Fingerpointing, negativity fueled by Boston sports media is already getting old

In the aftermath of failure, fingerpointing is inevitable. This is true, regardless of whether you are talking about a Fortune 500 company or a professional sports organization.

After a 2-10 start, the 2011 Red Sox reeled off an 80-41 record and appeared playoff bound in early September. Then came the historic collapse that saw a nine-game wild card lead turn into a second consecutive non-playoff season.

Since the final night of the season, when Jonathan Papelbon blew a save in Baltimore and Evan Longoria belted a walk-off home run to give Tampa Bay the wild card berth instead of Boston, the venomous Boston media has predictably fueled the flames of what was already a drama.

In the last two weeks, Terry Francona departed his managerial post when it was announced the Red Sox would not pick up his 2012 and 2013 options; news was released that starting pitchers drank beer, ordered take-out chicken and played video games in the clubhouse on nights when they weren’t on the mound; and Theo Epstein has left Boston for the Chicago Cubs.

Today, two more stories about the problems facing the Red Sox were published. Bob Hohler’s piece in the Boston Globe offers further details about what happened behind the scenes during the Red Sox’ 2011 season. A column by Kirk Minihane on WEEI.com voices his opinion on why Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner are not blameless with the current state of the ballclub.

Much of what Hohler wrote is nothing new. It is now widely known among Red Sox Nation that starting pitchers drank beer, ordered take-out chicken and played video games in the clubhouse during games when they should have been in the dugout supporting their teammates.

It didn’t help matters that supposed aces Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, and monumental flop John Lackey, were ineffective in September, when the team needed them most. All three pitchers visually appear out of shape.

Hohler also wrote:

As Hurricane Irene barreled toward Boston in late August, management proposed moving up the Sunday finale of a weekend series against Oakland so the teams could play a day-night doubleheader either Friday, Aug. 26, or Saturday, Aug. 27. The reasoning seemed sound: the teams would avoid a Sunday rainout and the dilemma of finding a mutual makeup date for teams separated by 2,700 miles.

But numerous Sox players angrily protested. They returned early that Friday from Texas after a demanding stretch in which they had played 14 of 17 games on the road, with additional stops in Minneapolis, Seattle, and Kansas City. The players accused management of caring more about making money than winning, which marked the first time the team’s top executives sensed serious trouble brewing in the clubhouse.

As it turned out, the Sox swept the Saturday doubleheader, but that stormy day marked the beginning of the end for the 2011 team. It was the last time the team would win two games in a row. After getting two days off, the Sox spent the rest of the season playing uninspired, subpar baseball, losing 21 of their final 29 games.

Sox owners soon suspected the team’s poor play was related to lingering resentment over the scheduling dispute, sources said. The owners responded by giving all the players $300 headphones and inviting them to enjoy a players-only night on principal owner John W. Henry’s yacht after they returned from a road trip Sept. 11.

That segment of Hohler’s article further illustrates why the 2011 Red Sox were not the Dirt Dawg-stle ballclub that had become synonymous with the organization during the Epstein and Francona era. The story also illustrates why changes needed to be made.

The information in Hohler’s article evidently inspired Minihane to write his column on WEEI.com about why Henry and Werner are also at fault for Boston’s underachieving 2011 season.

In Hohler’s article, he used “team sources” to smear Francona.

Hohler wrote:

By numerous accounts, manager Terry Francona lost his ability to prevent some of the lax behavior that characterized the collapse. Team sources said Francona, who has acknowledged losing influence with some former team leaders, appeared distracted during the season by issues related to his troubled marriage and to his health.

Francona spent the season living in a hotel after he moved out of the Brookline home he shared with Jacque, his wife of nearly 30 years. But he adamantly denied his marital problems affected his job performance.

“It makes me angry that people say these things because I’ve busted my [butt] to be the best manager I can be,’’ Francona said. “I wasn’t terribly successful this year, but I worked harder and spent more time at the ballpark this year than I ever did.”

Team sources also expressed concern that Francona’s performance may have been affected by his use of pain medication, which he also vehemently denied. Francona said he has taken pain medicine for many years, particularly after multiple knee surgeries. He said he used painkillers after knee surgery last October and used them during the season to relieve the discomfort of doctors draining blood from his knee at least five times.

