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A few thoughts on the clubhouse

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  October 19, 2011 09:45 AM

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The Red Sox played just shy of 1,500 innings this season spread out over 181 days. In an ideal world, all 25 players would pay rapt attention to all 1,500 of those innings and be at their best all 181 days. But that's not the case for any team.

On a given day, there are 4-7 players on a 25-man roster who aren't going to play in the game. You have the other four starting pitchers, a reliever or two getting a day off, and maybe a position player nursing an injury. Plus you have players on the disabled list who are in uniform.

What they do is pretty much their business. But sitting in the dugout is not a prerequisite.

Players who aren't in the lineup, particularly pitchers, might be in the trainer's room getting treatment. Or working with the massage therapist. Or watching video. Or working out. Or, yes, eating fried chicken and drinking beer.

It's probably not particularly smart to drink while your teammates are playing. But be advised that this probably happens every day in some clubhouse. And more. One outfielder I covered, now retired, used to pour a shot of Kahlua into every tin of smokeless tobacco he opened. He kept the bottle in his locker and didn't care who noticed. Other guys sneak cigarettes in back rooms.

One team I covered had an elaborate system of spotting pretty girls in the stands from the dugout and signaling team employees to get their phone numbers. Anaheim was a very productive place for this.

A relief pitcher once asked me to text him updates from the Alabama football game because the bullpen couldn't have a radio or a television. A few years ago, a fairly prominent outfielder e-mailed during a game to ask a question related to his fantasy football team.

In virtually every bullpen in baseball, players trade autographed balls to fans for slices of pizza or hot dogs. Guys decide where they're going to get dinner on a road and send somebody to make a reservation. It'll take you five minutes on Google to find out what Mickey Mantle was up to in the clubhouse on days he didn't play. Repeating it here would not be wise for my job security.

Baseball is not like football, basketball, or hockey. It's a long, drawn-out season full of lulls, rain delays, and hours upon hours of sitting there watching other people play. There are bound to be moments that push the boundaries of professionalism.

If a team wins, it's all in good fun. The 2004 Red Sox drank shots of Jack Daniels before playoff games and everybody thinks it's a great example of how together and loose they were.

If the 2011 Red Sox had made their way into the playoffs and somehow advanced to the World Series, that three pitchers were eating fried chicken and washing it down with Bud Light would be a funny footnote. Instead it's a sign of disrespect.

Beckett had a 2.89 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP. Lester was at 3.47 and 1.25. If they're the problem, then give the Red Sox two more problems like that.

The Red Sox have some issues. There is a clear sense of undeserved entitlement on the part of some players. There also was a lack of commitment to proper conditioning and obviously some of these problems really bothered Terry Francona.

But if you're a fan, don't think that the beer and chicken scandal is somehow unique to the Red Sox or a sign of a team out of control. It's one small piece of the puzzle as to why this team collapsed, not the whole picture.

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