John Henry’s 2012 Of Apologies And Damage Control

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Owner John Henry wrote a letter of apology to fans of the Liverpool football (soccer) club for their bad start and to do damage control for the decision to loan striker Andy Carroll to West Ham United without finding someone to replace him.

I’m pretty much summarizing what’s in this piece in the New York Times. I have no idea what Henry’s ownership group has or hasn’t done with Liverpool and whether it’s positive or negative, explainable or ludicrous. I do know what’s gone on with the Red Sox, however, and even predicted it almost to the letter.

Henry’s had a busy and bad week as Liverpool’s struggles coincide with the Red Sox having lost 7 straight games on a West Coast swing—so bad that Henry flew to Seattle along with GM Ben Cherington to meet with manager Bobby Valentine. Speculation was rampant that flying cross-country signified that Valentine was about to be fired. He wasn’t and the Red Sox nightmarish season continued with Valentine as they again lost to the Mariners.

It’s not simply that the Red Sox are losing, but they’ve become resigned to losing and to this hellish season that is thankfully coming to an end. In all of his years as a manager in both the U.S. and Japan, in the majors and minors, Valentine has always put forth the optimistic, upbeat, and confident tone of knowing what he’s doing is right and that if he keeps trying, eventually things will fall into place. This season has sapped that from him. Valentine looks to be a man who knows his fate, and in some respects wants it to happen. Yes, there will be the embarrassment of having come back to the dugout amid much fanfare and presided over a disaster. No, he’s probably not going to get another chance to manage. After this, I’m not sure he wants one. The Red Sox are an infighting, unlikable monstrosity. It’s hard to picture Valentine managing the team when they home on Friday and presumably, he’s waiting for the axe to fall and will be grateful when it does. His contract runs through next season, so he’ll get paid whether he’s dealing with this aggravation or not.

The manager gets the credit and takes the blame and a portion of this is Valentine’s fault, but the Red Sox season wouldn’t have gone any differently in the won/loss column had they hired Pete Mackanin, Dale Sveum, John Farrell, Sandy Alomar Jr., or Gene Lamont. Valentine has become a convenient scapegoat for what’s gone wrong, but in the end it’s the players.

The purpose of Henry’s flight to Seattle is unknown. From the outside it appeared to be a pretentious, “Look I’m doing something,” effort. Perhaps he should’ve flown from Seattle to Liverpool to try to get a handle on his other mess.

Henry’s apologies and pledges to fix what’s gone wrong with both franchises will be of little consolation to fans who’ve grown as accustomed to success as those of the Red Sox and Liverpool. It’s a toss-up as to which fanbase of the teams owned by Fenway Sports Group (FSG) is more passionate and, at this point, angry. But the season for Liverpool just started and their fans hold out hope that something good can result from their anger. Unfortunately for Liverpool, there are no diversions to catch their attention if that doesn’t work any better than it did for Red Sox fans. Liverpool fans need only look at what’s happened in Boston and gaze into a possible future that was overseen by the same man—the man who keeps apologizing. Red Sox fans accepted their reality long ago and are waiting for the beheadings to begin with their baseball team as they look toward the NFL season and the Patriots.

The Fenway Sports Group doesn’t own them.

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West Coast Disaster Film

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The Red Sox have understandably dominated the headlines while a similar disaster film is underway and less prominent on the West Coast. Like the star-studded, “yeah, I’ll do it even with this ridiculous script just to get a paycheck” films of yesteryear like The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure of the 1970s, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are writing their own script of shoving as many stars as possible into the mix without considering the director’s style and ability to handle the way such actors should be handled. The studio executives who come up with the money and the producer also have to be on the same page with the director or a change has to be made. In the worst case scenario, what you’ll see is a dead-on satire such as Tropic Thunder with a star-studded cast of enabled divas who don’t mesh together on-screen.

