Breaking Down How the Boston Red Sox Can Fix Toxic Clubhouse Culture

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2012

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 16:  Manager Bobby Valentine and Dustin Pedroia #25 of the Boston Red Sox talk before a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox on August 16, 2012 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

There is one simple way the Boston Red Sox can fix what has obviously become a toxic clubhouse culture and circus surrounding the club and front office, all propagated by a media that circles like a school of piranhas:

They can win games.

Since that is unlikely to happen anytime soon, this offseason needs to see a major overhaul in Boston.

The first obvious move will be to can Bobby Valentine. He's not the right fit in Boston. His in-your-face style doesn't mesh well on a Red Sox team full of veteran players with big egos. He's the sort of manager that works on a team of youngsters who needs their butts kicked now and again—not the type of guy that ever made sense for this team.

There have been plenty of examples of Valentine rubbing the team the wrong way. There was the now-infamous decision to publicly call out Kevin Youkilis' effort, a move that Dustin Pedroia decried in the media and was certainly a factor in the decision to trade Youkilis.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg, as outlined by Yahoo!'s Jeff Passan last week in a piece that claimed several Boston players called for the ousting of the manager:

Leaving in [Jon] Lester, a well-respected figure in the clubhouse, to get blasted for 11 runs and four home runs against Toronto soured players already beaten down by Valentine's managerial style.

Valentine uttering "Nice inning, kid" to rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks after he made a defensive blunder—an episode to which Valentine admitted on WEEI radio—only furthered the animus toward the 62-year-old, who is managing in the major leagues for the first time since 2002.

Since spring training, players have chafed at Valentine's careless—and occasionally self-serving—interactions with the Boston media, which his predecessor, Terry Francona, handled adroitly.

Passan also noted the manager "barely talks with some of the coaches on his staff." One wonders if one of the coaches he rarely spoke to was pitching coach Bob McClure, who was recently fired.

That probably wasn't why McClure was given the axe—Boston's starting pitching has been dreadful—but according to Joe McDonald of ESPN, the relationship between the two men was "strained."

Of course, a lot of relationships involving Valentine seemed to be strained this year. He's probably a dead manager walking at this point.

But what about the players? What about this whole notion of a beer-and-fried-chicken culture in the clubhouse? Shouldn't they also be held accountable?

Absolutely. One of the players it has been rumored has caused them problems in the clubhouse has been Josh Beckett. As Jon Heyman of CBS writes, it's probably time for Beckett to go:

Some rival execs see a benefit in trading Beckett, a leader in a fractured clubhouse who's increasingly perceived as less of a mentor and more an instigator as the losses and negative stories mount. One rival GM implored, "Boston's first priority has to be to trade Josh Beckett.''

That seems logical with unflattering stories adding up about a starting rotation that, collectively, has been surprisingly abysmal this year and a belief he is like a pied piper to the others in it.

Beckett they can probably move. Dead weight like John Lackey is probably sticking around.

Whether they are a part of the issue in the clubhouse or not, fan favorites Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz and stars Jacoby Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez are unlikely to go anywhere. Sure, we've heard rumors that Ellsbury is detached in the clubhouse or Gonzalez isn't much of a leader, but true or not, they produce.

And if you think the idea of a fractured clubhouse is being overblown or doesn't exist at all, think again. Danny Knobler of CBS felt compelled to include a tidbit about the contentious clubhouse in his lede for an article that was otherwise focused on the team's poor starting pitching:

The problems between the players and the manager are very real. The other issues that have turned this Red Sox season into something of a sad circus exist, to the point where almost anyone who spends time around this team has learned to roll his eyes regularly.

This team is a mess, and from the manager to certain players, changes need to be made fast. This isn't just about winning games anymore—the team's poor image could cost it money in the future, too.

John Henry and the Red Sox ownership are the least popular of the major teams in the city. In that same survey, 70 percent of participants felt the team was "changing for the worse."

And the team could be in danger of seeing a decline in fan and advertising support as well (via Ira Kantor of the Boston Herald):

The Boston Red Sox brand, “tarnished” by a year of infighting, finger-pointing and inferior play, is now in “a deep hole” as fans and sponsors eye the exits, experts told the Herald yesterday.

“The problem will be if the fans abandon the Red Sox in large numbers. Advertisers align themselves with sports teams because that’s where their customers are,” said sports consultant Marc Ganis, president of Sports Corp. in Chicago. “If their customers went elsewhere, then they will go elsewhere.”

It's probably a bit alarmist to suggest that Boston fans will suddenly abandon the beloved Sawx. But the fact that it is even relevant to talk about the possibility shows you just how disillusioned fans are with this team.

It should also be noted that, to a certain extent, this is simply how things work for the Red Sox. They exist under the microscope in a city that perhaps loves the drama that often surrounds the team as much as they do the games themselves.

Few markets outside of New York or Philadelphia attract as much scrutiny or elicit as emotional a response from fans as you find in Boston. Believe me, Red Sox fans were eating up and drinking in all of the "fried chicken and beer" talk, and they secretly enjoyed each bite and sip.

But Boston is a team with a lot of very good players that has been reduced to a joke this season. There are easy fixes—removing Valentine, revamping a poor pitching staff—that can be accomplished.

As for changing the culture of the clubhouse? That's a different story, and one that is hard to fix from the outside. Attitudes will have to change—the team will have to be put in front of the individual.

Of course, as they say, winning changes everything. Nobody cares about what players do in the clubhouse if they win championships. There's plenty of gravy for that chicken if games are won.

So, like I said, if Boston wants to get rid of the circus, all they need to do is win. It's really that simple.

And it's really that difficult.


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