Another day, another twist in the Boston-based soap opera known variously as John Henry’s Hammer or The Road of Strife. File this one if you must under the subheading of “Whistleblowers and Betrayed Whistled Out of Town.” The fulcrum this time: Kelly Shoppach, backup catcher, since traded to the New York Mets, but whose private complaint about his playing time behind Jarrod Saltalamacchia earlier in the season went public not because of Shoppach but because of Bobby Valentine, when the manager and not the player made the complaint public.
The New York Daily News, a newspaper not exactly immune to fostering or running with a little prurient interest now and again, has it this way: It might have been Adrian Gonzalez’s cell phone from which was sent the now-infamous text message asking for a players’ pow-wow with the Red Sox brass, prompted directly by the beating Jon Lester was allowed to withstand against Toronto. But it was Shoppach, says the News, who “was deeply involved in writing the message” that launched the meeting and the not-so-quiet storm provoked by the meeting’s revelation last week.
Well, now. First a private complaint over playing time that became public when Valentine flapped his yap about it to the press. Then, “deep involvement” in the writing of the text mutiny heard ’round the world. Meet Kelly Shoppach, the latest example of what happens around the 2012 Red Sox when someone lower than the manager is perceived to be anything resembling a whistleblower.
Shoppach himself seems uncertain whether to confirm or deny. Gonzalez, for his part, wasn’t exactly anxious to talk further about it, when he was approached in the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, where the Red Sox are playing the Empire Emeritus this weekend. (They’ve split the first two games.) “I know why you’re asking,” he said, “but we’re not going to talk about that anymore.” The News suggests Gonzalez finally agreed to be the direct communicator because the grumbling had tired him.
An unidentified Red Sox player insists Gonzalez himself wasn’t the direct instigator of the texted pow-wow request, even if he did allow his cell phone to be the medium, perhaps because it would have looked more serious coming from one of the team stars rather than one of the team reserves. “He’s not like that,” the player told the News. “He’s a good team guy. He’s the kind of guy who would even cover for someone who did something wrong. He’d take a bullet.”
Approached by the News while the Mets were in Washington for a weekend set with the Nationals (they’ve split the first two games of the set), Shoppach told the paper’s reporters he didn’t know what they were talking about. But when Yahoo! Sports’s Jeff Passan broke the story of the uprising and pow-wow last week, he said on the record, “Let me be very careful. I think, and maybe this is as far as I’ll go with it, too, there is a disconnect in communication between the players through the upper management.”
That disconnect began when assorted upper management tried to assure Red Sox players—whose haunting over the September 2011 collapse wasn’t likely to dissipate too swiftly—that, whomever would be brought in to succeed Terry Francona, whom too many of them had betrayed in the first place, it wouldn’t be Valentine, whose reputation for division-and-conquest surely preceded him no matter how long he’d been out of a Show dugout . . . except that it turned out to be Valentine, after all, most likely in a case of team president Larry Lucchino jamming Valentine down the Red Sox’s throat despite newly installed general manager Ben Cherington preferring someone like Dale Sveum, who now manages the Chicago Cubs.
There was probably bound to be a disconnect between players through lower management, too, guaranteed once Valentine was named manager. Shoppach above most should know. He may have been thinking of himself before the team when he complained, earlier in the season, to manager Bobby Valentine about falling playing time when Saltalamacchia hit a hot streak long since cooled. But Shoppach took it to Valentine privately, behind closed doors, one on one, not expecting it to go on the public record. Valentine took care of that for him, much to his surprise, if a lot of other people weren’t terribly surprised.
Don’t forget Kevin Youkilis got a very nasty public slap in the face from Valentine in which the divide-and-conquer manager, observing Youkilis’s physical struggles, decided they also indicated something missing in Youkilis’s heart, and decided further that the world needed to know whether or not Youkilis was in need of a gut check his worst enemy wouldn’t have thought he needed. And Youkilis was in no mood, apparently, to forgive or forget, perhaps even after he was finally traded to the Chicago White Sox.
It should surprise no one if it turns out that, among any incoming messages for Shoppach once he arrived and settled in with the Mets, there came one from Youkilis: “Welcome to the club.”
MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .
WEB OF DECEIT—Melky Cabrera may have gone to an interesting length on behalf of trying to duck a fifty-game drydocking over his use of synthetic testosterone: as in, creating a phony Website for an imaginary product, designed to make it look as though he’d bought a possibly lawful substance that turned out, without his knowledge, to include synthetic testosterone. The idea blew up in Cabrera’s face while baseball government was investigating him in the month prior to his bombshell suspension. And the fallout is likely to continue because the Feds—spearheaded by none other than famous enough A/A-PED vulture Jeff Novitzky—as well as baseball government’s investigations unit, are now interested in just about everyone in Cabrera’s orbit short of his upstairs maid.
MORALE BOOSTER—Among other things, that’s what interim Houston Astros manager Tony DeFrancesco—named Sunday to take the bridge after Brad Mills was sent packing Saturday—hopes to foster as the hapless Astros (a baseball-worst 39-82 at this writing) play out the seasonal string, such as it is for them.
When you get your butt kicked daily, the players feel it. They’re disappointed and the problem is, the next day they come to the stadium, and when you get your butt kicked on a daily basis, it’s hard to open the door because you lack confidence. Hopefully, with some of the new coaches here and myself, we can change the attitude.
The new coaches are Dan Radison at first base (succeeding the fired Bobby Meacham) and Ty Van Burkleo as hitting coach (succeeding the fired Mike Barnett). Nobody said rebuilding would be easy, but for a third straight season the Astros have sent veterans on at or before the non-waiver trade deadline and left little enough in the tank, which seems to have been a big problem for Mills since taking the bridge for 2010. General manager Jeff Luhnow hinted as much in addressing why he decided to dump Mills: “I have a great deal of respect for Brad, and he’s a great baseball manager. He’ll have a long career moving forward. To a certain extent, I sensed some relief, but I’m not going to speak for him. It’s been tough.” If it was so tough, why did Luhnow wait a week after making the decision, as the Associated Press says, before keelhauling Mills? Why make him prolong his own agony? If you’re going to unload a guy, even if you know it wasn’t exactly his fault, why wait and make him twist?
THE QUESTION OF THE WEEKEND—Forget the Red Sox’s dope opera. Forget Melky Cabrera’s Web of deceit. Forget the continuing saga of the Houston Disastros. The question on everybody’s mind really is: How the hell did the Los Angeles Angels pile up an 8-0 lead on the Tampa Bay Rays and still lose the damn game Saturday? The Angels hung up three in the first including Mike Trout leading off by sending the second pitch he saw onto the center field rocks; and, four in the second, including Albert Pujols driving a two-run shot over the left field fence, not to mention an eighth in the third when Trout whacked an RBI single . . . but the Rays battered Angel starter C.J. Wilson for a seven-run fourth inside opening and closing outs from Jeff Keppinger: a bases-loading walk setting up an RBI single, a bases-loaded walk, a three-run double (Ben Zobrist), and a two-run homer (Evan Longoria), while Tampa Bay pitching kept the Angels shut out the rest of the way as the Rays hung up on in the sixth on a sacrifice fly and two in the eighth when Carlos Pena—pinch hitting—sent one over the right field fence.
Manager Mike Scioscia’s answer: “C.J. lost his release point. And when you’ve got an eight-run lead, you can’t walk people. He got behind in counts and ended up putting some guys on. They got some key hits and got back in the game. It’s definitely disappointing.” Some think it’s beginning to look as though the Angels are losing their release points and releasing themselves right out of the races, if not quite now then soon enough.