Over the top with Beckett and the Red Sox

Josh Beckett

I’ve been listening to a lot of sports radio since it emerged that Josh Beckett golfed despite missing a start with an injury or near-injury or whatever it was, and I just thought I’d throw this out there:

The sports pundits in Boston have gone insane. Some more so than others, of course. Tony Massarotti and Mike Felger of the Sports Hub (98.5 FM) have been completely unhinged, while Michael Holley and Glenn Ordway of WEEI (93.7 FM) have been relatively restrained and coherent.

Overall, though, it’s gotten so ridiculous that hosts were asking callers last night if they would rather have seen Beckett get lit up than pitch the seven innings of shutout baseball that he turned in. And some said yes, damn right, they wish he’d been blown out in an inning or two.

Beckett strikes me — and most of us, I’m sure — as a pretty unlikeable guy. I don’t appreciate the way he answers questions. He was apparently the ringleader of the chicken-and-beer brigade, whose importance has been exaggerated, but which nevertheless was symbolic of a team that wasn’t much of a team. Still, the real story behind the Red Sox’ collapse last September and this spring is staring you in the face: the starting pitching totally melted down. When the starters do well, the Sox win, as we’ve seen this week.

Beckett pitches to the best of his ability (which is still pretty good, if not 2007 good), he doesn’t make excuses and, as he showed on Tuesday, he certainly doesn’t let himself get distracted.

There’s a pattern here. In 2010, Jacoby Ellsbury was injured and misdiagnosed, and the jock punditocracy questioned his heart and toughness. Last year Clay Buchholz fractured vertebrae in his back — think about that for a moment — and got the Ellsbury treatment. For good measure, John Lackey, who, yes, is loathsome in many respects, gave it his all despite needing Tommy John surgery.

Perspective, folks.

Photo (cc) by Keith Allison and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Beer facts about the Red Sox’ collapse

Boston Herald reporter John Tomase’s Sept. 30 article, in which he reported that some Red Sox pitchers were drinking beer in the clubhouse during games, is looking more and more like the story of this bitter off-season. “According to multiple sources,” Tomase wrote that day, “more than one pitcher drank beer in the clubhouse during games on the days he didn’t pitch.”

It’s been the talk of the town ever since, especially given that no one associated with the team has denied it. And today the Boston Globe’s Bob Hohler, in an all-known-facts takeout on the Sox’ historic collapse, names names: Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey. Lackey is no surprise, and neither is Beckett. For Lester to show up on that list is a little disappointing, given that he was thought to be close to Terry Francona. But, as Hohler notes, all three collapsed down the stretch, the single biggest factor in the Sox’ third-place finish.

Hohler offers some other details as well. It’s pretty clear now that it was time for Francona to leave, if only for the sake of his health. The acquisition of Carl Crawford is described as a Theo Epstein move, contradicting sports-radio chatter that Crawford must have been imposed on Theo by ownership. And it sounds like it’s long past time for Kevin Youkilis to apologize to Jacoby Ellsbury, privately and publicly.

Photo (cc) by Tim “Avatar” Bartel and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

It looks like Francona is leaving the Red Sox

Terry Francona

It looks like Terry Francona is leaving. And the most interesting take I’ve read this morning is by Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston, who makes it sound like Francona didn’t believe in some of the players that management saddled him with.

Edes writes that some of those in the executive suite believed the 2011 team “operated in a vacuum of clubhouse leadership. That in turn cultivated a climate lacking accountability, over which the manager presided with a curious sense of detachment, a marked departure from his previous approach, when he was fully engaged with his entire roster.”

OK, so that’s the case against Francona. But it begs a larger question: If this is true, why did he act that way? Did he simply not like this group? At least from a fan’s perspective, it didn’t seem that any of them were particularly loathsome except for John Lackey. And even Lackey is supposedly a much different presence among his teammates than when he’s throwing his hands up on the mound, lashing out at the media or filing for divorce from his seriously ill wife.

Certainly there have been suggestions that, after a certain point, Carl Crawford checked out. But who else? Nick Cafardo writes in the Boston Globe that the way the Sox babied Clay Buchholz was “nauseating,” which strikes me as a pretty weird thing to say about someone with cracked vertebrae in his spine. Then again, few in the media wanted to believe that Jacoby Ellsbury was really hurt in 2010. It’s safe to say Ellsbury proved them wrong, although some persist in the fantasy that Ellsbury simply got tougher mentally.

I’ve said it before, but my first choice would be for both Francona and Theo Epstein to stay with the team. My second choice would be for Francona to stay and Epstein to go. So I’m not happy about this.

I hope we’re going to hear a lot more about what was really going on in the clubhouse, especially during the disastrous September collapse. As for Francona, this is pure speculation, but I’ll bet he could have kept his job if he was willing to fight for it. Instead, it looks like he’ll end up with the White Sox, where he’ll be treated with the respect he’s earned as one of the best managers in baseball.

This just in: Red Sox fire Joe Morgan, express confidence that Butch Hobson will turn things around.

Photo (cc) 2009 by Keith Allison and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Ellsbury speaks

Now that Jacoby Ellsbury has finally spoken out in his own defense, I just want to make a quick comment.

None of us has any idea — no, not even Kevin Youkilis — whether Ellsbury could have run hard, dived for balls and, especially, swung the bat properly if he had tried to play through the pain.

The guy is a 26-year-old star, well-liked by the fans. He’s never caused any trouble that we’re aware of. Does he want to play?

Good grief. Of course he wants to play.

And my guess is that a healthy Darnell McDonald is a better player than a hobbled Jacoby Ellsbury. So what’s the problem?

Was Jacoby Ellsbury a bad centerfielder?

I can believe that Jacoby Ellsbury is (was) not as good a centerfielder as he seems — there are some players who make easy plays look spectacular, and he could be one of them.

What I can’t believe is that he’s way below average.