Yankees and Red Sox Headed in Different Directions

When I first looked at the 2012 Yankees schedule I thought this weekend’s series would be crucial in determining  who would win the division and who would try their luck in Bud Selig’s one-game playoff. But this series isn’t crucial, and it’s weird that the Yankees and Red Sox will meet with 13 games separating them in the loss column. I said it’s “weird,” I didn’t say it’s “bad.”

With the Yankees and Red Sox meeting set for three games in the Bronx I sent Mike Hurley the mandatory email to let him know that the baseball season is still going on. I’m surprised he replied.

Keefe: I made the subject of the initial email I sent to you “Yacht Party” hoping that you would think it was an invitation from John Henry to join him on his yacht to bring up team morale for the Red Sox. That is what the ownership group in Boston does when things are going poorly at this time of the year, right?

This is our first email exchange since July 6, but we also did a podcast on July 27. Neither time did we actually talk about the actual games or the series, and neither time did you have any Yankees-related questions for me. Instead we spent thousands of words and 34 minutes and two seconds of a podcast talking about the issues surrounding the Red Sox. Now that things are even worse than they were the last two times we talked, why would we change what’s working?

I’m not sure where Jeff Passan ranks on my list of heroes, but he’s definitely in the conversation. After the John Lackey double-fisting story there seemed to be a lull for a day or two with the Red Sox’ clubhouse drama, which was unusual for the the last 11 months and I started to wonder if that would be it for the backstabbing and anonymous sources until the end of the season when there is likely to be even more. Then Jeff Passan comes along and blows away every other Red Sox storyline since the fried chicken and beer stories became public last fall.

There’s just so much in Passan’s story that I don’t even know where to begin. I feel like a five-year-old staring at a mountain of Christmas presents and having no clue which one to open first. I know you’re supposed to save the biggest gift for last, but eff that. Let’s start with the guy who I thought was invincible in Boston. (Then again, I thought Tim Thomas was invincible in Boston a year ago.)

With David Ortiz out of the lineup, and talking about his contract and calling Boston a sh-thole when he’s in the lineup, and Kevin Youkilis now playing for the other Sox, Dustin Pedroia is currently the only player you could consider the face of the Red Sox, but it seems like that idea is slowly fading.

Pedroia was outed by Passan as co-chair of the Anti-Bobby Valentine Club along with Adrian Gonzalez (don’t worry we’ll get to the defending AL Player of the Week) and it was the first time I can remember where Pedroia came out as a bad guy in his major league career. Of course with the release of this story I listened to Boston sports radio and callers were, for likely the first time in history, going against Pedroia and even saying he needs to go.

While it seems like nearly all of Boston despises Bobby V, is it possible that Pedroia and Gonzalez are starting to make Bobby V a sympathetic figure?

Hurley: It was incredible the other day when irate fans were calling in to 98.5 The Sports Hub and saying they were no longer going to wear their Pedroia jerseys. One guy even said his son’s favorite player was Pedroia but he’s no longer allowed to wear his Pedroia shirt. That may be more indicative of his overbearing parenting tactics than the overall feeling of the fan base, but it gives you an indication of how things are going around here.

The thing with this is that it’s just so complicated and there are so many layers to it, it’s really hard to unravel all the way to try to gain some real understanding and generate some valid opinions. I mean, take Pedroia for example. The guy plays his ass off every night, so there’s no problems with him on the field (though he might want to hit .300 before he stages a mutiny). And he took a team-friendly deal long before free agency, definitely passing up big bucks in doing so (he makes $8 million this year). He truly appears to be playing the game for the right reasons, and that’s respectable.

On the other hand, he gets paid $8 million to play baseball, so he should probably just stick to playing baseball. Unless Bob Valentine was peeing in Dusty’s locker and leaving old deli meats to bake in the sun on Pedroia’s dashboard, his situation can’t be so bad that he needs to lead the charge to get the manager fired. I absolutely believe Passan’s story 100 percent and I don’t believe one word that’s come out of Pedroia, Gonzalez, Valentine or most of all ownership since the story broke. It happened, and they’re embarrassed, as they should be.

In the long run, I don’t think Pedroia will be painted in a negative light for a very long time. For one, he’s going to outlast Valentine. Hell, this email exchange may outlast Valentine. And he’s not going to change on the field, which ultimately is why people like baseball players to begin with. I think. I really don’t know anymore.

