Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Will Josh Beckett be remembered as the villain in Boston?

For Red Sox fans, this season cannot end soon enough. Decimated by injuries, plagued by constant turmoil and negative news stories, declines by formerly good pitchers and a manager controversy that never ended all mark a season that started off on the wrong foot and ended without any legs at all. Every bad situation needs a scapegoat. There has to be a villain in a story like this, right? So who will it be? There are plenty of candidates. Let's list them to see who ends up with the prize. The heading of the post may or may not give away the ending.

The owners:
The owners of the team have certainly come under increasing scrutiny. From assertions that John Henry cares more about his English soccer team to Larry Lucchino's meddling on free agent acquisitions and who was ultimately hired as the manager, the guys at the top have not escaped criticism. Since so much of this is speculation and narrative driven, how can one prove any of these points? Someday a book will be written about this season and then perhaps we will have more insight. But all we hear are speculations. And seriously, don't most owners interfere to some degree with decisions made on a team? That is, after all, their right with their money on the line.

The former GM:
Theo Epstein bailed ship on the Red Sox after the collapse of 2011. Perhaps he knew where 2012 was going. Perhaps he helped it get that way. Or perhaps, it is as he said in that he accomplished what he wanted to accomplish in Boston and needed a new challenge. Certainly, some of the last moves he made did not pan out. Carl Crawford never worked. Adrian Gonzalez never felt at home in Boston and played like it. It happens. Bad moves looked like great moves when they were made. That's life in the fast lane.

The Manager:
Oh gosh. So much has been written about Bobby Valentine that what can be added here? Has he been that bad of a manager? Perhaps his handling of the players and the coaching staff did not go that well. He opened his mouth a few times too many. But you have to give Valentine a pass because of the overwhelming injuries suffered by the Red Sox during the season. If Valentine's talent had been in place all season and the team still tanked? Yes, then you could point a deviled finger at Bobby Valentine. But without any horses in the stalls, you can't blame Valentine for this nightmare. And despite all that transpired this season, he hung in there until the end without bailing says a lot too.

The recent interview of Bobby Valentine and the follow up comments by Al Leiter sealed Beckett's fate as the player villain in this season. Leiter called him difficult. Valentine hinted that not listening to Leiter and getting Beckett on his side was one of his worst mistakes of the season. Should any player have that much clout in the clubhouse? Was Beckett some sort of smoking gun of a cancer in the clubhouse? He certainly seems to be pegged that way. Combine that with last year's collapse and the beer and chicken thing and Beckett has all the villain spotlights worked on his obstinate head. And his lousy performance that was worth negative WAR for the Red Sox this year did not help either.

But seriously, if Beckett's role in a bad clubhouse was that strong, then part of that blame goes to Epstein and Francona for allowing it to get that way. And from a pure performance standpoint, Beckett's performance was worth $93.6 million over the years when he made about $70 million in salary. The Red Sox got their money's worth. His bad season notwithstanding, he is not the reason for how bad the Red Sox tanked this season.

The real villain:
Injuries. Plain and simple. You can't lose David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, John Lackey and all the others for significant chunks of the season and not take a huge hit on performance. The lineup the Red Sox were forced to use against the Yankees last night was the pinnacle of how much those injuries have decimated this team.

You can choose any villain you want. You can make a narrative about Valentine or about Lucchino or about Beckett and Lester or any other person or persons you want. But the real enemy to the Red Sox season was injuries. They simply lost too many hours from too many players and it hurt them and hurt them and hurt them over and over again.

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