“I think we’re gonna do this man.”
Bobby Valentine declared this as he reached across the table to shake hands with Ben Cherington on the day he was introduced as the manager of the Boston Red Sox.
“I still believe. I just do.”
Eight months later, he sat in Yankee Stadium, explaining how it was still possible for his team to turn things around and reach the postseason. He expressed that same wide-eyed optimism that he displayed on his first day with the team, but one hundred games into his tenure with the Red Sox, it’s hard to imagine things could have gone much worse for Valentine.
By now, you’ve read every angle on why the 2012 team has slugged along to the tune of a .500 record: too many injured players, terrible production from Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, bad chemistry, rifts between players and managers, discontent coaching staffs, pool parties, golf outings, fired managers holding court in the clubhouse, and everything in between.
At this point, it’s hard to even blame Valentine for the failure that this season has become. There’s been so much unnecessary drama on and off the field, that he’s become more of a ringmaster at the circus then a manager of a major league baseball team.
The injuries certainly do add up. Missing Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford until mid-July is a huge hit. The fact that Andrew Bailey has yet to throw a pitch for Boston has put the bullpen on an entirely different course than was planned at the beginning of spring training. At the end of the day, the Red Sox have yet to field the everyday lineup they projected for in the offseason. But those excuses only go so far. Look no further than the Yankees, who are running away with the American League, to see a team that has taken major injury hits and sustained consistent play. Michael Pineda, their big offseason acquisition, has yet to throw a pitch. Mariano Rivera, whose resume needs no detailing, suffered a season-ending injury in May. Aside from that, they’ve had David Robertson, Brett Gardner, CC Sabathia, and Alex Rodriguez all miss significant time. Despite this, they have the best record in the American League, and have the American league East all but mathematically clinched. Moral of the story: injury excuses can only carry you so far.
The Boston (and national) media would have you believe that the main reason behind the Sox’ failure is the lack of chemistry in the clubhouse, and the rift between the players and Valentine. Here’s the thing about that: we’ll never know. It’s rather absurd to draw concrete conclusions based on an issue that is anything but concrete. Does the ghost of last September still haunt this Red Sox club? Yes, more than likely. But to say that the main reason behind a down year is because the players don’t like each other? Well, they always say it’s rather pointless to argue about something you’ll never get the correct answer to, and this seems to be a prime case of that. Memories of fried chicken and beer certainly still linger in the home clubhouse at Fenway park, but memories aren’t something that a losing (or for that matter winning) baseball club can use as verification for their record.
It’s hard not to watch Kevin Youkilis and Josh Reddick and feel a little envious. Both of them are on winning teams, teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today. Youkilis’ started his tenure with the White Sox on an absolute tear, winning player of the week, before cooling off a bit. Reddick is the fourth most valuable player in the American league (going from WAR). Youkilis’ quotes about the difference between Chicago and Boston were particularly damning.
“I would say there’s less drama all around. (In Chicago), you play the game, it’s over with. You get a question, there’s no drama all the time. It’s just fun.”
Meanwhile, Carl Crawford has to deal with a different media crisis everyday. At this point, it seems like no one in the Red Sox organization is really sure what the plan is with him, including Crawford himself. Their explanation of a “four-day program” doesn’t add up in the slightest. With each passing day, it seems like everyone is trying to explain a plan that simply does not exist.
Most questions in life don’t have one answer. The best ones never do. To boil the disaster that the Boston Red Sox Organization has become down to one explanation is impossible. It would be making things too easy, too simple. As much as it will kill some people (notably most members of the Boston media), we’ll never truly know exactly what is going on behind the doors of the clubhouse.
Why is Jon Lester having the worst year of his career at very time he should be peaking? How in the world does Adrian Gonzalez only have ten home runs? Does Carl Crawford even have a left elbow anymore? These are all pressing questions that really, we’ll never have the answer for. But perhaps the greatest question of them all is how a team with this much talent on it, a team with this high of a payroll, could be so startlingly mediocre?
Perhaps the best answer for all of these things rests in the words of Bobby Valentine, and the way he answered the question of how he could still possibly have faith in this beleaguered group of men.
“I just do.”