And um. Did you say Adrian Gonzalez is the defending AL Player of the Week? I believe you mean defending AL Co-Player of the Week. He still was given a free watch, though. I’m really happy for him. That’s two free watches this year!

Keefe: Gonzalez has made out pretty nice since arriving in Boston. So far he has received a $154-million contract extension and has now earned a pair of watches. Who cares that he was part of the worst September collapse in history last year or that he won’t play in a postseason game this year? I certainly don’t.

I have waited for the day that Boston would turn on Pedroia, and I never thought it would come because who thought it could get this bad? If this thing can reach Pedroia and force Boston parents to not allow their children to wear his jersey, just how much worse can it get it? I have an answer: much worse.

Larry Lucchino defended Bobby Valentine on WEEI on Thursday and said that he would not be fired this season. But if you believe what Larry Lucchino says then you probably believe the one-game playoff is good for baseball. Bobby Valentine is going to get fired for this season because the Red Sox ownership might be out of touch with what goes on with their team now that all of their attention is focused on soccer, but they aren’t that out of touch to see the empty seats at Fenway and the way their investment in perceived throughout the city and in the media. There is no way they can go into 2013 with this team led by this man.

While things were bad last September under Terry Francona, things didn’t really come out until the season was over and Francona was gone, so he never had to manage with the media and public being in on the toxicity of the clubhouse. Valentine has had control of the team through the entire aftermath of last September and whether or not injuries are responsible for this season, he has done nothing to prove he is the type of leader that can change things. (This is also why I hope he doesn’t get fired and continues to set the Red Sox back years.) So whether he gets fired at Yankee Stadium this weekend or the following week or on Sept. 6 (my pick in the Bobby V Firing Pool) or at the end of the season, he’s going to get fired for what’s happened this year.

The one thing we knew and have been reminded about Bobby V is that he has a big mouth and will say anything and everything to anyone at anytime. (That felt a little Michael Scott-esque.) And when Bobby V gets fired it’s all going to come out. Anything that will put the players and the ownership group in a negative light will reach the media, and the Red Sox will respond with a Nomar/Manny/Francona-like slandering of Valentine. It’s going to be glorious.

When Bobby Valentine gets fired, the Red Sox and their fans are going to long for the days of fried chicken and beer and Jeff Passan.

Hurley: The way you can write for days without actually asking a question is truly impressive. Bravo.

Valentine is very much like Michael Scott in terms of ineptitude, but the difference is that Michael Scott is likable. I really don’t see a reason to like Valentine. I don’t see any reason to like any 62-year-old man who goes by “Bobby.”

It’s going to be tough for Lucchino to fire Valentine, considering it was Lucchino who forced the hiring because BOBBY just had so much pep! He rides his bike around! He shoots from the hip! Ha! He’ll be a real hoot!!

So really Larry should fire himself before firing Valentine, but we all know that’s not going to happen.

And speaking of ownership, you might’ve missed the story from the Liverpool Echo this week, in which Henry blames Tom Hicks for all the team’s problems, even though Henry’s owned the team for two full years. Excuses, excuses, excuses. I’m not sure Henry can get his yacht over to England to pump up the players, but I don’t think his comments in the story are going to help.

Some highlights:

“The best analogy is that you can’t turn an ocean liner around like you can turn a speedboat.”

“We knew we could never be on an equal footing financially with the Yankees. But we had to do everything in our power to get on a level footing with them on the playing field. That was a tremendous challenge. You could say Liverpool is an even bigger challenge than the Red Sox.

“We came into this not knowing an awful lot about football,” he admitted.

Keefe: I think my biggest problem with Bobby isn’t that he’s called a baseball “genius” or that people think everything he does is calculated (if anything he shouldn’t want this reputation because why would you want to be perceived as calculated when you’re the manager of a horrible team), but it’s his smugness. Bobby always thinks he’s the smartest man in the room and carries this idea that he is better than everyone else. Just look at his responses to questions about the Passan story.

“Wow. Is that what was said, really? That’s what Dustin and Adrian said? It did say that? I didn’t hear that. I’m glad that July is over, because they’re still playing for me.”

