Saturday, February 25, 2012 Updated: February 26, 12:10 PM ET
Sox put booze on ice
By Gordon Edes ESPNBoston.com
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Boston Red Sox sustained their first casualty of spring Saturday, the first day of full squad workouts.
So much for that sign on the center field video board in JetBlue Park advising, "Grab some Buds." Any Sox player so inclined no longer can do so, not while he's on the clock.
With Sox ownership and general manager Ben Cherington looking on, manager Bobby Valentine announced at a morning team meeting that all alcohol was banned from the clubhouse. No booze on the last leg of team trips, either.
The Prohibition Era has begun, which can hardly come as a shock given the sensationalized frat-house allegations that accompanied the Sox collapse last fall. Valentine insisted this is just the way he's always done things, or at least since he managed in Texas, but there can be no doubt the topic came up in conversations with the brass.
No beer here: Buckets will hold baseballs only for Bobby Valentine's Red Sox.
You wonder how receptive the players would have been to a rules change if they'd ended last season spraying champagne in their clubhouse instead of having to answer to drinking beer in the clubhouse during games. But here is where Valentine departed from the practice of his predecessor. Terry Francona said he almost always consulted the leaders on his team before making a decision.
Valentine, on whether he had talked to any players: "No."
Asylum 1, Inmates 0.
Any resistance brewing? Not if David Ortiz's words mean anything.
"We're not here to drink," said the only player to speak at the team meeting. "We're here to play baseball. This ain't no bar. This is an organization, a place that has a lot of athleticism, and alcohol has nothing to do with that. We've got alcohol in our houses and if you want to drink, drink at home."
Besides, Valentine noted, the Sox are hardly alone in turning off the taps. By his estimate, the number of teams banning booze stands at around 19. The practice may have taken on greater urgency in 2007, when the Cardinals banned alcohol five days after pitcher Josh Hancock was killed in a drunken-driving accident. Hancock had come to the Cardinals from the Red Sox.
The Red Sox are determined to distance themselves as far as possible from 2011, in ways big and small. The most repeated phrases when owners met with reporters afterward was "new chapter" or "next chapter."
"It's a new chapter, beginning today," Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino said. "For us, the first day of the 2012 season is today when we have this meeting, when everyone is in camp, when guys really go to work as a unit. And our idea is to let's write this new chapter. Enough has been said about the last chapter."
And while Lucchino and majority owner John W. Henry lavished praise on their new management team, Cherington and Valentine, there was some unfinished business which needed addressing. Henry met with Carl Crawford and apologized for what he termed "off-the-cuff" comments he shouldn't have made on the radio last fall, in which he said he was opposed to signing Crawford.
The owners also addressed the compensation for Theo Epstein, Henry sticking to his story that the dispute between the Cubs and Sox stemmed from a "misunderstanding" he had with Cubs owner Tom Ricketts in their first conversation on the matter.
While Henry called it "appropriate," Lucchino offered perhaps a truer picture of how the Sox felt about snagging just a minor league reliever in return when he said, "We have a saying at the Red Sox: All's well that ends. Period. That's our view about this thing. Let's move on. Next issue."
Meanwhile, it took just one mention of soccer and Liverpool for Henry to show that he can cop an attitude, too.
So what about this business that he cares more about his Liverpool Reds than his Boston Red Sox?
"It's difficult because I'm not here today," Henry said sarcastically. "I'm somewhere else."
"If I were here, I'd say this is about baseball," Henry said. "With us, every day is about baseball. We have other things, too, but every day is baseball. I think we speak 365 days a year, maybe 364, but virtually every day there's something related to baseball."
The subject is clearly one that rankles Henry, who left after hosting Mayor Tom Menino at a ribbon-cutting ceremony here to fly to London, where Liverpool is playing before 90,000 fans in Wembley Stadium on Sunday in the Carling Cup final.
He didn't back down from persistent questioning regarding the club's finances, mocking the notion that he is somehow not spending enough money on the Sox when the club has baseball's second-highest payroll, is inching ever closer to the $200 million threshold, a level crossed only by the Yankees, and expects to be hit with the luxury tax again.
"Our payroll is going to be in the $190-plus million range," Lucchino chimed in. "I'm pretty confident in saying that if you look at it the way we do, you'll see that. That's a gigantically large commitment because there's a gigantically large commitment to winning in this organization. If we haven't proven that to you in 10 years, shame on us."
Boil down the day's message from the Sox on Saturday, and it was this: No booze for the Sox, no shame in being part of the Sox. Enough with the apologies. On with the games.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.