The moment they hired Bobby Valentine as manager, they rolled out the red carpet for drama, spread it across Yawkey Way and pointed it straight toward their clubhouse.
So, when David Ortiz lamented that drama Thursday, complaining about recent media portrayals of the club, he actually should have directed his complaints at the people who hired Valentine: the Red Sox’s owners.
Not that all of this necessarily matters.
The Sox, who host the Braves this weekend (Saturday, MLB on Fox, 7:15 p.m. ET), have won seven of their last eight games, including Thursday night’s dramatic 6-5 victory over the Marlins.
Difficult as their season has been, they are only 5 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the AL East. And, as I wrote earlier in the week, they have enough talent — in the majors, minors and on the disabled list — to actually win the division, if they make the right moves the rest of the way.
Drama? The Sox are no strangers to drama. In the last quarter-century alone, they’ve given us Clemens drama, Nomar drama and Pedro drama, Manny drama, Theo drama and all sorts of other drama as well.
Early in the season two years ago, Ortiz, third baseman Mike Lowell and right-hander Tim Wakefield all were disgruntled. Last September’s collapse went down with fried chicken and beer, and was topped off by the smearing of former manager Terry Francona.
But Bobby V drama, well, it deserves its own category at the Tony Awards.
If the environment around the Sox isn’t as “toxic” as ESPN’s Buster Olney described, it certainly cannot be called “healthy.” Unless, of course, ownership considers widespread disdain for the manager to be a positive motivator.
Which, on second thought, it might be.
Not all 25 players dislike Valentine; no such unanimity ever exists in a major-league clubhouse. Not all of his coaches dislike him, either; assistant pitching coach Randy Niemann, first base coach Alex Ochoa and third base coach Jerry Royster all have a prior history with Valentine.
Still, Valentine’s grating, look-at-me style has worn on some players and coaches from practically the start of spring training.
Example: The backlash, most notably from second baseman Dustin Pedroia, to Valentine’s early dig at infielder Kevin Youkilis.
Example: The players’ curiously passive role on May 25 in a benches-empty scrum with the Rays, in which Valentine and some of his coaches seemed to be the aggressors.
Example: Pedroia’s absence during a mound visit in last Sunday night’s nationally televised game at Wrigley Field. One scout said, “He didn’t go in (for the meeting), he just glared at Bobby V.”
The players, by virtually all accounts, get along well. On May 11, Ortiz called a players-only meeting that grew “heated,” according to clubhouse sources. Those sources said that the hitters challenged the pitchers to step up, but that the overall theme was accepting responsibility and that the meeting “cleared the air.”
The greater divisions seem to be among Valentine and his staff.
Many in the industry expect hitting coach Dave Magadan and bullpen coach Gary Tuck to reunite with Theo Epstein in Chicago with the Cubs next season. Bench coach Tim Bogar also is not close with Valentine, sources say. And pitching coach Bob McClure, who has been away from the team attending to family matters since June 8, is in an uncomfortable position — the front office hired him originally, and Niemann is Valentine’s guy.
Such tensions are not unusual when a new manager inherits coaches from a previous staff. But the friction between Valentine and Terry Francona’s holdovers is at a higher level, sources say.
Oh, and did we mention the relationship between Valentine and the Sox’s first-year general manager, Ben Cherington?
Valentine was the choice of club president Larry Lucchino, not Cherington. The players know it. And according to Sean McAdam of Comcast Sports Net New England, some players have complained about Valentine to Cherington, putting the GM in the awkward position of mediator.
Differences between GMs and managers also are not unusual, even when the GM picks the manager. The split over the role of right-hander Daniel Bard in spring training — Cherington wanted him to start, while Valentine reportedly wanted him to relieve — was a classic manager-GM tug-of-war, each looking out for his own needs.
The only public tiff between Valentine and Cherington occurred when Cherington sided with Youkilis over Valentine’s criticism of the veteran. Creative tension between the manager and GM actually could benefit the organization. But veteran Valentine watchers believe that a power struggle at Fenway is as inevitable as “Sweet Caroline” before the bottom of the eighth inning.This is what ownership wanted — the anti-Francona.
A manager who plays divide-and-conquer, even with reporters. A manager who makes players uncomfortable, occasionally communicating with them through the media, occasionally not communicating at all. A manager who polarizes with his mere presence, worrying little about the fallout.