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Actions will speak louder for Red Sox

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  October 19, 2011 09:17 AM

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Each day seems to bring new allegations of drunken and disorderly conduct, some of them true, some of them disputed. Clearly, the Red Sox are now closing ranks and fighting for one another. If only they had done the same in September.

Has anyone else had enough yet? Uncle. Uncle, uncle, uncle. Precisely three weeks ago today, the Red Sox suffered their season-ending 4-3 defeat in Baltimore while the Tampa Bay Rays rallied from a 7-0 deficit against the New York Yankees, the aftershocks from which have rocked the Red Sox to their core. Terry Francona was cast off like a disposable razor, then all but labeled a pill-popper and bad husband. Theo Epstein seemingly has defected to the woebegone Chicago Cubs. Sox starters Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Jon Lester have been singled out as clubhouse tailgaters, each acknowledging some level of renegade behavior.

Photos: The Red Sox' stormy offseason
Along the way, owner John Henry played the role of Wolfman Jack, passionately taking to the airwaves to deliver his own message.

At the risk of giving the Red Sox some frightening ideas, how much longer before the Sox place stationary cameras in the home clubhouse and begin broadcasting their own reality show on both NESN and redsox.com? Think of the possibilities. "The Real Husbands of Suffolk County." "Drinking with the Stars." "The Biggest Losers." Tom Werner could end up producing more spinoffs than Norman Lear.

Here’s what Red Sox players are missing, particularly in the wake of strong statements issued by the team last night that any and all accusations of dugout drinking are false: the damage was done a long time ago, fellas. No matter where the line gets drawn now, you have sacrificed way too much ground to warrant much latitude. Sox players now seem to be lining up as part of a damage control campaign, which is certainly their right. But none of it changes what was at the foundation of their collapse.


Simple, unfiltered selfishness.

For better or worse, rightly or wrongly, we all know how it works here. The 2004 Red Sox are forever immortalized for their historic achievements, the greatest of which was overcoming a 3-0 series deficit to the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. Orlando Cabrera spent roughly three months in a Red Sox uniform and still gets cheered as a result of his affiliation with that team. The same is true for Dave Roberts. The praise is every bit as great as the criticism – maybe even greater – and Red Sox fans wear the logo as proudly as the followers of any team in professional sports when they have a reason to.

Red Sox Nation. Not Pirates Nation. Not Angels Nation. Not Yankees Nation or Cardinals Nation or Giants Nation. Not even Cubs Nation.

You take the bad with the good, boys. And for many of you, this is as bad as it has ever been.

Without question, the last time the Sox had a team this selfish and self-absorbed was in 2001, when many of the same events took place, albeit in-season. Jimy Williams was fired as manager. Joe Kerrigan took over. Sox players openly rebelled shamefully in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Pedro Martinez taking off his jersey and throwing it at Kerrigan before walking off the field during a Fenway Park workout, Manny Ramirez denying Kerrigan’s request to turn down a boom box on a team bus and instructing his manager to “go (expletive) yourself” before Kerrigan returned to his seat. Those Sox went 6-23 over a 29-game stretch in late August and September before winning five meaningless games to end the year.

After the season, the team was officially sold and divisive center fielder Carl Everett was traded. Clubhouse malcontents like Dante Bichette and Mike Lansing were sent packing, never again to appear in the major leagues. Dan Duquette was ultimately fired as general manager.

Jason Varitek was one of the Sox players who lived through that, so he shouldn’t be surprised at the reaction now. Things may get overstated here, but nobody ever complains when that is to the Red Sox’ benefit.

If Red Sox players are smart – at the least the ones who come back – their focus this winter should be obvious. Regardless of who was drinking, the Sox need to examine when they began focusing on things like Sunday night games and the team bus schedule instead of on the chance to win a championship. All of it is part and parcel to the same thing. Red Sox players acted like a bunch of old ladies, their minds dwelling on things that had no meaning for any assortment of explanations.

Yet, no matter why, all of those reasons point to the same thing: winning didn’t interest them as much as it did in the past. If it did, the Sox would have put aside petty concerns. Everyone in the Boston organization can claim that winning means as much to them as it did seven years ago – or even four – but they certainly didn’t act that way. In the 2003 Division Series, Johnny Damon was carried off on a stretcher after colliding with Damian Jackson to catch popup. In 2004, Curt Schilling sewed up his ankle to pitch. Those Red Sox didn’t tell us they cared so much as they showed us, and so we never questioned their commitment to the cause.

Don’t Red Sox players get it? Lester and his pitching partners should want to be in the dugout more than they want to be in the clubhouse. Doing anything else should never even crop up as an alternative. Once it does, one cannot help but wonder if the Sox have grown a little too entitled for their own good, which means it’s time to do some serious self-reflection. If, after that, the Sox still feel they have done nothing wrong, then it’s probably time to go play someplace where people think 85-77 is a good year.

And with regard to Lester’s remarks that the Sox need a veteran leader, here’s a thought: do it yourself, Jon. You’ve been around long enough now. Make it your responsibility. If every player on the team starts taking responsibility for himself in the same way, you won’t have any issues. Talent is not the problem. Attitude is.

Without question, maintaining a level of excellence over a long period of time is difficult. Part of the reason the Texas Rangers are back in the World Series again this year is undoubtedly because they failed last year. The Rangers are still hungry. As such, some level of failure can be healthy because it requires everyone to refocus, and the Red Sox are being asked now to do just that. The Sox are clearly taking stock on the highest levels, and one can only hope that Red Sox players now do the same amid a succession of comments and statements coming from the clubhouse.

Talk all you want if you feel the need to defend yourselves, boys, but the words don’t mean squat.

You’re going to have to show us.

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About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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