Thursday, August 16, 2012

Culture Shock

If you believe the Boston Red Sox' struggles in 2012 have more to do with off-the-field issues, then perhaps you need to start re-evaluating where those issues are coming from

The Red Sox need a culture change.

At least, that's what everybody keeps telling me.

"Josh Beckett's got a bad attitude. John Lackey has a drinking problem. They're bringing the rest of the team down!"

Look, I don't walk up and down the streets polling the general public. But that seems to be a pretty popular belief. So much so, that some are pulling for the Red Sox to just "dump" Beckett and Lackey for nothing in return.

These people keep using the phrase, "culture change," when describing what they'd like to see happen to the Red Sox clubhouse. It would be the best way -- in their opinion -- to rid the organization of what is so commonly referred to as the "cancer in the clubhouse."

In recent days, the soap opera that is the Boston Red Sox has made for a storyline that only Vince McMahon could create. Instead of, "Fans & Media vs. Beckett & Lackey" it's now, "Players vs. Bobby Valentine."

But only 17 players, according to reports. Those reports claim that 17 Red Sox players called for a meeting with ownership to express their displeasure with the manager.

Leading the way -- according to the Yahoo! report -- was Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez. If the story is true, then these two players were the most vocal during the meeting that took place in July.

It's a twist that has made both the fans and media pick a side. Is Valentine the problem? Or should the players just shut up and play?

The storyline has also taken some of the attention away from guys like Beckett and Lackey, and the popular belief that their clubhouse presence is pulling this team deep into the depths of hell. Because of that, it's taking the attention away from the clubhouse "culture change" as well.

But should it?

We don't know that Beckett and Lackey were part of the 17 that went crying to ownership about their manager. But even if we assume they were, we know that they weren't leading the charge.

That was Pedroia and Gonzalez.

Before we go any further, let me declare what I believed in before the report of this "heated" and "ugly" meeting.

I believed that all off-the-field issues were blown way out of proportion, both at the end of 2011 and throughout all of this season.

I believed that any and all failures of this baseball team were because of a lack of on-the-field production, especially with the "star" players, and more specifically, with Beckett and Jon Lester's production, or shall I say, lack thereof.

I believed that a "star" player's relationship with his manager should have absolutely no affect on that player's production, either on the mound, at the plate, or in the field.

And because of all that, I believed the need for a "culture change" inside the Red Sox clubhouse was unnecessary.

But that was before Pedroia and Gonzalez -- in the heat of a playoff race in July -- decided to lead the charge in a mid-summer meeting that was meant to express their great displeasure with the manager.

Pedroia and Gonzalez. These guys are leaders. At least, they're supposed to be.

In their own different ways, of course.

Pedroia is outspoken. He's not afraid to talk. But he also speaks through his actions on the field, with his dirt-dog mentality.

Gonzalez, on the other hand, is more of a silent leader. His preparation and actions on the field speak louder than his words.

But they're both leaders. Again, that's what they're supposed to be, at least.

In recent days, I've had to go back and refresh my memory as to what being a "leader" actually meant.

While searching for the answer, I came across a story from April of 2007, in which George Steinbrenner was contemplating firing the legendary Joe Torre, after his New York Yankees began the season with a 9-14 start that left them in last place in the American League East.

Derek Jeter -- the Yankees' leader -- stood in front of his locker, after losing eight of nine games, and defended his manager, whose job was in question.

"It's unfair," Jeter said. "There's no way he's responsible for us performing. He's not hitting for us. He's not pitching for us. He puts the best players out there on the field, gives us an opportunity to win. We're just not doing the job. That's unfair, and it should stop. He's doing a great job this year. We just haven't done the job on the field. That's the bottom line."

This example isn't meant to compare Torre and Valentine. Because we all know the two cannot be compared. Instead, it's meant to define the role of a leader. And not just a leader, but a leader in the face of adversity.

Jeter didn't just defend Torre because it was Torre. He defended him because it was his manager. He defended him because it was the right thing to do. He defended him because he's a leader.

And regardless of who the Yankees manager was at that point in time, Jeter was right. Torre wasn't hitting for them. Torre wasn't pitching for them. He just puts the best players out on the field. From that point on, for 162 games a year, it's those players' responsibility to perform.

All managers are different. Some have better personalities than others. Some are strict. Some are considered "players managers."

Valentine isn't and never will be Torre. But at the end of the day, as managers, both do the same thing. They toss a lineup card onto the wall.

Is there more to it? Sure. But to say that the 2012 Boston Red Sox are four games under .500 in mid-August -- and essentially eliminated from a playoff spot -- because of Valentine's late-game decision-making, is just not real life.

These Red Sox are where they are because the lineup card that Valentine throws up every night -- with the best players that he's had available all season long -- isn't producing at the level everybody expects it to.

Regardless of how much he may dislike his manager, Pedroia knows one thing to be true each and every day he arrives at the ballpark. He knows that he'll be starting at second base, and he'll be hitting in the first inning.

In fact, most of the "star" players have the same exact role every single night. Their relationship with the manager doesn't change that.

The example I always use is, if you're at the plate with a runner in scoring position, you have one goal, to drive that runner in. If you're thinking about how much you hate the manager during that at-bat, then maybe you're the problem, not the manager.

And if you want to go into specifics, with regards to failed on-field production, then look no further than Lester and Beckett. How their relationship with the manager should affect what they do on the mound every fifth night is beyond me.

Both have been downright awful this season. To think that those struggles would have turned into gems, had another manager been in place, just doesn't make any sense.

Those struggles have turned into losses. Those losses have turned into the nitpicking of clubhouse issues. That nitpicking has turned into the news of an actual clubhouse issue, led by two star-players who were thought to be leaders of the Boston Red Sox.

And in the face of adversity, those leaders, instead of pulling their teammates together to tell them to look in the mirror and that they are the ones at fault, Pedroia and Gonzalez gathered the troops and stormed to ownership, expressing their frustrations with the guy that fills out their lineup card.

Leadership -- in the face of adversity -- doesn't include throwing your manager under the bus, especially if you're pulling the rest of your team onto that bus with you.

Before this story came out, so much had been made of Beckett and Lackey, and their clubhouse demeanor. But in reality, their personalities have never changed. In fact, it's that stubborn mentality that made them great pitchers to begin with. Problem is, nobody complained about it before, because they were producing on the field at the time.

Now that Beckett is beyond struggling, and now that Lackey is being paid millions to essentially do nothing this season, those personalities have created a revolt throughout Red Sox Nation that's committed to "changing the clubhouse culture."

And after hearing about the revolt that Pedroia and Gonzalez started against their manager in July, I'm ready to revolt as well.

But I'm joining your revolt, because you were right.

I get it. You want a culture change.  And now, even I agree.

I just think Pedroia and Gonzalez are the players that need to go.


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