Theo Epstein, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino did their best tonight to deflect Terry Francona’s comments about the clubhouse and the apparently poor attitude of some players.
“Certain players we have who are leaders can step up and raise the level of their leadership even more. A new manager is going to be an opportunity for new leadership in the clubhouse, too,” Epstein said.
“We’ll raise our level and meet those high standards that we have. … I’m confident in this group of players and their character.”
Werner went so far as to describe the team as “a great bunch of guys.”
But clearly there are major issues within the clubhouse. Francona is the ultimate player’s manager and he threw the 2011 Red Sox under a fleet of Greyhounds today.
“I felt frustrated with my inability to reach maybe guys that I’ve been able to in the past, or affect the outcome a little bit more differently and that bothers me,” he said.
“I wanted desperately for our guys to care about each other on the field. I wasn’t seeing that as much as I wanted to do. … When things go bad, your true colors show and I was bothered by what was showing. It’s my responsibility.”
As somebody who watched the team every day, there were signs of what Francona was speaking about.
It was rare that a pitcher, particularly one of the starters, spoke to a position player and that created a gulf in the clubhouse — figuratively and literally given that the pitchers are on one side of the room and the position players are on the other.
There are some pitchers in the game — CC Sabathia, David Price, and Roy Halladay are good examples — who are big parts of their teams as leaders and their teammates fight for them on the field. I’m not sure there are any Red Sox starters who you can say that about.
The 2011 Red Sox also were not the hardest-working team you’ll ever see. Some players are extraordinary in their level of preparedness. But others did the minimum expected of them. I often got the impression that Francona trusted the players to do the right thing and that was hit or miss depending on the player, particularly the pitchers.
In retrospect, that was probably reflected in the poor start of the season and the poor finish. The Sox had to play themselves into shape and then, at the end of a long season, they were out of energy. You watched the games, how dead did that team look down the stretch to you?
It also was telling that the only regular players who routinely showed up for optional batting practice were Dustin Pedroia and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
“Tito is family to me. It’s hard for all of us,” Pedroia said tonight. “I would run through a wall if he told me to.”
But Pedroia is one of only a few players in that group and is a leader by example, not necessarily in voice.
In one sense it is good to have a roster full of players who have World Series rings and big contracts because that means they’re excellent players. But it’s also bad because youth and hunger can drive a team. How many young, ambitious players do the Red Sox have?
Jacoby Ellsbury, who will get a heap of MVP votes this season. That’s one. Daniel Bard, that’s two.
Clay Buchholz, maybe, but he didn’t play from mid-June on.
The Red Sox don’t need to clean house. But they do need to sweep out some of the usual suspects on the roster and get some players who are committed to winning and not themselves. The Red Sox are what they once despised, a team that thinks all they have to do is show up.
Good luck to the next manager. But, as Epstein said, maybe that’s a positive. If Francona was tuned out, and even he thought that, then certainly it was time for a change.
“The [new] manager is going to be a leader in his own right, the way Tito was, and his responsibility will be to lead this club and provide a culture in the clubhouse that is conducive to winning. That’s what we’re going to do,” he said
“I’m going to miss Tito; he’s not going to be here for that. But we’re going to get it done and it’s going to be a lot of fun along the way. I look forward to it. I’m not excited to have to go do a manager search because it means Tito’s not going to be here. But I am excited we’re going to get the right guy and that under his leadership these players are going to come together and form a winning team next year, a really good team.”
We shall see. A lot has to change for that to be the case. Two straight years in third place, no playoff victories since 2008. That’s going to require more than just getting a new manager.