Red Sox heart failure starts at the core, not the free agents

So, here we go. September 29 and Red Sox Nation begins the months of anger, loathing and frustration airing that won’t end until the next World Series title.

But as I was watching the game last night, I can’t help but be struck by what is a colossal failure of leadership. Here’s my take:

Sure – blame the usual suspects.

The Sox front office – There is no question that the Boston mantra was to buy the next title. In a perfect world, another Series regenerates interest in the club, and the added TV and merchandise revenues easily exceed the additional payroll. It’s pure business, and it backfired because baseball isn’t pure business. Good teams on paper don’t always win. The most expensive teams don’t always equal the best teams. And in the end, if it makes you feel better, the team dumped millions of new dollars into the club and actually find themselves losing money and finding themselves now having to work even harder to win back the fan base. (See my post from the beginning of the season: “A team that’s tough to love.”

The free agents – OK. Carl Crawford didn’t live up to expectations. He was never dynamic. He never took over a game. In short, he was closer to Paxton Crawford in terms of impact. John Lackey: You didn’t really expect much better, did you? J.D. Drew? Ditto. And Adrian Gonzalez, for all the gaudy numbers, failed last night to step up and take the blame:

God has a plan,” he said. “And it wasn’t God’s plan for us to be in the playoffs.”

I respect his religious beliefs, but that’s a cop out, Adrian, unless you’re about to add, “…and I didn’t help.”

All three of these highly paid athletes have not stepped up and said, “Hey, I am sucking wind.”

That’s part of leadership – owning up to your own mistakes.

But the biggest hole in the Red Sox heart? Leadership in the clubhouse.

And I’m not talking about Terry Francona. Firing Terry Francona would be an easy way to overlook the bigger problem. A lack of leadership from all the Red Sox fan favorites. Youk. Pedroia. Lester. Ortiz. Beckett. Varitek. Papelbon. These are the seven guys who are supposed to be the fire for this team. Terry Francona ripping this team in the clubhouse would have blown it up, and Francona knew it. This wasn’t a failure of strategy, and the biggest fires burn from within – from the players themselves.

So where was it? Where was Pedroia? Playing his heart out, sure, but not ripping other guys to do the same. Where was Youk? Again, on a personal level, he was showing fire and gutting it out, but it wasn’t inspirational, because he’s not the kind of guy to rally the team around him. Papi? Great year, but he’s never been someone to lead in the clubhouse. Not his style. As for the pitchers, it’s tough for guys who aren’t there every day to lead in an everyday capacity – but all three could have done more to inspire a bullpen that needed a little team spirit. And ‘Tek? When the C is on your shirt but not next to your name in the lineup card, it’s tough to inspire.

Put it another way – this team needed the kind of player you look at and say, “He’d be a good manager someday.” The only one of the seven you might say that about right now is ‘Tek. But it’s the 2004 and 2007 model, not the current one.

Bottom line – this team had skills, but it lacked leadership. It didn’t need a third starter (OK, it did). But it really needed leadership – Mike Lowell. Victor Martinez. Varitek the Younger. And yes, even the King Idiot, Kevin Millar. The 2011 Red Sox tried to rally as individuals. They never rallied as a team.

 

 

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