Saturday, February 18, 2012
10Q/10D: Sox leadership void?
By Gordon Edes
(Editor's note: This is the ninth installment in our "10 Questions in 10 Days" series leading into the Boston Red Sox's spring training, which officially kicks off Feb. 19, when pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report.)
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- This much we can say with certainty about whether there was a leadership void in the Red Sox clubhouse that contributed to last season's collapse:
1. No one was able to stop the bleeding in September, regardless of how many meetings were called by manager Terry Francona or the players themselves.
2. Players already are lining up this spring with vows of taking a more active leadership role.
3. The new manager, Bobby Valentine, will demand a level of accountability that showed slippage last season, as Francona himself acknowledged when he said his voice didn't carry the same authority that it did in years past.
Adrian Gonzalez aims to assert more leadership in his second season in Boston.
Just in the past week, both first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia signaled their intentions to assume more leadership responsibilities, which would seem to suggest that they perceived something was lacking in 2011.
Saltalamacchia insisted that wasn't the case.
"We all knew what we had to do," Saltalamacchia said. "There are guys with two (World Series rings), guys with one, so we knew what we had to do.
"I think we might have just added pressure on ourselves. I think that's where we faltered."
Gonzalez, in interviews with ESPN Boston Radio's Adam Jones and "SportsCenter," refuted the perception of the Sox clubhouse as a beer-and-fried-chicken-fueled Delta House.
"We just didn't play good baseball," he said. "People have to eat, whether it's chicken or steak. ... More than anything, it was just the fact we didn't play good baseball. We didn't play good defense for our pitchers, we didn't get those timely hits that we needed to bring in that extra run. We didn't prevent enough runs. It was a team as a whole that failed. We look forward to erasing that and getting back into the playoffs."
Still, both Saltalamacchia and Gonzalez expressed their intentions to step up. It will be notable whether Josh Beckett, who will address the media Sunday for the first time this spring and has been widely accused of shirking his status as tone-setter for the pitching staff, will acknowledge that failure and pledge to do otherwise this season.
"I'm looking forward to taking more of a leadership role and get us where we need to be," said Saltalamacchia, who may have felt constrained to do so by the fact that team captain Jason Varitek played the same position. "But it's not going to be just one person.
"I'm not going to have a 'C' on my chest. I'm not going to tell people what to do. I'll just go about my business the right way and lead by example."
Gonzalez said he was reluctant to "step on toes" last season, his first with the Sox. Not so in 2012, he said.
"I'm more of a leader by example, but I can be a guy that takes a guy to the side and talks to them," Gonzalez said. "I think I'm more of a mentor than a guy that will yell at the team, and try to hype the team up in that sense. I'll make sure everybody's comfortable and happy and things are going well so each individual player can play to their full potential."
Then there is Valentine, who has a mandate to run a tighter ship, which probably dovetails quite nicely with a clubhouse presumably full of players embarrassed by their historic failure and for that reason should be inclined to give their new manager a chance. By his own admission, Francona's reliance on his players to police themselves proved ineffective last season. It would be naive to believe that with a veteran team, Valentine will impose a draconian order in the clubhouse -- he already has said he doesn't believe the Sox need a clubhouse cop.
But let's just say Valentine, a bad loser, won't be afraid to make a few people uncomfortable if that's what it takes to win.
Coming Monday -- Who are the prospects to watch in camp?