Can one "failed season," as owner John W. Henry called it Wednesday, undo a decade's worth of effort by Red Sox owners to make Boston and the Red Sox a destination to be desired?
Let's put it this way: If a prospective free agent hears a clip of Bobby Valentine's radio interview Wednesday, he would certainly have cause to think twice about coming here.
Valentine was asked about the distractions and drama of his first summer as Sox manager.
"From what I gather it's common, it's what happens here," he said on WEEI. "One of the things I was discussing with one of the players was that all this noise is one of the reasons players don't like to sign here. You know, they don't have to deal with it in other markets. They don't have to worry about the drama of the day; they can just go out and play baseball."
So, there you have it, the raw material for future recruiting pitches by general manager Ben Cherington. It's bad enough that 2012 has been a disaster. Might as well pay it forward, too.
Boston: You Sure You Want to Play Here? No One Else Is.
Boston: The Noise Will Drive You Nuts.
Boston: A Place Only a Drama Queen Could Love.
Never mind that's a crock, as Valentine surely knows from his days of dominating the back pages of New York's tabloids. It's harder to play in any major market with a passionate following, but that hasn't stopped the flow of free agents here, because the rewards are greatest here, too.
But it's the perception that matters, and when it all blows apart, as it has for the Red Sox, the landscape takes on a post-apocalyptic bleakness that spares no one.
Valentine portrays his team and himself as victims of that noise, rather than acknowledging he has had a hand in pumping up the volume to a pitch not seen since the dying days of the Dan Duquette era.
He has achieved what would have been unthinkable before this season: helping to create an environment in which Dustin Pedroia, once universally regarded as the heart and soul of this club, a carmine-hosed version of Derek Jeter, instead is now viewed in some precincts as a plotter and a schemer worthy of the Borgias, the face of an entitled band of underachievers bent on undermining their manager.
This is Dustin Pedroia we're talking about here.
And for co-conspirator, what casting agent would have ever settled on Adrian Gonzalez, a guy who has Bible verses carved on his bats and was beloved in his native San Diego, but now has been stigmatized as the fomenter of rebellion against Bobby V, whether there is an ounce of truth in that or not?
This is Adrian Gonzalez we're talking about here.
This Red Sox ownership made five promises when it took over the club, promises that are featured year in and year out in the team's media guide.
They have failed miserably in 2012 to keep the first of those pledges:
To field a team worthy of the fans' support.
Of course, the bottom line -- four games under .500 after a second straight loss Wednesday night to Duquette's Orioles -- is, in Henry's word, "unacceptable." Yet all but the most front-running fans will still invest their affections in a struggling team if they feel it is expending maximum effort on a nightly basis. That is not the case here.
This team came in handicapped by the carryover effect of last season's September collapse, and Josh Beckett, fairly or unfairly identified as Public Enemy No. 1, showed a remarkable capacity for tone deafness in rectifying that image, compounded by his failure to pitch well enough to rub out the stain.
But this goes well beyond last September, and winning and losing. This is about the loss of faith in an ownership that appeared to undercut newly promoted GM Cherington on his first major hire, the manager, and has seemed incapable of restoring order where it's most needed; the dismay over the ongoing saga of a divided clubhouse, fractured coaching staff, and a manager who never seemed to win the trust of his players; the disgust accompanying the ever-growing signs of disharmony; the disappointment that when the long-promised cavalry arrived, in the persons of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford, it fell far short of Valentine's nightly pronouncements that this team was still capable of a hot streak that would propel it into the postseason.
It really matters little whose side you take in assigning blame for this misbegotten season. In the end, the players always bear the burden for what takes place on the field, while the manager is judged by whether he created the right environment for his players could succeed. There is egregious failure on both sides of that equation, but there is also a chicken-egg component to be considered: How much of the players' performance is due to Valentine's inability to foster a winning environment? It is no accident that Bobby Cox won year after year in Atlanta even though the Braves turned over their roster frequently. His players loved playing for him, and he got the most out of them.
Does anyone want to make the case that Valentine got the most out of these Red Sox? That is not the same as blaming him; it is a matter of considering whether he was ever the right fit, and whether this team was ever going to play for him. And the onus is on management to consider, and reconsider, that question. They have rendered their answer for now -- Valentine remains their manager, even as the team spirals toward its third straight season of missing the playoffs.
"I understand that when the team isn't playing up to our standards that issues are going to be sensationalized," Henry said in his statement Wednesday. "But what is important for Red Sox fans to know is that ownership, players and all staff, especially Bobby Valentine, are determined to turn around what has thus far been an unacceptable, failed season. We are all on the same page in that regard and will not waver."
Same page? No wavering? Let's see how wobbly this all becomes by October.