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Dan Shaughnessy

Confession fails to absolve

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / October 18, 2011

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Your turn, Josh Beckett. You, too, John Lackey. Time for the rest of the beer-swillin’, biscuit-eatin’, fried-chicken munchin’ Red Sox starting pitchers to fess up.

The 1919 Chicago White Sox had Eight Men Out. The 2011 Red Sox have Three Men and a Bucket of Popeye’s.

The Red Sox’ hideous offseason of 2011 continues, and yesterday we had more truth set free when Jon Lester returned a phone call from the Globe’s Peter Abraham and confirmed information that until now had been only a “sourced report’’ - instead of staying on the bench pulling for their struggling teammates, Sox starting pitchers were back in the clubhouse drinking beer and diving into the 16-piece family meal ($31.99, includes three large sides and eight biscuits) during the season.

“We probably ordered chicken from Popeye’s like once a month,’’ said Lester. “But that’s not the reason we lost.

“It was a ninth-inning rally beer. Was it a bad habit? Yes. I should have been on the bench more than I was. But we just played bad baseball as a team in September. We stunk. To be honest, we were doing the same things all season when we had the best record in baseball.’’

Little comfort there.

In addition to admitting the beer/chicken report, Lester gave up something that reflects poorly on the managerial reign of Terry Francona.

“People knew how Tito was and we pushed the envelope with it,’’ said Lester. “We never had rules; we never had that iron-fist mentality.’’

Wow. Francona’s still got steel-belted radial tracks on his backside from last week’s Bob Hohler opus, and now one of his trusted warriors has tossed him under the Fenway Fung Wah.

No doubt Lester is speaking the truth, but it’s astonishing to have this come from a young man Francona embraced and protected like a son.

Francona was more than a manager to Lester. He was a virtual dad. When Lester was diagnosed with cancer, Francona made it his mission to shield the young pitcher from all outside forces. Woe was any reporter who tried to contact anyone in Lester’s family when the lefthander was undergoing treatment. There were tears in Francona’s eyes when Lester won the final game of the 2007 World Series and it wasn’t because the Sox were champs. Francona was overcome by Lester’s brave journey back from cancer.

And now we get the truth we feared all along; the inmates were running the asylum. Francona treated them like men and they responded by walking all over him. He bit his lip and took bullets for his guys and this is how they rewarded him. The “players’ manager’’ wound up getting treated like the “players’ doormat.’’

Lester is the first Sox player to confess. David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Adrian Gonzalez have spoken only in generalities, refusing to give up their teammates.

Lester included Messrs. Beckett and Lackey in his confession.

“Consider us a unit when it comes to these accusations,’’ said the lefty. “But we’re not bad people and we’re not a bad group of guys.’’

It’s going to be difficult to convince fans of that. And the Sox would be crazy to bring all three of these guys back.

We still don’t know the identity of the 2012 Red Sox general manager or field manager, but we know that Lester, Beckett, and Lackey are all under contract for next season; that means this is going to be awkward (sort of like when Carl Crawford shakes hands with John Henry and asks, “How come you didn’t want me here?’’) when the Sox gather in Fort Myers.

Lackey simply has to go. He’s coming off the worst season by a starting pitcher in more than a century of Red Sox baseball, and he’s regularly shown up his teammates and his manager. Bookend all that with his TMZ personal issues and his place in the biscuit brigade and you’ve got a local pariah on a par with none other. The Red Sox are on the hook for three more years to the tune of $45.5 million, but they simply cannot bring him back. Even if they have to eat most of the money. Or all the money.

Trading Beckett would be a nice idea, too, except the Sox don’t have a plethora of starters and they probably need his talent. How he recovers from Popeye-gate is another matter. Now that Lester has come clean, Beckett might as well do the same.

We know Lester is going to be a member of the 2012 Red Sox. He is immensely talented and has the best chance to recover from the free fall of the last six weeks.

But the truths he told yesterday will be hard for fans to accept.

Loyal folks who empty their pockets year after year in support of this team are never going to understand or get over this. Players, media members, and front office folks can talk about the “baseball culture,’’ and explain that there was nothing extraordinary about what the Sox pitchers were doing, but nobody’s going to buy it.

I should have been on the bench more than I was. What kind of a teammate is that?

We applaud Lester for coming forward. Unfortunately, his statements are only going to amplify the noise. The admissions certify the notion that the 2011 Sox are destined to be remembered as perhaps the most loathed Boston team in history.

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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