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Not catching too much flak

Players should get most blame

Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine really heard the boos during Saturday’s loss. Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine really heard the boos during Saturday’s loss. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / April 23, 2012
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There are a lot of people to blame for the Red Sox’ 4-10 start, but the ones who are getting off the easiest are the ones the most blame should be placed on - the players.

If you haven’t noticed, this team has a $175 million payroll. Granted, about $67 million of it is currently going to players on the disabled list, but this is a team that should be closer to .500 than six games below it as it finally gets a break with the schedule starting Monday night in Minneapolis.

It’s incredible to hear the booing of manager Bobby Valentine, the name-calling directed toward president/CEO Larry Lucchino, and the back-stabbing of owner John Henry, but does anyone blame the people who actually play the game?

Terry Francona was fired after the 7-20 September collapse, but the majority of the players kept their jobs.

Josh Beckett and Jon Lester pitched some true stinkers in September at a time they really needed to step up. Yet, they returned for the chance to do it all over again.

There are players who disappeared during September who have disappeared again in April.

There are still those “Youk’’ chants at Fenway, which sound like boos, but for the most part there’s no serious booing of the athletes who actually win or lose the games.

It’s become an interesting phenomenon.

There are $20 million players who pop out with the bases loaded, and so-called “aces’’ of the pitching staff who last two innings, and yet it’s, “No biggie, just go get ’em next time.’’

There are relievers on this team who should be ashamed to take a paycheck twice a month, and yet it’s blame the manager or the pitching coach?

We understand it’s tough to fire the players. And that in the process of attempting to change the culture of the clubhouse, most of the same players were brought back in the hopes that the new manager could do that. And it’s true, Valentine needs to do that.

But do the players take any responsibility for the slow start?

When a player such as Dustin Pedroia says about his manager, “that’s not the way we do things around here,’’ then maybe it’s the players who need to change the way they’re doing things. Because it’s not working. Maybe it’s the players who need to conform to their new manager and not the other way around.

After Saturday’s 15-9 loss to the Yankees, most of the so-called leaders were gone quickly, not facing the music, with the exception of shortstop Mike Aviles, one guy who really cares.

Except for a couple of the embattled relievers, there was no one around to speak about one of the most crushing defeats in recent history. They’re too busy whining about how the manager called out one of the players on TV.

Valentine went around to individual players and spoke to them about reaching “rock bottom,’’ and that it was now time to pick themselves up.

There’s no question this team has roster issues, and that falls on general manager Ben Cherington. But he apparently had some budget issues, and that falls on Lucchino, Henry, and chairman Tom Werner. So yes, blame can go everywhere, but the players on this team appear to be getting free passes.

“Every one of those relievers should be ashamed of themselves,’’ said a veteran National League scout who was at the game Saturday. “This is your livelihood. There has to be some sense of pride in your work. This was strange to see. You can see where some of the relievers are in roles they shouldn’t be in, but that’s no excuse.’’

No excuse at all.

Alfredo Aceves was arguably Boston’s best reliever last season, but he’s been awful so far. He said recently that he’s not comfortable being a closer, and that seems to be playing itself out.

Aceves wanted to be a starter and didn’t get his way, and while Valentine remains steadfast that he can be a good interim closer, Aceves doesn’t appear to be embracing it.

Franklin Morales has been given a new chance to be a significant bullpen piece and he’s dropped the ball.

When you throw 95-96 miles per hour from the left side and you have a good curveball and devastating changeup that should allow you to pitch to righthanded and lefthanded batters without issue, one can see where the manager might have faith that you can do that. Then show him you can.

Matt Albers can’t be happy forever being cast as the mop-up guy. Well, Valentine has given him the chance to be more than that, but there are no signs that he’s up to the task.

Vicente Padilla is another one who wants to start and dislikes being a reliever. And so far we’re seeing how much he dislikes it.

None of these players want to fail. And the notion that they are tanking it because they don’t like their role or don’t like Valentine, is ludicrous. Anyone who plays in the major leagues wants to stay in the major leagues. The Red Sox pay their employees very well. Nobody wants to go back to Triple A or get released, because then your earning power never will be where you want it.

But at some point, as a professional athlete, you have to take responsibility for your lackluster performance. If there are 25 players on a team, every one of them has a role to play. Do your job.

Valentine and Cherington both have been stand-up guys about the poor execution of their jobs so far. Both have placed blame on themselves for things not going well.

“I’m not satisfied with the job I did,’’ Valentine said. “I don’t need to hear from Ben or ownership or fans or anyone else. I’ve got to do better.’’

He also said, “The record is the only thing that I’m judged on. That’s how I judge myself. Pretty high standard. There’s been some good things. Just like players, some of the guys who are in slumps have played pretty well at times. But I don’t accept four wins in 14 games.’’

Yes, you are what your record says you are. Your team record. Your personal record.

The people who accumulate the stats are the players. They get paid big money to produce. They are the biggest part of the game. They are the product. They are the ones who get the glory when they win and they should be the ones who deal with the anger when they lose.

Yet in this town they skate, because they are allowed to.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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