Theo by the numbers

In Theo Epstein’s 1,600-word op-ed for today’s Boston Globe, the word “I” appears 41 times, “my” 15 and “me” 10. “Team”? Six.

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.

This is the end

Our three-month-old HDTV was in the repair shop — and we’re a one-TV family. It sounded like the rain delay would be a long one. So I turned off the radio and went to bed. The Red Sox’ historic collapse came to its inevitable end without me.

Three quick thoughts:

1. Jonathan Papelbon had a terrific comeback year, so much so that the assumption he’d be gone after the season had recently turned into “they’ve got to sign him.” I don’t know. These things happen, but if Papelbon stays, I’m afraid he would forever be defined by what happened last night, reinforced by his meltdown in the 2009 playoffs against the Angels. Maybe it’s time to start over.

2. We’re going to hear a lot of speculation as to whether Terry Francona should be fired. That’s natural, I suppose. What I don’t want to hear is Theo Epstein’s opinion on the matter. Epstein shouldn’t even have a say. If it were up to me, I’d keep Francona and Epstein, but if I could only keep one, it would be Francona — the greatest manager in Red Sox history and as good a manager as there is today. (OK, maybe not as good as Joe Maddon.) Epstein has done a good job here, but he’s had a dubious two years, and he’s got some explaining to do. If I were John Henry, I might ask Francona if Epstein should stay.

3. Can the Red Sox seriously contend next year? All of a sudden, these guys look really old, without much room for maneuvering. Last night could truly have been the end of an era that started in 2003.

Who’s to blame? None of the above.

I haven’t written much about the Red Sox this year — at least not here. I’ve found that Twitter’s 140-character limit is a pretty good match for my baseball knowledge.

But with the team in free fall, I’ve been listening to a lot of sports radio. The consensus seems to be that Terry Francona bears some of the blame, and Theo Epstein a great deal more. Both propositions strike me as wrong. I’d say Francona is largely blameless — not entirely, but no one is perfect. And though Epstein clearly has had a bad couple of years given the way guys like John Lackey and Carl Crawford turned out, I don’t think he deserves that much of a thrashing either.

I could go on and on, but Earl Weaver explained it perfectly: “Momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher.” The Red Sox’ five-man rotation consists of three disasters and two aces, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, who haven’t been at their best during the collapse. Notice I stayed away from saying that “they haven’t stepped up” or “they haven’t risen to the occasion.” Do we not think they’re giving it a full effort, or that they feel terrible about their recent failures? As for the disasters — well, that’s where Epstein has to look in the mirror over the winter and figure out what to do. Only the loss of Clay Buchholz was completely unanticipated.

Two other observations. Francona’s getting a lot of heat for not doing anything when Lackey stared him down the other night. Not doing anything? Tito had come out to remove Lackey, and he did. Mission accomplished. Seriously? As for the sloppiness and errors that have crept in, I think you’d have to be a robot not to be affected by being down by five or six runs early in every game. You’d like to think they players could rise above it and maintain focus, but they’re not really any different from the rest of us.

If it turns out to be true that Epstein used Peter Gammons to deflect the blame onto Francona, well, shame on him. Francona is the best manager in Red Sox history, and Epstein is among the best general managers in the business. I hope they’re both still here after the Sox’ likely playoff run comes to what we all imagine will be a short and ugly conclusion.

Three must-reads from today’s Globe

Manager of the Year?

I usually make the New York Times my first Sunday read, but there’s so much local news going on that I reached for the Boston Globe instead. I’m glad I did.

1. Was it Hunter Thompson who coined the phrase “to make a jackal puke”? Whoever it was, it definitely applies to Todd Wallack’s story on Massachusetts CEOs who reward themselves with ever-larger compensation packages even as their revenues dip and they lay off workers. Special bonus: the poster boy for this bad behavior is Sean Healey, husband of former lieutenant governor Kerry Healey, who paid himself $18 million in 2009 — a 73 percent increase over the previous year.

2. Red Sox  beat reporter Amalie Benjamin has a terrific overview of the disappointing season that ends today. She correctly observes that Terry Francona should get Manager of the Year for his skillful handling of a team decimated by injuries and underperformers. Then again, Francona should get Manager of the Year every year. While you’re at it, give a listen to general manager Theo Epstein’s interview with the “Sports Hub” (98.5 FM) — so interesting I found myself driving around on Friday so I could catch the whole thing.

3. I have no intention of seeing “The Town,” but I have little doubt that columnist Kevin Cullen’s profile of Charlestown lawyer Charlie Clifford, defender of small-time bank robbers, is a hell of a lot more enlightening — not to mention entertaining.

Photo (cc) by Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.

Unattractive trade bait

Maybe Theo Epstein* is just blowing smoke. But how could he possibly be thinking about trading Jed Lowrie during the off-season? Lowrie’s trade value has got to be close to zero right now.

If Lowrie and new shortstop Marco Scutaro both have a good first half, maybe one of them could be traded to fill a hole somewhere else. But if Theo trades Lowrie now, then it will be obvious he’s given up on him. Is there evidence to suggest he should?

*@scruff notes, as I should have, that this could just be Nick Cafardo having fun — there’s nothing in his column to suggest the Red Sox are seriously thinking of trading Lowrie.