The Angels imported a cavalcade of stars before and during the season and are still hovering around .500 and, at the rate they’re going, will not make the playoffs. This is after signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson; trading for Zack Greinke in-season and stealing Ernest Frieri from the Padres; having Mike Trout arrive as a rookie and explode to the top of the list of contenders for Rookie of the Year and MVP; and hiring a respected baseball executive who understands scouting and stats in Jerry Dipoto.

The results have been less than spectacular and the familiarly insular style of manager Mike Scioscia in keeping the team issues within the confines of the clubhouse has been noticeably absent as complaints about hitting coach Mickey Hatcher resulted in his firing in May. Scioscia’s control of the organization—which had been seen as inherent prior to Dipoto’s hiring—was exposed as diminished or non-existent. That his managing style of speed, defense, bunting, hitting-and-running and old-school Tommy Lasorda National League baseball doesn’t complement with his roster or what his new, young GM advocates is only making the fissures more stark. If they were winning, it would be glossed over; but they’re not. They’re 62-59 and 3 ½ games out of a playoff spot. They can come back, of course, but coming back from a deficit requires a team to be playing reasonably well and showing signs of life, something that this Angels team is not doing.

Horribly inconsistent and frustrated, the one thing the Angels had in years past was a chain-of-command and stability. Scioscia was in charge and everyone knew it; the GMs, Bill Stoneman and Tony Reagins, receded into the background; the owner, Arte Moreno, was there with the money and support. Scioscia kept the media at bay and absorbed any criticism of his club; there were rarely whispers of discontent and sniping between teammates or organization members. But when you bring in a star the level of Pujols, it changes the entire dynamic. When that star struggles to start the season and has as a hitting coach someone who was an okay hitter but not anywhere near Pujols’s class, where’s the blame going to go? While Scioscia didn’t want Hatcher fired, the need to make a change for the sake of it trumped the manager’s desires and the Angels fired him. Whether Hatcher was there or not Pujols eventually would’ve started hitting, so the decision was largely irrelevant. What it did do, however, was to expose the diminished stature of the manager in terms of organizational hierarchy.

What’s going to happen in Anaheim if this team—that has everything on paper to be a World Series contender—falters and misses the playoffs entirely? If they finish at .500 or worse? If the clearly present issues that are bubbling under the surface in terms of strategies and personalities clashes suddenly leak out (and they will) as they have in Boston?

Dipoto would not hire a Scioscia-type as his manager if he’s allowed to make that decision. While Dipoto has scouting bona fides, he’s also worked in front offices with a list of clearly delineated parameters for the front office and field staff. This isn’t to suggest that he’s going to want a figurehead as a manager, but given the roster, the statistically-conscious adherence to power and letting the game evolve with high-percentage calls rather than the constant pressure-pressure-pressure of the old-school National Leaguers, it’s obvious that there’s going to be a culture clash with the new GM and his manager. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a personal issue between the factions, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to work either.

It’s not hard to picture Dipoto wanting to change the manager after this season and for Scioscia to leave given how he’s essentially been stripped of his power with the construction of the club. That’s not to imply that Dipoto will install a faceless and cheap automaton to manage the club and take orders from the front office as is the implied ideal in the creative non-fiction known as Moneyball, but that he’ll hire someone who’s going to be more agreeable to what Dipoto is going to want on the field. Terry Francona, Dave Martinez or Pete Mackanin would be far more fitting for both the roster and the front office in multiple ways.

Scioscia’s contract runs through 2018 with an opt-out after 2015, but if he wants to leave the front office won’t stand in his way. In fact, both sides would presumably prefer it given how little say he has in the way the team’s been built and that he doesn’t manage the way Dipoto would like.

Here’s an idea that’s far more reasonable than any that have come out to solve problems on the aforementioned East Coast: How about Scioscia to the Red Sox?

He has the cachet to deal with the media; he’d put a stop to the leaks that have sabotaged Bobby Valentine; he’s not reviled like Valentine is; and he certainly wouldn’t let the veterans behave in the entitled manner they’ve grown accustomed to.

