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Time for the Red Sox to toughen up

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / May 13, 2012
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The Red Sox have won two straight games after Saturday night’s 4-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians, and you wonder if they can finally put the nonsense of the past six weeks behind them and be something that resembles a major league baseball team.

They’d better. Because the public view of this franchise right now is not very positive.

The Red Sox, from top to bottom, have lost sight of what they’re supposed to do.

The owners (John Henry and Tom Werner) should oversee their assets and trust the people who run things, but butt out. The president (Larry Lucchino) needs to oversee the whole company and make sure that everyone is doing their respective jobs.

The general manager (Ben Cherington) should be trying to build a better team and give the manager players who will put him in a position to succeed. He needs to back the manager in the way he does things.

The manager (Bobby Valentine) needs to be able to manage the way he has for 16 years. That’s why you hired him. You didn’t hire him to be someone he’s not.

And the players just need to shut up and play, be professionals rather than fools.

If they can do all that, they have a chance to turn this around.

Lucchino runs this team, according to Henry. Nobody seems to get why someone who endorsed the manager so strongly hasn’t publicly stood by him through some of these episodes.

Someone - Lucchino, Cherington, and/or Valentine - should have said what Josh Beckett did playing golf when he was resting an injury was wrong. That’s common sense. Instead we get these ridiculous defenses of Beckett. He’s a big boy. He messed up, just like he did in the chicken and beer incident, and he should have been called out for it.

Did anyone take Valentine seriously when he had to back a guy who was completely wrong?

Nobody said changing the perception of this team in the eyes of the fans, media, and baseball in general was going to be easy.

The players, the real culprits, weren’t changed, and the only additions were role players such as Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney, and a closer, Andrew Bailey, to replace one of the best, if not the best closer in the game in Jonathan Papelbon.

Then came injuries to Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, and Bailey.

Then came Bobby V vs. Youkilis, and the ridiculous overreaction by the public and media over some mild criticism levied by the manager on the player.

And Dustin Pedroia chimed in and disrespected the manager with the comment, “that might be the way they do it in Japan . . .” The Red Sox wish they did it like they do in Japan, where the manager is an authority figure and the players do as they’re told.

The players here keep running the asylum and when they don’t like something they run to management or ownership.

We know that if Lucchino hadn’t “recommended’’ Valentine be in the mix, we’d probably have Dale Sveum or Gene Lamont.

In the end, Cherington agreed to hire Valentine.

Since the Youkilis issue, Valentine has been very careful about what he says publicly about players.

He’s taken some heat for backtracking on his Youkilis comments because people wanted him to be different than Terry Francona, who never said a negative word about a player in public. Nor did Grady Little and Jimy Williams before him.

Does the manager really have to clear things with the players before he comments on them?

Has it come to that?

Here’s my take: It appears that upper management has told Valentine to cool it. And he has. Fans now think Valentine isn’t as tough as he was billed. It appears to the public that Valentine can’t manage the team the way he wants. What a waste if that’s truly the case.

Valentine has to work closely and get along with Cherington, and vice versa. He also doesn’t want an all-out war in the clubhouse if he’s too tough on a player, so he’s tried to keep the peace.

It’s only common sense that a manager, GM, and owner would be upset when someone like Beckett plays golf after missing a start because of injury.

It’s only common sense that they would be equally upset that Beckett simply didn’t address the situation and admit that he messed up.

But nobody says a thing, because, my goodness, you might upset Beckett.

How stupid did that look?

The general public couldn’t care less if this group of players is comfortable. They messed up last September. They blew it. And some of them will never change. They need to be uneasy. The players can’t have it their way.

This whole situation is a reminder of how difficult it is to manage nowadays.

One American League manager told me he can’t even do infield practice because there would be a revolt among his players. Another manager recently told me he can’t get a reliever to pitch during garbage time because he would feel disrespected.

A common complaint is that there are a lot of GMs who are trying to control the manager, telling him whom to play and where to put guys in the batting order. And when a manager wants a certain player . . . unless it’s the GM’s idea, no chance.

The Red Sox appear to have gone through an awkward stage.

If they continue in this vein, they will self-destruct.

What needs to happen?

For one, they need their injured starters back.

Ellsbury makes a huge difference. Crawford, even with his bad 2011 season, is a superb baseball athlete.

The one exception could be at third base, where Will Middlebrooks has added spark, power, and better defense. It should be Valentine’s decision as to whether Youkilis gets his job back, and nobody else’s. And if Youkilis isn’t the choice, Valentine needs to move him around to get him at-bats.

The addition of Daisuke Matsuzaka to the rotation should create competition among starting pitchers.

“Should’’ is the key word.

In Boston, it seems there are pitchers who feel entitled to their spot in the rotation, but they should all have a fear that they’re in danger of losing it if they don’t perform. The Red Sox were hoping to create that looking-over-your-shoulder feeling with Aaron Cook, but the veteran righty is on the DL.

At some point, the Red Sox need to infuse more youth into the lineup.

Ryan Lavarnway and Jose Iglesias need to be added.

You need an outstanding defender at shortstop. You need the power and offense that Lavarnway provides because there are defensive deficiencies at the catcher position. And then you find at-bats for Mike Aviles, who has done a nice job offensively.

Everyone needs to do their job and allow people to do theirs.

It’s the only way this can work.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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