Francona acknowledged that he consulted the team’s internist, Dr. Larry Ronan, during spring training after one of his children expressed concern about a pill bottle in his hotel room. Francona said the doctor told him he did not have a drug abuse problem. Ronan could not be reached.

“I went and saw the proper people and it was not an issue,’’ Francona said. “It never became an issue, and anybody who knew what was going on knows that.”

It is unfair to Francona, and out of line, to smear his reputation by inferring that he has a prescription drug problem and to intrude in his personal life regarding his marriage – especially since Francona is no longer the Red Sox manager.

Yet Hohler’s hack job column is no surprise considering that he is a member of the Boston sports media, which is notorious for sensationalism and fueling negativity.

This is why I embrace Minihane’s column, which paints an accurate picture of who is responsible for the team’s current state. It is not solely Epstein and Francona. The players are mostly to blame, especially since it is evident that most of them cared little about putting the work in to be a success. Yet Henry and Werner are also making the situation uglier by their actions.

Minihane wrote:

Now Terry Francona and Theo Epstein — the most successful manager and general manager in franchise history — are gone. And you know what? I’m OK with that. If the owners of the Boston Red Sox spend $500 million (or so) over the last three years and get zero playoff wins, a historic collapse and a clubhouse in chaos for a return, they should (at least) consider those kinds of moves. I would have kept both guys myself (I think 93 wins a year and two World Series should get you a little rope), but I recognize the thinking. No problems there.

But the owners just couldn’t do that, could they? Nope. And you know why? Because (gasp) it wouldn’t have looked good. Probably didn’t test well. So what they initially did was instead try to sell us on the idea that this was Francona’s decision (how many times did we hear “new voice” during the press conferences?).

Well, that really didn’t pass the smell test. Even Francona — a good soldier until the end — tried to sell it. But we know that it was a titanic ball of crapola. If the Red Sox had picked up Francona’s options on, say, Aug. 11, does anyone think he wouldn’t want to be the manager anymore? Of course not. The owners wanted him gone but didn’t have the guts to say so publicly. Why? Fear of backlash. So they tried to sneak around the truth and guess what happened? Backlash. Turns out the folks aren’t as moronic as they had hoped (probably the ratings for “After the Game” could’ve told them that).

So instead of just punting this one and letting Francona, who it should be noted hasn’t knocked the ownership once since leaving — win this little battle and just move on to fixing all that needs fixing, this ownership group decided to continue trying to score a knockout in a fight it lost two weeks ago. A couple of appearances on WEEI did nothing in terms of changing momentum, so what was left to do?

Smear Francona apparently.

Minihane added:

Bob Hohler has a long, detailed and plenty juicy read on all that went wrong with the Red Sox in The Boston Globe today. A very good writer doing a very good job with the information he had. If I had all the stuff he had I might have written the same story.

But let’s be fair — true or not, it reads as if John Henry and Larry Lucchino dictated the entire story to Hohler. The owners come across as well-meaning but ultimately hands off ($300 headphones and a trip on Henry’s yacht for the players after a road trip) while the blame for September is split between Francona, the players and Epstein.

And again, to some extent I’m fine with that. All deserve to take hit after hit for what happened. But there has to be a line somewhere, right? At some point you have to take a look around, get an idea of the climate (Bill James’ temperature gauge has John Henry at 11 degrees right now) and surrender.

Minihane continued by posting the aforementioned excerpts from Hohler’s article about Francona. Then Minihane wrote:

Again, I’m not sure that Henry or Lucchino are the sources in the Hohler story. But they (or those in that circle) are certainly Candidates 1 and 1A, right? And if that’s true, it’s absolutely horrid behavior, and (to quote Henry Hill for the second time in five days) “real greaseball s–t.”

This is just wrong, and it reeks of desperation. Lots of times we don’t know what wrong is, and lots of time we do. And this is sure one of those times we know what wrong is.

Is this how you treat an employee who helped you win two World Series? If you really like the guy — as we’ve been told countless times over the last couple of weeks — is that the kind of stuff that you leak? Is that how management is supposed to behave when things don’t go its way? And if all that stuff was such a problem, why would you ever leave the decision about coming back to Francona himself, as Tom Werner suggested was the case at the press conference? This is Smear Campaign 101, nothing more and nothing less. And worst of all, it’s being done in an attempt to save the unsalvageable.