It’s not a failure to admit a lack of cohesion and make requisite changes. If something’s not working, it’s the height of arrogance to stick to it regardless of reality. The reality in Anaheim is that the manager no longer fits in with what the front office has done and plans to do. That’s when it’s time to part ways for the betterment of all involved and, possibly, for another team that needs exactly what it is that Scioscia does well.

It’s almost necessary at this point.

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Schilling and the Red Sox

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When I think of Curt Schilling, I think of Doug Neidermeyer from Animal House: “shot in Vietnam by his own troops”.

Schilling is polarizing.

He’s intelligent, well-spoken, self-interested, slightly disingenuous, generous and astute.

He’s a person who can’t be pigeonholed.

His latest controversy stems from comments he’s made regarding the Red Sox.

In short, he doesn’t think the Bobby Valentine-Red Sox marriage is going to work. You can read about it here on ESPN.com.

If this were coming from anyone other than Schilling—Pedro Martinez; Jason Varitek; Tim Wakefield; Kevin Millar—an acknowledged Red Sox hero and/or leader from the past, it would be taken as a legitimate concern without pretense or favor. Since it’s coming from Schilling, the comments are being dissected to interpret what he’s really trying to say; what underlying reason he has for basically telling the Red Sox and their fans that they’re in for a long year.

The Valentine hire was rife with risk. This was known from the start. Because he has controversy attached to him like an underdeveloped and troublesome conjoined twin, the media is going to take everything Valentine says and magnify it. The perceived disagreements regarding the decision to start Mike Aviles over Jose Iglesias at shortstop and the role of Daniel Bard are no more outrageous than what any other club with similar questions would deal with.

Since Valentine has that history of clashing with management, media and players, those small fires are going to be stoked to create an inferno where there normally wouldn’t be one. If Terry Francona were still managing the team, the decisions would be questioned, but the motives wouldn’t be; nor would they be exacerbated by implying a “fight” between manager and front office that’s nothing more than a discussion and disagreement within the organization.

Had the Red Sox hired Pete Mackanin, Sandy Alomar Jr., Gene Lamont or any of the other candidates for the job, the personnel issues would still be present.

That’s the bigger problem for the Red Sox.

For observers who’ve grown accustomed to writing the Red Sox down as championship contenders every year, this is a new dynamic. They could win 90 games; they could win 78 games. The Red Sox circumstances haven’t been so ambiguous for over a decade. Valentine increases the spotlight.

If you look at their personalities and how others view them, Valentine and Schilling are basically the same guy.

That and Schilling’s experience playing for the Red Sox give him an insight into the clubhouse that others don’t have. He can see what’s coming.

There’s a possibility that Schilling is advancing a personal agenda by saying negative things about the Red Sox. I don’t know what that agenda could be. But he might in fact be telling the truth as he sees it.

And that would be far worse for the Red Sox than Schilling trying to get his name in the newspapers and blogs. It’s not the comments that are making people angry. It’s the fear that he might be right.

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Francona-Red Sox Parting Is Mutual And Amicable…For Now

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The Terry Francona-Red Sox divorce didn’t take the road of the humiliating cuss-fest of Jimmy Johnson-Jerry Jones with the Dallas Cowboys in 1994; nor did it include a public spitting match as did the Jeffrey Loria-Joe Girardi parting in 2006.

For every contentious parting of the ways between manager/coach and his bosses, there are situations that end “mutually” as did Francona and the Red Sox.

It’ll be quiet for awhile.

Eventually Francona will want his side of the story out there. As he hears industry whispers from “anonymous” sources as to what really happened in the Red Sox clubhouse to expedite his departure, he’ll retort. Yes, Francona’s a classy, professional baseball man—but he’s also a competitor who won’t want his reputation sullied by circumstances that he doesn’t feel were his fault.

If it starts to float around that someone’s saying, “Terry did this; Terry didn’t do that; Terry lost the clubhouse, etc”, Francona will likely reply with, “Yeah, I wasn’t the one who brought <blank> into my clubhouse; I told them this guy was a problem; and I didn’t need to deal with <X> player.”

Watch.

It happened with Joe Torre and the Yankees and it’s going to happen with Francona and the Red Sox.