And…

“I’m not going to comment on any stories because I don’t know what issues you might be referring to. Adrian’s issues? Dustin and I had a talk about a meeting I had. I don’t know if that was July.”

Let’s forget that Bobby Valentine shrugged off the meeting and pretended like it never happened even though Ben Cherington confirmed that the meeting take place. Let’s forget about that for a second and think about this: Is Jeff Passan going to publish a story to the fifth-biggest U.S. site (according to Quantcast) about a story he made up? Is he going to go out on a whim and create sources and guess that things happened just to draw attention to himself on a story that would be the most significant story regarding the Red Sox since Bob Hohler’s story? Apparently Pedroia and Gonzalez think so.

Dustin Pedroia: “I know we lost last year and we made huge signings and all kinds of stuff, but we’re trying to play the game the right way and have an organization that does things right, and just play winning baseball. It’s tough when all this stuff comes out, that everyone’s trying to get the manager fired. That’s not the case, man. I’ve never met the guy that wrote the story. That’s about it.”

Adrian Gonzalez: “The source is inaccurate. He says that I was animated and one of the most vocal guys in the meeting and that’s false. If somebody’s going to try to be an unnamed source, they better be right with what they say, because this is putting our integrity and everyone about us out there and that’s just unfair.”

I love the back and forth with the players and the media and the players just calling everyone liars when higher-ups are confirming things they are denying. And I love that the pitching staff is no longer the only focal point of this disaster, but now everyone is getting dragged into it.

Who looks the worst out of all of this? Ownership, Bobby, Pedroia or Gonzalez?

Hurley: Everyone. But if you don’t want me to take the easy way out, I’ll pick ownership.

They fired Terry Francona. They decided against letting Ben Cherington hire a baseball manager. They instead forced the hiring of a circus clown. They blamed Francona for the “culture” problem, yet they allowed Josh Beckett to give a middle finger to the media and fans when he refused to apologize for golfing while missing a start due to injury. They censored Valentine from even criticizing the player. They release BS statements via email, which speaks to their lack of accountability. Email! They give Beats by Dre headphones to players on a harbor cruise after the players complain the schedule is too grueling. They send promotional emails to tell ticket holders that everything’s OK and you should still come pay baseball’s highest ticket prices to watch “the cheerful Cody Ross” and the “inspiring Daniel Nava.”

Yes, Valentine is a goofball, and yes the players acted improperly and should feel some shame about it, but ultimately everything can be traced back to the culture fostered by ownership. They’ve acted as though they’re infallible in recent years, and it’s blown up in their face.

Keefe: I think your mention of Josh Beckett was the first mention of Josh Beckett in this exchange, which is pretty impressive because he had been the face of the September 2011-Present Red Sox, and it seems like the Passan story has put him in the background, which is a shame.

On Thursday you wrote in chronological order the turmoil that has surrounded the team since Opening Day. While all of the events have brought joy to my life I decided to pick out my five favorite moments from the list that aren’t the Passan story.

1. April 21: The Sox blow a 9-0 lead over the Yankees after five innings and eventually lose 15-9. Valentine calls it “rock bottom.”

2. May 4: Boston Globe investigates Fenway Park’s “sellout streak” and reveals it to be a “distribution streak” in which not every seat is sold.

3. May 6: In a 17-inning game against the Orioles, Adrian Gonzalez steps in to bat against designated hitter/first baseman Chris Davis, who was pitching in an emergency role. Gonzalez strikes out on three pitches. The Sox lose 9-6.

4. May 10: Josh Beckett allows 7 ER in 2.1 IP. He then refuses to apologize after the game for golfing while injured, and he delivers the now-infamous “we only get 18 off days a year” message. Also, a fan wearing a paper bag on his head becomes a national sensation as a representative of the Red Sox fan base.

5. June 21: David Ortiz says he’s not having fun and says Boston is “becoming to be the [expletive] hole that it used to be.”

You listed 29 events that make the Red Sox franchise look bad in the last four-plus months. 29! There’s still 47 days left in the season. This is only going to get better.

Which of these events is your favorite? (You can pick more than one if you want since it’s going to be hard to narrow it down.)

Hurley: I think my favorite was this one:

April 21: Red Sox acquire Marlon Byrd, who had been hitting .070 for the Cubs. He’d go on to hit .270 with the Red Sox before he was released in June, and he was later suspended for testing positive for PEDs.

