Mutiny on the Fenway?

Yahoo! Sports runs swiftly with the confirmed revelation that an awful lot of Red Sox players went to the front office, intent on letting the brass know that they had no great desire to continue playing under Bobby Valentine. It’s not exactly the sort of story you can ignore if you care about what’s left of the Red Sox season. Even if you have to wonder what compelled inside sources, granted anonymity, to confirm the meeting at last when beloved Johnny Pesky, sending Red Sox Nation into mourning, was barely a day gone to his reward.

Did Pedroia (l.) and Gonzalez lead the contingent airing it out over Bobby V. . . . ?

The meeting took place in New York, at the Plaza Hotel. The players in question didn’t exactly ask management to offer Valentine’s head up on the proverbial plate. But they did seem to make it clear enough that Valentine’s style isn’t necessarily their style.

According to Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan, about seventeen men on the Red Sox roster pushed for and got the meeting, with Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia merely the most vocal among the would-be mutineers. The remainder, Passan writes, shied away from the gathering, perhaps because they think Valentine is being made a scapegoat for poor play by pricey players.

Recall that, eight days prior to this writing, much was made of Valentine getting a vote of confidence from the brass. “Bobby is our manager, and we’re not considering anyone else,” said Ben Cherington, the general manager, whose pronounced disinterest in Valentine last winter was equaled only by his superiors’ (president Larry Lucchino in particular) pronounced intent to jam Valentine down his and the Red Sox’s throat. “He’s as committed to managing the team as he ever has been, and we’re committed to him and trying to do everything we can to support him and make this work.”

For the players who seem preferential toward Valentine hanging by his teeth, it may or may not be simple to find the absolute point of no return. But you could point to 22 July, when the Red Sox hosted the Toronto Blue Jays, and starter Jon Lester was allowed to take an eleven-run, nine-hit beating that included four home runs and nine earned runs surrendered in the first two innings. (The carnage only began when Brett Lawrie opened the game by hitting the first pitch he saw over the Green Monster.)

Even Valentine’s remaining supporters among the Red Sox players—if you can call them supporters, that is—seemed unable to believe Valentine would let any pitcher, never mind one respected in the clubhouse, stay in for a beating like that, even if Lester did manage to hang up a pair of shutout innings between the second and the fifth, when he faced two batters—walking Rajai Davis before Travis Snider hit one over the center field fence— and was taken out at long enough last.

Lester’s beating on 22 July triggered teammates to buttonhole the brass and bitch about Bobby V . . .

If some Red Sox players think Valentine’s being scapegoated, they haven’t taken a closer look at Lester and Josh Beckett, two pitchers who may really be getting the scapegoat treatment. Through this writing the 2012 Red Sox are 16-27 in games those two have started . . . yet Lester, who punched out twelve against the Indians Sunday, has pitched ten games otherwise that the Red Sox lost but during which he pitched well enough to win. Beckett—who hasn’t been without his problems or his fooleries—has pitched seven games in four of which he pitched no-questions-asked well enough to win and three others in which he kept his team in the game at least, to no avail for himself or the Red Sox.

As a matter of fact, the Plaza meeting was likely triggered when Gonzalez, reportedly, texted the brass on behalf of his fellow would-be mutineers to complain, specifically, about Valentine leaving Lester in. It was probably the single worst beating any pitcher was allowed to bear since Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost, inexplicably, left hapless reliever Vin Mazzaro—on 16 May 2011—to be driven through the ocean floor and back by the Cleveland Indians, for fourteen runs, the final three of which scored on his dime after he was removed from the holocaust.

The Red Sox had already borne enough from Valentine’s divide-and-conquer style. It only began when he questioned Kevin Youkilis’s heart in hand with his physical maladies in public, prompting a subsequent rebuke from Pedroia. It only continued when rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks, Youkilis’s heir apparent, had a defensive inning to forget and Valentine greeted him in the dugout with a sarcastic “Nice inning, kid.”

And it was merely punctuated when Valentine’s predecessor, Terry Francona, who jumped off the ship his 2011 rats sank before he could be forced to walk the plank, visited the Red Sox clubhouse as an ESPN analyst—days after the Plaza meeting—and was greeted a little too warmly for either a) Valentine’s taste; or, b) a bunch many of whom may or may not have quit on Francona, whose formerly successful policy it was to let his players police their own clubhouse, down the notorious 2011 stretch.

There have been a few calls recently for Valentine’s summary execution, the Boston Herald‘s John Tomase making only the most vehement of them. Which prompted a somewhat surprising twist from one of Valentine’s longtime press nemeses, Murray Chass:

[Principal owner John] Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino, after all, the ones who created the $173 million payroll. They are the ones who fired Terry Francona despite two World Series championships. They are the ones who let Theo Epstein run out on his unfinished contract. And they are the ones, spurred by Lucchino, who hired Valentine despite their knowledge of problems he created elsewhere, especially in the clubhouse with players . . .

The Red Sox practice, especially where it involves owners, would seem to encourage players to tell tales and register complaints. In Valentine’s case, that sort of thing seems likely to engender problems for him, the Middlebrooks situation, for example.

In his other managing jobs, in Texas and New York, Valentine has ruffled players’ feelings and has created outright animosity. Red Sox executives were aware of his history but ignored it. Now they’re experiencing it first-hand, not that they would talk about it publicly.

As has been suggested in a more literary way, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it . . .

It came as no surprise that the Red Sox hierarchy issued a vote of confidence in Valentine. What else to do? Fire him after two-thirds of his first season? Publicly question his treatment of players? Admit they made a mistake and promise they’ll try to do better next time?

One thing they can’t have is a do-over. Well, they can, but it’s called wait ‘til next year.

Bobby V.: Indifferent to his players as “collateral damage?”

Chass has tangled with and otherwise reveled in distaste for Valentine since his days as a New York Timesman and Valentine’s days managing the New York Mets. He hasn’t let up, when the occasions have arisen, since he departed the Times for a life as an independent blogger. (Chass was actually squeezed out from the Times over a rather dubious accusation of insubordination.) Read the foregoing words carefully, because Murray Chass doesn’t defend Bobby Valentine, even in the breach, more than once a season if that often.

The Red Sox, institutionally, are not exactly strangers to players mutinying over managers, whether or not the managers brought it upon themselves. Neither are they immune, institutionally, to front offices moving dubiously with or around managers. The most respected manager in the game would have a very hard time avoiding the carpet after leaving a pitcher to be strafed as Valentine left Lester. They’d be having to answer to why Lester hadn’t been pulled after that five-run first, never mind leaving him to surrender the first of the two bombs he surrendered with two on and two out in the second inning.

Gonzalez and Pedroia aren’t talking publicly about the Plaza meeting. One report indicates they may be reluctant to talk to the press for the rest of the season. Just another Red Sox mess; just another Valentine-inspired hurricane.

For his part, is Valentine is taking it with a grain of salt? Seemingly or otherwise? “I hear a lot of (players) say, ‘Why doesn’t anybody talk about this other team like that? Why don’t they talk about anyone else?’ ” he told the Herald. “I just say, ‘It’s just because this is who we are. We’re the Red Sox.’ And maybe it’s because of who I am, too. They have to understand, I’m here. There’s going to be a lot of bullets thrown my way, and they can become collateral damage.”

If Valentine thought some of his players were chafed over the Lester beating, just wait until they read that, especially the last comment, if they haven’t already. I don’t know about you, but I’d have an awful hard time trying to find the baseball player who throve under a manager who doesn’t seem all that bothered by drawing bullets that leave his players as collateral damage.

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