You can read the details and spin here on NESN and ESPN among other places. I have little interest in either side’s story because it’s always twisted and generally contains a grain of truth from all sides.

What I saw in Francona was a man who was tired of dealing with the crisis-a-moment atmosphere and ridiculous expectations that accompany a big money team that had become a powerhouse and star-factory; where anything short of a World Series win was seen as failure.

The Red Sox have become the Yankees.

They don’t want to admit it perhaps because they can’t face that reality, but it’s the truth.

In defense of Theo Epstein, Larry Lucchino, Tom Werner and John Henry, if they’re spending the ludicrous amounts of money they’ve spent on that team and the team underachieves, they have a right and duty to assess everything within the organization including their manager.

The concept of a “great” manager is contextualized.

Was Francona a “great” manager when he got the Red Sox job to replace Grady Little?

Not judging by his record of 285-363 managing the Phillies he wasn’t.

In retrospect, the hiring was inspired; but there were logical reasons behind it that I elucidated recently when saying blaming Francona for the club’s collapse was idiotic.

He got the job because he was willing to do as he was told by the front office and follow stat based strategies; he’d take short money for the opportunity; he was agreeable to Curt Schilling, whom the Red Sox were trying to convince to accept a trade from the Diamondbacks; and Francona wasn’t Little.

He won two World Series championships and became a popular figure within baseball because he’s a good guy. Players wanted to play for him.

But that doesn’t equate into being a strategic genius or indicate the ability to handle any and all issues that pop up in running a team in the Boston market with the around-the-world pressures and demands on and off the field.

This 2011 Red Sox clubhouse was said to be poisoned and divided. It’s absolutely stunning how the “gritty, gutty” Red Sox from 2004, 2007 and even 2009 degenerated back into the classic “25 players in 25 cabs” from the losing Red Sox teams of yesteryear.

This didn’t happen overnight and if they’re going to complain about the clubhouse chemistry, then they needed to take care of it during the season whether they were in first place or not; and after the manner in which this team fell apart, Francona clearly wanted some major changes made to the club or faced the prospect of being someone other than Terry Francona. It’s hollow if Francona walks into the clubhouse after being Mr. Affable for eight years and starts flipping food tables and screaming like a pre-image-rehabilitated Terry Collins.

It wouldn’t work.

Francona couldn’t be someone he’s not and clearly some of the problems—if he was going to come back and fix them—stemmed from players with immovable contracts; players who aren’t going anywhere.

So he chose to leave.

Did he see the writing on the wall that he was going to be fired and wanted to avert that from happening by being the “breaker-upper”? It’s possible.

Or maybe he just wanted out.

He seemed exhausted while talking about the meetings and relieved when it was over.

It was time for a break.

Once this sinks in, then the sniping will start. We’re going to get nuggets from those “close to” Francona, Epstein and ownership. They’ll go to their friendly reporters and leak things. Class and professionalism have nothing to do with it; they’re human beings and this is what human beings do—especially baseball human beings.

As for Francona’s replacement, the Red Sox have to bring in a manager from the outside.

The following is definitive and you can take it to the vault: Joe Torre is not going to manage the Red Sox. At 71-years-old, he doesn’t need the aggravation of managing again period and he’s not going to detonate the last sliver of a bridge remaining with the Yankees. He’d demolish his legacy completely and even if he wanted to do it, his wife wouldn’t let him. Forget it.

Considering the people already with the Red Sox, if there was a problem with the clubhouse chemistry, then what sense would it make to hire DeMarlo Hale, who was on the coaching staff while the chemistry problems were going on? You get rid of the manager who couldn’t reach segments of the room and replace him with the guy who was sitting next to him and has been with the club as long as Francona and clearly couldn’t get through to them either?

And at this point, I doubt Francona’s enthusiastic endorsement will go very far with the front office. Forget Hale.

