It is not every day that a team falls a single win short of the postseason and responds by parting ways with its manager and general manager. Likely to follow are a number of roster mainstays who have been critical parts to the Red Sox success in the past decade.
While poor play marred the team in the final weeks of the season, what has been particularly troubling are the revelations of destructive clubhouse behavior and attitudes prevalent in many of the team's stars and leaders. When the Boston Red Sox improbably won the 2004 World Series, fans and the media reveled in the "idiot" atmosphere personified by players like Johnny Damon. The 2011 squad had no such chemistry, and the bickering and finger pointing that have followed the Red Sox's collapse are indicative of the lack of chemistry that eroded a promising season.
With the exception of Dustin Pedroia and a few others, the entire team is to blame for what became of the Red Sox clubhouse. However, a few individuals did the most to poison the atmosphere and divide the squad. Here are the seven players most to blame for their childish clubhouse antics.
Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and Jon Lester have been roundly criticized by the press and Red Sox fans for drinking beer, ordering food and playing video games in the clubhouse during games in which they were not pitching. The criticism has largely and incorrectly focused on what the players were consuming, and not what they should have been doing instead.
Baseball is a game filled with so many unspoken rules that even those who have spent a lifetime in the game can overstep the accepted limits now and then. One rule that everyone knows is that players should support their teammates, even if they are sitting on the bench. The absence of the three top pitchers on the Red Sox staff during games sent a message to the entire squad that there was no expectation of support or teamwork, and that it was okay to prioritize other activities above baseball.
The fact that reports also indicate that the trio's clubhouse playtime extended into team workout sessions, leading to a lack of conditioning amongst the three pitchers, just adds to the fact that Beckett, Lackey and Lester put their own fun ahead of their team.
Tim Wakefield has been one of the real "good guys" in the game for years, so it is hard to imagine him on any list of shame, such as this one.
After collecting his 199th career win on July 24th, Wakefield started eight more games before collecting his 200th win on his ninth try on September 13th. As resentment grew toward Wakefield's poor performance, particularly within the bullpen —in the final four losses of his slump he never made it past the sixth inning —Wakefield spoke to the press and argued that the Red Sox should bring him back for the 2012 season so that he could pursue the Red Sox all-time career wins record.
As the Red Sox were careening off track, this public focus on his own accomplishments and contract situation was the precise wrong tone for a team overridden with selfish motives and lack of concern for team success.
Expectations could not have been any higher for Adrian Gonzalez after the mammoth contract he signed at the start of the 2011 season, and Gonzalez lived up to the hype by turning in a career high .338 batting average, 27 home runs and a .957 OPS.
Gonzalez has long been a quiet presence in the clubhouse, neither leading nor causing problems, and little changed when he joined the Red Sox.
So it was surprising when in September, as the wheels were coming off the bus, Gonzalez decided to speak up. But Gonzalez wasn't chastising his teammates' lack of commitment, nor was he offering words of inspiration to his team. Instead, he was complaining about his exhaustion. He stated
"We play too many night games on getaway days and get into places at 4:00 in the morning. This has been my toughest season physically because of that.’’
While the Red Sox had indeed played a tough schedule, few had sympathy for a ballplayer with a $154 million contract complaining about working too much.
The complaint not only made Gonzalez look bad, but pandered to the victim attitude that had pervaded the clubhouse.
For a personality as large as David Ortiz to appear as quiet and disinterested as he did during the team's downfall is inexplicable. This is the man who once willed his team to the impossible, a 3-0 comeback against the New York Yankees. A common refrain amongst Red Sox fans during September was asking when Big Papi would get fed up, step up and command his team to victory.
Yet Papi did not make a public peep. He reportedly attempted to rally the team once in September, but at that point their fate had been sealed. The only public pronouncements Ortiz made were to criticize his manager for not giving reliever Alfredo Aceves more playing time and to criticize the scorers for a ruling made regarding one of his at bats.
Once upon a time, everyone in the Red Sox clubhouse looked to Ortiz for leadership. But as he has struggled with aging and inconsistent play, and as the Sox added new superstars to the roster, Ortiz is no longer the presence in the clubhouse that he once was.
Individuals in the Red Sox organization have wrongfully and despicably blamed several personal issues for Terry Francona's lack of success in leading the Sox and dealing effectively with personnel problems. There is no evidence that these issues played any role in Francona's downfall. More likely it was a combination of fatigue —both his own and in the players feelings towards him— a poor chemistry between the old guard of the team, the new arrivals boasting fat contracts and the aging of several key players that led to exhaustion at season's end.
Whatever the reason, the buck has to stop somewhere, and in baseball, that somewhere is at the manager's feet. Francona was ineffective in stopping the childish behavior exhibited by several of his players. Perhaps he wasn't able to control them, or perhaps he lost interest in trying to, but one of the manager's primary responsibilities is managing team chemistry. Once a manager loses his clubhouse, it's near impossible to gain it back, and Francona was no longer able to marshal his players as he once had.
While he did not commit any clubhouse shenanigans himself, Francona must bear responsibility for what happened on his watch.