These are the most desperate times yet for the ownership, and true colors have been revealed. Instead of just saying thanks and letting Francona walk, they tossed him under a bus, picked him up and tossed him under again. As for Epstein — who, according to those same sources in the Hohler story, pushed to sign Carl Crawford despite objections from ownership — well, it seems he can’t get out of Boston fast enough. Curious. Turns out there is, as Henry suggested to Dennis & Callahan, a “shelf life” after all.

To that I’d ask: Is there a shelf life for ownership?

As I have written in the last two weeks – and as Minihane said in his column – changes needed to be made. It was time for Francona and Epstein to leave, and it is time to make the players accountable.

The bottom line is this. Aside from obvious names like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Alfredo Aceves; many of the players on the 2011 Red Sox embarrassed the organization by their on-the-field performance in September and their off-the-field antics. Francona lost control of the clubhouse, and Epstein did not make the right moves in 2011.

That said, instead of their classless attempts to define what happened and who was responsible, Henry and Werner should focus on promoting Ben Cherington to general manager, hiring a new manager and making adjustments to improve the 40-man roster (like parting ways with Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield, and eating Lackey’s remaining contract like Lackey devours a bucket of fried chicken).

What’s done is done. The Red Sox fell dramatically short of expectations in 2011. The ballclub is currently caught up in unpleasant fingerpointing and negativity that is being flamed by the media. As David Ortiz said in a recent interview, “I don’t want to talk about that anymore.” Translated, it is time to move forward.

There are a plethora of positives for the Red Sox. Cherington is a brilliant baseball mind and deserves the GM role. The Red Sox managerial job is one of the most coveted positions in Major League Baseball, so there will not be a shortage of exceptional candidates. The team has a core of talented players who are either in their prime or are entering their prime.

The farm system is well-stocked and has promising names who can help in 2012 or by 2013 like Josh Reddick, Ryan Kalish, Ryan Lavarnway, Felix Doubront, Kyle Weiland, Junichi Tazawa, Alex Wilson, Will Middlebrooks and Jose Iglesias.

Though Beckett, Lester and even Clay Buchholz have not helped their reputation in recent days from the news of their clubhouse habits during games when they are not on the mound, when healthy they form a solid 1-2-3 punch atop the rotation.

Winning undoubtedly heals wounds, and the Red Sox will once again be a World Series contender in 2012. Before then, Henry and Werner need to stop embarrassing themselves and the organization with their responses about 2011, and every player on the 2011 active roster should be fueled with motivation after how the 2011 season ended.

The negativity will continue through the off-season because it will be prolonged by Boston media members trying to squeeze out every ounce of sensationalism they can muster. On BoSox Banter, though, I will focus on the new GM and manager, and the direction this team should take for 2012 and beyond.

2011 is done. It is time to concentrate on the Hot Stove League and building the roster for next season. It is time for the fingerpointing and negativity to stop.

1 Response to “ Fingerpointing, negativity fueled by Boston sports media is already getting old ”

  1. This is nothing new and it is not isolated to the happy days in the Toy Department – AKA The Sports Desk- in Boston. How often do you now see opinion seep into hard new stories? That quaint little custom has proliferating in print media. Heck….I even saw an article where a blog was given as a source!

    None of this is really new and you can see the same feeding frenzy about 200 miles south of Boston and then just wander down to Philly. Sensationalism sells. Just sing the words to “Dirty Laundry.” TMZ – long the Enquirer of broadcast journalism – is now legit!

    As far as airing out Francona’s issue is it actually relevant to the situation? IMHO it certainly is. It happened while he was in the employ of the Red Sox.

    Periodically personal situations surface such as the situation with Drew’s son or the drama around Lackey that are reported – usually in The Track – as a way of maybe bringing in a different perspective. And how can Tito actually tell “The Boyz” to hop of the beer wagon when he is downing (and needing) Vicodin’s?

    When I see the word “sources” the flag goes up that says senior management.

    Right now the media is a shark and the Red Sox a bloody fish.

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