Earlier in the week, Buster Olney of ESPN reported that the Boston Red Sox clubhouse was “in turmoil” and described it as a “toxic” environment while speaking on WEEI radio in Boston. Olney was open about the fact that no one with in the Red Sox organization went on record in support of his claim, openly or anonymously, saying that “people are reaching out to friends and family and texting agents about different stuff going on, and it really gives you an idea of just how broad the unhappiness is right now.” Josh Beckett, who already has good reason to distrust the media, called the report “completely fabricated.” Now, David Ortiz, the Red Sox longest tenured player is lashing out at the reports.
In response to questions about the issue Ortiz told the Boston Globe: “If there’s anything ‘toxic’ between the players, I couldn’t really tell you, because I’m a guy in control of this, so he’s wrong when it comes down to that, I can tell you that.” Ortiz took up a more active leadership role in the clubhouse during spring training and that seems to be coming through here. He did acknowledge that earlier in the year, there were some adjustments. “In this clubhouse right here, there’s not one guy who is not going at it – not one. There used to be, but not anymore. There used to be a lot of confusion, going on back and forth about different things, different subjects. That ain’t happening now.”
Manager Bobby Valentine was even more demonstrative, saying “Why would I comment on someone that I don’t think knows anything?”
It is easy to believe Olney’s report with the team at just 35-33 on the year and 6-9 in their last 15 games, but without so much as quoted source or something more concrete than allusions to player’s texting their agents, I tend to think this report is based on little more than what you can see yourself on television. The Red Sox have been a frustrating team to watch this year. They are underperforming and it is clearly wearing on them. The players on both sides of the ball routinely display frustration with calls on balls and strikes.
Recently, Jon Lester came momentarily unglued after a series of close calls went against him leading to his only walk in an otherwise dominant performance against the Chicago Cubs. He surrendered a home run to the next batter before regaining his composure. Kevin Youkilis and Valentine were ejected in the span of a minute after a tough called third strike in another game. Witnessing this type of behavior on the field, it is easy to make assumptions about discontent off of it.
These are the types of reactions you can expect from a team that is just 35-33 despite a Pythagorean record of 38-30. Based on runs scored and runs allowed, the Red Sox should be much better. In the AL East, only the first place New York Yankees have a better run differential, yet Boston still trails the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles. Even with a number of their star players on the DL, the Red Sox are still competitive but they are feeling the pressure and they aren’t hiding that fact well.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the team is at odds internally. If anything, the fried-chicken-and-beer scandal after last season was an example of the team being too focused on hanging out and having a good time together. While a player like Kevin Youkilis, who is slumping and likely to be shipped out, might have legitimate reason to be discontent, the rest of the team has scrapped and clawed to stay respectable while six starting outfielders have gone down to injury, the newly acquired closer was lost in Spring Training and the newly acquired set up man, the original fifth starter and the starting first and third baseman have all woefully underperformed.
David Ortiz describes the situation in Boston perfectly when he says, “we’re just waiting for the guys with injuries to come back so our team can get in the beast mode.” Murphy’s Law has ruled the 2012 season, everything that could go wrong has and still Boston has the second best Pythagorean record in the division and the forth best in theALand they are just three games back in the wild card standings. Whether or not they have a toxic environment at the moment, the Red Sox are far from out of the running and what really matters is not getting along, but getting healthy.