.
Well, the culture sure has been changed, all right.
Now there is almost daily sniping going on and the Red Sox continue to slide out of contention. After Tuesday night’s loss, Boston is 57-60, fourth in the American League East Division, 12½ games behind the division-leading Yankees and now 6½ in back of Tampa Bay and Baltimore in the wild-card hunt.
ESPN.com’s standings show the Red Sox with an 8.1 percent change of making the postseason in 2012. Based on what I’ve seen and given the negative vibe around this team, I’d say that’s a pretty optimistic estimate.
The larger question is whether or not Bobby Valentine gets to fulfill the second year of that two-year contract he received last winter.