It has to be an outsider; someone who’s going to crack some heads and won’t care about what’s been done in the past. Pete Mackanin‘s name has been mentioned and he deserves a shot after acquitting himself well in two interim jobs with the Reds and Pirates and a long minor league managing and big league coaching career. Ken Macha doesn’t take any garbage and is a former Red Sox minor league manager; Don Wakamatsu is essentially in the same position Francona was when Francona got the job.

If they’d like to trash the place, then Bobby Valentine would have the star power, managerial skills and fearlessness to do it. I doubt Epstein will want to deal with Valentine, so if that happens, it’ll come from ownership.

Some are putting out the suggesting that Jason Varitek take over as manager.

In the same vein as the hiring of Hale, what the Red Sox are supposed to do is take a team that underachieved—by their estimation in part because of disconnect in the clubhouse and that players were out of shape—and hire to manage it the leader of that clubhouse and a player who was out of shape?

Is that right?

I don’t think so.

The “captain” not only shouldn’t be the next manager, he shouldn’t be on the coaching staff; and forget about continuing his career as a player. They have to get Varitek out of the clubhouse.

Jonathan Papelbon is gone; Tim Wakefield has to go; David Ortiz is talking a lot about how he wants to come back and will miss Francona, but that says to me that Ortiz is concerned about his own job prospects. He’s limited in his options because he can’t play the field and not many teams are going to bring him in as a DH with the rampant concerns that much of his success is a product of being a Red Sox and hitting at Fenway. If the Red Sox tell him to beat it, he’s going to have trouble finding a lucrative spot elsewhere.

I’d let Ortiz leave as well.

If the clubhouse is poisonous, bringing in a new manager and maintaining the same personalities is only going to create a timebomb that’s going to explode fast.

Maybe that’s something the front office will want to use as an example that the new manager is in charge. If they retain a Varitek or Wakefield with the intention of releasing them early next year to sacrifice them, it’s a tactic right out of Machiavelli and Sun Tzu. It’s risky, but it could work. I’d consider it.

This story isn’t over.

It’s a honeymoon of sorts following the deep breath of the divorce. No one’s at fault…yet. But it’s not over. When huge egos and the blame game is involved, it’s rarely a nice neat process of mutually agreeing to split.

We’ll see that in the coming weeks.

And it’ll get ugly.

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McKeon And The Marlins; Beane And The Cubs

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Jack McKeon‘s future.

It feels strange to talk about the future of someone who’s 81, but Marlins manager Jack McKeon has dismissed a report that a decision has been made as to whether he’s going to manage the next year.

I can say right now that he’s not going to manage next year.

The Marlins need to move on with someone else. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a manager who’s 35. There are veteran coaches like Pete Mackanin who deserve a chance and have acquitted themselves well in brief, interim shots at the main job. John Gibbons would be a good choice for a young team that needs discipline and someone who doesn’t take crap.

That’s similar to McKeon except McKeon can’t (I don’t think) beat them up if they step totally out of line; Gibbons can.

There have been the oft-mentioned names affiliated with the Marlins like Ozzie Guillen and Bobby Valentine as well.

Suffice it to say it won’t be McKeon.

I was against the McKeon hiring because I didn’t think it would work. The team’s played about as poorly under McKeon as they did under Edwin Rodriguez; the discipline issues—on and off the field—haven’t really been eliminated either. It remains to be seen whether the tough love shown to Logan Morrison among others will yield the results they want.

McKeon sounds agreeable to managing for a full year in 2012, but he’s not going to get the chance.

Please call…please call…

Like the once popular teenage boy whose reputation was crafted and has been undone by reality, Billy Beane has done everything but send a video of himself in a Cubs hat celebrating the future championship he’s going to win for Tom Ricketts and the long-suffering fans on the North Side of Chicago.

Speculation is rampant and clearly planted with an agenda as in pieces like this by Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Multiple high-ranking A’s officials” have said the Cubs have yet to contact Beane. These are strategic leaks and they’re clearly done with between-the-lines statements from people involved with Beane that he wants out of Oakland and is after the Cubs job.

Beane wants the Cubs, but do the Cubs want Beane?

I say yes. And that’s where he’s going.

Results of the marriage pending.

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