Red Sox president Larry Lucchino left no doubt about Bobby Valentine’s fate for the short term, stating in no uncertain terms his manager won’t be fired before the end of the season.
In an interview Thursday morning on Boston sports radio station WEEI, he was asked by host John Dennis whether Valentine would “unequivocally” remain as skipper for the rest of this season. Lucchino replied with a simple “Yes.”
Lucchino declined to go into detail about the meeting between players and ownership that took place in New York in late July, saying only that Yahoo! Sports’ report that players were calling for Valentine to be ousted “exaggerated and inaccurate.” He also said he shared owner John Henry’s disappointment that sources leaked information about the meeting to Yahoo! Sports.
As for the team’s fading playoff chances (the Sox are four games under .500 and 6 1/2 games out in the wild card race), Lucchino said he didn’t “want to be Pollyannaish.” The Sox would probably need to go 32-12 or better in their final 44 games to have a shot at the postseason.
“If that happens we’ll be talking about a comeback for the ages, so let’s be realistic about it,” Lucchino told WEEI. “I want to see us play winning, intense, competitive baseball for the rest of this season as well and let the record develop as it does. We need to start fixing what’s wrong with this club and need all the data we’re going to get over the next 44 games.”
In trying to explain why the Red Sox have struggled so mightily this season, Lucchino pointed to the rash of injuries as the biggest factor. The team has had 25 players on the disabled list for a total of 29 stints, more than any team since at least 1987.
“People can say, ‘Oh you’re just citing an excuse. All teams have injuries.’ It’s not an excuse, it’s a reason,” Lucchino said. "Part of our job is to look at what reasons caused the performance this year and the continuation of the poor performance that began last September. You have to look at these things objectively, whether you call them an excuse or a reason. I prefer to call it a reason.”
Is what ails the Sox as simple as injuries? Or does there need to be a culture change as well?
“I do think the clubhouse culture is different when the team is winning and the star players are there regularly and leading the team in the clubhouse as well as on the field and not from the disabled list,” Lucchino said.
“I think we will see an improved culture next year. If it’s broke, we’ll fix it. I have my share of responsibility, to be sure, for the state of the franchise. As I took pride in my share of the responsibility of the success we’ve had over the last 10 years, I take my share of the responsibility (for the struggles) as well. But it’s our job, my job, Ben’s job, John’s job, Tom’s job, people who are blessed with the responsibility to operate this team and be stewards of this team, to bring it back. If that means bringing more youth in the clubhouse we will do that. If that means making some changes in the uniformed personnel we will do that.”
Lucchino did not disagree with the notion that, to Sox fans, it’s seemed like this season is just a continuation of what happened last September, when the team went 7-20 to dramatically fall out of the playoff race.
“I am surprised that the aftermath of September of last year is somehow still with us. ... William Faulkner once said, the past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past. The same is true about last September. It isn’t dead; it isn’t even fully past yet,” Lucchino said. "And certainly in the minds of some of our fans that’s true as well.”
Lucchino said the front office has been “demoralized” by the team’s struggles and wanted to dispel the notion they’re not fully invested in the Red Sox.
“John Henry and Tom Werner are intensely competitive people,” Lucchino told WEEI. “They’re passionate about this team and about its performance and want to win desperately. If you had been with us flying out (to the owners’ meetings in Denver) you would have seen just a palpable air of depression of demoralization. ...
“These guys are present. They are involved in the governance of the club and to suggest otherwise, as many people have done with this notion they’re more focused on other things besides the Red Sox, is just misleading the public.”
Lucchino also said he blames the media “a little bit” for exaggerating the drama surrounding the Red Sox this season and said the notion that intense coverage of the team might play a factor in making Boston an undesirable destination for players is not a new one.
“My sense is that has been the conventional wisdom for a long time, that certainly years before we got here and it was something we were determined to change,” Lucchino said. “Some of it had to do with the media to be sure, there’s no question about that, and that goes back a long way. You can go back to the stories of Ted Williams and the media and Bill Russell and the media. And the kinds of stories that were told about the scrutiny that ballplayers are under here.”
Lucchino said the team has also tried to make the Sox more attractive to players by upgrading the training facilities at Fenway Park, but added: “What we haven’t had much luck at is improving the media coverage.”