Deciphering the Chaos in Boston


Things in Boston haven’t gone as planned this year. In fact, things have gone exactly the opposite as planned.

Entering play on August 24th, the Red Sox hold a 59-66 record. They sit in fourth place, 13.5 games out of first. They’re 8.5 games out of the Wild Card chase, mired behind six other teams. With a 29-37 home record, the team is in danger of having their first losing season at Fenway Park since 1966.

The problems have been widespread beyond the team’s wins and losses.

Offensively they are 6th in batting average and 7th in OPS in the American League. They’re 9th in home runs, 2nd in runs scored, but 13th in walks and 11th in stolen bases. The pitching woes have been worse. The team is 11th in ERA, 8th in strikeouts, and 9th in opponent’s batting average. They’re dead last in quality starts and their bullpen has saved the second fewest games in the AL.

Injuries have decimated this team. Jacoby Ellsbury, Ryan Sweeney, and Carl Crawford have all missed significant time in the team’s outfield. Crawford finally returned, played for a month, and then was shut down once again with a procedure that should have been performed six months ago. David Ortiz missed time. As have Will Middlebrooks and Cody Ross. Josh Beckett, Scott Atchison, Vicente Padilla, and Rich Hill have all missed time on the pitching side. Andrew Bailey missed almost the whole season before returning just recently. Daisuke Matsuzaka echoed Crawford’s path, missing significant time before returning, only to get hurt again shortly thereafter. John Lackey and Chris Carpenter (the “prize” the team received for allowing Theo Epstein to leave) haven’t thrown a pitch all season.

Even when healthy, the team has failed to live up to expectations. Beckett and Jon Lester have been inconsistent and ineffective atop the starting rotation, with both holding an ERA above 5.00. Mark Melancon, Aaron Cook, and Alfredo Aceves have been just as dreadful. Jarrod Saltalamacchia has struggled to make contact. As has Nick Punto. Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, Kelly Shoppach, and Darnell McDonald have also struggled at the plate, though in much smaller sample sizes. Daniel Bard’s conversion to a starter failed and he’s been unable to find the strike zone with consistency since being moved back to the bullpen down in Triple-A.

But if the struggles on field weren’t enough, chaos has emerged off it.

Beckett was crucified for playing golf early on in the season on an off day, after coming out of a start the day prior due to back pain. Kevin Youkilis questioned manager Bobby Valentine and found himself traded out of town. Valentine himself has seen his share of scrutiny. He was called out early in the year for not realizing what hand an opposing pitcher threw with. He’s been relentlessly questioned by the media for every decision he’s made. Multiple players even requested a meeting with ownership in early July to express their frustrations with his leadership. Pitching coach Bob McClure was recently fired, if nothing else but to serve as a scapegoat for the team’s struggles.

Collectively, it’s all nothing compared to the way the team reacted following the death of Johnny Pesky – a man who’s been a part of the organization for 61 years. Pesky was the epitome of what it meant to be a Red Sox. He was beloved by the fans and by players. He was known to give anyone his time if they asked, no matter who they were.

Tuesday marked the funeral for Pesky. Team ownership arranged for buses to be available at the stadium in order to get the players and front office personnel to the services in Swampscott (roughly 30-40 minutes North of Fenway Park) with ease. With it being an off day for the team, it would have been easy to expect a fair number (if not all) of them to attend. Yet, only four players from this team were present for the services. Ortiz, Saltalamacchia, Padilla, and Clay Buchholz were there. The rest of their teammates were nowhere to be found.

Numerous former Red Sox players were there. Bill Lee flew in from his home on the West Coast. Nomar Garciaparra took time from his obligations at the Little League World Series to be there. There were certainly others in attendance.

Ortiz was asked about the lack of attendance by his teammates later in the week. He was sure to avoid expressing his disappointment over the lack of attendance, but stopped short of defending his teammates.

"I mean, me personally, I was close to Johnny. When it comes down to a funeral situation, there’s not a reason why you wouldn’t show up when a friend passes away. I feel like I’ve got to be there for his family. Everybody got his particular reasons why some of the guys didn’t show up. We’ve got a late schedule that day. We came back from New York very late and some of the guys probably have some things to do that day. That was probably the reason why some of the guys didn’t show up. I can tell you why I showed up: I had a friend that just passed away and I want to be there."

With the team on the road at the time of Pesky’s passing, the organization finally was able to honor him at Fenway Park when they began a seven game homestand against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Wednesday night. Pesky’s #6 was carved into the left center field grass, just beyond the shortstop position he had played so many years ago. The entire Red Sox lineup wore #6 for the night, with special permission from Major League Baseball. Images of Pesky’s life flashed across the scoreboard prior to the game while the team’s broadcasting crew of Don Orsillo, Joe Castiglione, and Dave O’Brien read a touching tribute. A lone trumpeter stepped up to the microphone and slowly played “Taps”. Pesky’s eldest son, David, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Even the Angels got involved, wearing circular #6 patches on their uniforms for the game despite the fact that Pesky had no connection to their organization at all.

But for a tribute to one of the franchise’s greatest figures, it still fell short of expectations like so many other things have this year. It feel short, in part, because word had already started to spread around New England about how few of the team’s current players had been at the funeral the day prior.

The Boston Red Sox fanbase is a passionate one, there’s no denying that. And considering what Pesky meant to them, there is a segment of that fanbase that is almost insulted by the lack of effort on the part of the players to attend his funeral. Callers on WEEI (Boston’s top sports radio station) have been livid in disbelief for much of the week. They’ve called out the players for failing to explain their absences. They’ve even called out ownership for their failure to express any disappointment in the matter. Team President Larry Lucchino was asked about the poor turnout in his regular appearance on WEEI. Instead of stating his true feelings, he downplayed the situation. He cited how late the team arrived home the night prior. He continued by implying that the team’s “cooperation” with Wednesday’s pre-game ceremony was enough of an effort.

But, like everything else that has gone on during this 2012 season, the effort really wasn’t enough.

The 2012 Boston Red Sox have been nothing short of a disaster. The players have struggled and have seemingly given up altogether. Valentine’s future at the helm of this team has been in question all season. Wholesale changes are necessary in Boston. Part of the fanbase has started to campaign for a boycott of the team for the remainder of the season because the team is perceived to have boycotted showing up to pay their final respects to Pesky. He’d of never acted in the way these players have acted and in his death, their lack of effort reflects the lack of effort they’ve displayed all season.

For a loyal, dedicated, and passionate fanbase it’s all just been too much to handle. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, the fiasco that became of Pesky’s funeral will remain a symbol for the failures of the organization’s season for years to come.