‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
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Fear is a great asset for any professional sports team to possess. Winning franchises are successful because they have a healthy fear of losing and a never-say-die mentality that causes opposing teams to fear them.
The Red Sox teams of the mid 2000’s built up a camaraderie and unbreakable belief in one another. They were a united ballclub that refused to allow complacency to seep into their game and rallied around their beloved manager Terry Francona.
That belief began to diminish as Francona’s contract ran down into its final year. Players once willing to put themselves in front of a speeding bullet for their manager now saw him as disposable voice whom they needn’t heed.
Sure, Dustin Pedoria, Jonathan Papelbon and Jacoby Ellsbury would run through a wall for any figure of authority. It’s in their DNA to the play the game of baseball with reckless abandon but that wasn’t the prevailing philosophy in the Red Sox clubhouse.
Bob Hohler reported today in The Boston Globe, that a number of players gave up on strength and conditioning regimens. Half of the team refused to take batting practice on the road. John Lackey, Josh Beckett and John Lester would sit in the clubhouse playing video games, drinking beer and eating fried chicken on days they didn’t pitch while their teammates battled on the field. When prompted by Francona and their agents to return to the dugout, the trio refused.
The Red Sox had lost their edge and opposing teams could sense it. It’s little wonder why Boston blew a nine-game Wild Card lead and ended September with a 7-19 record. Joe Maddon and his Rays saw the Red Sox as a leaking piñata and proceeded to bash them senselessly. Tampa Bay won six out of seven September meetings against Boston.
It wasn’t just teams gunning for a playoff spot like the Rays who sensed Red Sox bleeding as they crossed the finish line. Opportunistic teams like the Blue Jays and Orioles who had nothing to play for in the standings continued to play with pride and the embraced the task of playing spoiler. The Red Sox became a slow-moving target for opposing teams to feast on.
They quit on strength and conditioning coach Dave Page, manager Terry Francona and Red Sox fans but worst of all – they quit on themselves. Their professional pride evaporated. For a team dubbed ‘The Dirt Dogs’ by their fans, they played nothing like the scrappy champions of past seasons. David Ortiz had become more vocal than ever and questioned Francona’s decisions. Even Kevin Youkilis who was missing due to injury took the opportunity to bash Jacoby Ellsbury’s toughness while the outfielder was enjoying an MVP-caliber season.
Now after the dust has cleared, Terry Francona will be better off managing in a new city or in the broadcast booth rather than dealing with a clubhouse full of self-entitled primadonnas. Whether you like him or not, Curt Schilling played through a ruptured tendon and took the ball even while dealing with immense pain. Lester, Beckett and Lackey preferred the comfort of fried chicken and beer to strength training and commitment. That tells you everything you need to know about the makeup of the 2011 Red Sox.
It will be a difficult task to see what kind of personality can mold the Red Sox back into winners like Francona did when he first took over in 2004. Manager-less and without the services of former GM Theo Epstein, Boston is a naked franchise without direction.
Until a new identity is formed, the Yankees and Rays will look at the Red Sox as a wounded ballclub again in 2012. It is up to the decision-makers in place at Fenway to hire a no-nonsense manager who can instill an environment of togetherness and hard work. Is it to be seen whether that is possible but by the evidence shown by the Red Sox during the 2011 season, it will take some effort to get it done.
What do you make of the problems facing the Red Sox organization? Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.