It’s August 19, 2012 and the Boston Red Sox are 59-62, 1 2 ½ games off the pace in the American League East and 6 ½ games behind the Wild Card leader. Bobby Valentine is under fire. Management met with players, sans the manager. The media is speculating. Fans are booing. Every interested in Boston baseball has an opinion about the Red Sox manager – including Valentine.
“I’m not doing a good job,” said Valentine, providing the media with his own self-assessment Saturday. “I didn’t get paid to do anything other than get to the playoffs, win a lot of games, be in the thick in things right down to the end; even be in first place. The team I’m managing is not there.”
If you didn’t see this coming, you weren’t paying attention.
When John Henry and Larry Lucchino hired Valentine last winter they believed he would bring order to the reported chaos and undisciplined nature of the Red Sox clubhouse. Despite winning 90 games last season, the Red Sox lost 20 their final 27 games last season and missed the playoffs. The $161 million payroll with 15 All-Stars underachieved. The results were unacceptable.
When Terry Francona said he was unable to “reach his players,” Red Sox ownership took that as a sign he had lost the team and, after eight years and two World Series titles, he was bounced out of Boston. Two weeks later general manager Theo Epstein was gone too.
So when it was revealed that Jon Lester, John Lackey and Josh Beckett had been eating fried chicken and drinking alcohol in the clubhouse during games then denied their actions were related to the Sox late-season collapse, alarms should have gone off; red flags should have gone up.
Lester tried to downplay his actions, telling the Boston Globe the clubhouse drinking was “a ninth-inning rally beer … that’s not the reason we lost … we just played bad baseball as a team in September. We stunk.”
The stench was not coming from the team, but Lester’s attitude — and performance. Lester was 0-4 with an 8.24 earned run average over his last four starts last season (Lester, Lackey and Beckett were 2-7, 6.45 ERA combined the last two weeks of 2011). The team was on the field trying to win games while Lester and others were drinking in the clubhouse instead of leading the charge from the bench.
Expectations were high in Boston in Spring Training, but why? Valentine inherited the same team, the same players, the same attitudes, that avoided the responsibility of the late-season collapse last season. Nothing had really changed from the collapse a season ago. Henry and Lucchino relieved Francona, released Epstein of his contract and retained the organizations overpaid, underachieving players.
The results were inevitable, but stop pointing the finger at Valentine.