Red Sox players rebel against Valentine; who is at fault?

Published On August 14, 2012 | By Tanya Ray Fox

Red Sox Nation is abuzz once again with the newest scandal surrounding the MLB’s most dysfunctional clubhouse.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports broke the story Tuesday afternoon that a group of Red Sox players met with team ownership on July 26th and blasted manager Bobby Valentine. According to Passan, the meeting was preempted by a text from Adrian Gonzalez on behalf of himself and some of his teammates “airing their dissatisfaction with Valentine for embarrassing starting pitcher Jon Lester by leaving him in to allow 11 runs during a July 22 start.”

Passan’s three sources, whom he says Yahoo! Sports granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about internal matters, explained that the meeting held at 2 p.m. that afternoon soured quickly. Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia were among the most vocal of the players in the meeting in which “some players stated flatly they no longer wanted to play for Valentine.”

It doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Valentine’s relationship with his players has been steadily disintegrating since before the regular season even started. Still, it is one thing for players to moan and groan in the clubhouse. It’s entirely another thing to express this level of dissent, to the point where a clubhouse already divided is attempting to divide itself further by no longer wanting to play for their manager.

There seems to be a larger issue at hand here than just players and a manager who do not get along. Valentine is not the first coach whose team (or at least some of it) has turned on him and he certainly will not be the last. The bigger issue is that it has been patently obvious since day one that Valentine was not a fit for this clubhouse.

It is still unclear why and how ownership felt it necessary to part ways with the most successful coach in franchise history after missing the postseason literally by an inning. Terry Francona was nearly universally liked by his players, and his only known flaw was letting his players run the clubhouse as a frat house; something they have continued to do in his absence and something they will continue to do because everyone above the manager would rather turn a blind eye.

Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Maybe the media did make too much a deal of the beer and fried chicken. Looking back at Francona’s tenure with the Red Sox, it’s fairly obvious that the “band of idiots”, “Cowboy Up”, beer-drinkin’, chicken-eatin’, play-ball-then-get-drunk lifestyle was sort of present during the entire Francona era. Was the Kevin Millar/Tim Wakefield/Doug Mirabelli crew in 2004 really that different from the Lackey/Beckett/Varitek group that they rolled out in 2011?

The 2004 team payroll was $125,208,542 and was second only to the Yankees. The 2011 team payroll was $161,407,476 and was third to the Yankees and the Phillies. Adjusted for inflation, the 2004 team payroll would have been enough in 2011 to keep the Red Sox in third above the Los Angeles Angels.

Many fans and media speculated that the exorbitant Red Sox salary was the impetus for their lack of patience with the clubhouse shenanigans, but that was certainly never the case before. Others said that Francona’s leniency and friendship with his players prevented him from cracking down on the “frat-like” behavior. Once again, why would he have? His approach had always worked, and in fact, almost worked again last year in spite of overall underachieving pitching and the failure of Carl Crawford.

This team’s ownership is, above all other things, overly concerned with its image and how it is portrayed by fans and the media. Despite the fact that their product had suffered very little under Francona’s leadership, they seemed to see him as the perfect scapegoat for whatever larger issues were at hand. Instead of standing behind the one guy who this group of players trusted, they ousted him as a scapegoat and replaced him with a guy who had already been relegated to managing internationally and doing TV analysis because of his often caustic and divisive personality.

Ownership signed Bobby Valentine for the shock value, the headlines and the ticket sales. Now they face not only the wrath of a generally loyal-to-a-fault fan base, but that of their own players. Seems that John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino in their glutton for better ratings and more bobblehead sales forgot that the real power lies with the men they pay to play the game. It’s time they accept this mistake, own it, and fix it before the names on the back of the Fenway faithful’s jerseys decide to pack it in for good.

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