What better describes the 2012 Red Sox than the acquisition of an .070 hitter from the NL Central?

I also liked this one:

April 25: Bobby Valentine admits that he didn’t know opposing pitcher Liam Hendriks was a righty, so he drew up his original lineup as though the pitcher was a lefty. Valentine said it was Jarrod Saltalamacchia who alerted him to the mistake.

I think overall, from a pure in-game management, standpoint, Valentine has done a pretty good job. But he was flat-out awful in April. He was so clueless. This was the perfect encapsulation of that.

This one was pretty good, too:

June 3: Daniel Bard lasts just 1.2 innings in Toronto, in which he allowed five earned runs while hitting two batters and walking six. He’s yet to return to the big leagues.

That’s just funny. Go Red Sox.

Keefe: I would like to thank your Red Sox for beating the Orioles on Thursday night and keeping the Yankees’ division lead at six games. Who would have thought that in the middle of August I would be rooting for the Red Sox to beat the Orioles to help the Yankees’ maintain their division lead? I’m just happy everything is playing out the way it is.

It sucks that this weekend’s series is meaningless. When I first looked at the schedule before the season I looked at this series, the mid-September series at Fenway and the last series of the season at the Stadium as the three most important series of the season. Now they are just a joke. The best part is that the ticket prices for those three September games at Fenway will only be about $8 each. I’m guessing there will empty rows and maybe even sections at Fenway for those three games, but Sam Kennedy won’t be counting those seats when he announces another sellout.

I get the feeling from this exchange that not only have you given up on the Red Sox, which you did weeks ago, but that you don’t even really like talking about them anymore. The Red Sox forced you to write about the Patriots’ first preseason game. I mean how much more sports deprived can someone get than not only watching preseason football with interest, but also feeling the need to write about it? I’m not even sure a “Sweet Caroline” sing along can fix where you’re at.

I wish I could say that I’m sorry to see you this down on your baseball team, but I can’t. All I can hope for at this point is that it continues through the final six weeks of the season and that Jeff Passan’s story was just the first of many to come out between now and Game 162.

Now that it’s over and it’s been accepted, what has to change this offseason and who’s out of Boston? (Even though it will never happen, I’ve been working to try to fit Dustin Pedroia into the Yankees infield.)

Hurley: You’re a bad person.

The whole area is much more excited about Patriots’ FAKE PRESEASON GAMES than real Red Sox games. That’s where we’re at here. I wrote a lot about that preseason game because there’s a team that will actually contend for a title this year and is run by competent people. It’s a lot more fun than writing about the Red Sox.

How do you fix the Red Sox? I don’t know. Like I said, the dysfunction starts at the top, so can you really fix it with a few simple moves?

You could start by empowering the GM to actually be the GM. That’d be a good start. Let him hire a baseball manager and not a dugout entertainer.

Ideally, you’d find a way to get rid of Beckett and Lackey, though even if you paid their entire contracts, would any team take them? If you were the GM of a team, would you take either one of those guys for free? I might take Beckett, but I’d have to think about it. For free! That’s a pretty bad situation.

You hold a meeting with the players in spring training and remind them that they’re employees. They should show up to work, play baseball, then go home, enjoy your time with your family, then come back to work the next day. You don’t get to have a say in how things are run, because things tend to unravel when that happens. (Note from Michael: This will never happen. Can you picture John Henry delivering this speech? Can you picture him even believing the message? Ha.)

You keep the lineup as is. They score plenty of runs and play pretty solid defense. As long as you can keep them in line, they’ll be fine. (Though you should maybe upgrade from Nick Punto. Just a thought.)

You let your new manager pick his staff. Do you know that the Red Sox coaches don’t talk to each other or to Valentine? In real life. It happens. So bring in a competent manager who will be able to pick competent coaches, people who can help Jon Lester get out of his funk, or can help Daniel Bard throw straight, who can help Jacoby Ellsbury find his power stroke, etc.

This team was the best team in baseball 12 months ago. At the end of August last year, with mostly the same guys, they were 83-52. This year, they’ll be lucky to be .500. They’ll be good enough to compete again next year so long as they open the wallet and take some steps to change the culture. I just don’t know if they can do that.

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