Consider the impact of losing two tough guys since the 2011 season--Jason Varitek through retirement and Kevin Youkilis by virtue of a trade that was necessary for both the player and the team. Who are the remaining talented, hard-nosed leaders? Dustin Pedroia is clearly in that category. He has talent, toughness and heart. He truly cares more about winning than his own statistics. A step down from that level is David Ortiz, who is performing well and has respect in the clubhouse. However, Ortiz has an unfortunate tendency to whine about his stats and his salary and seems to be more focused on how things are going for him than for the team. Granted, Ortiz wants to win, but how much of a leader are you when you interrupt your manager's press conference to complain that he was not going to bat for you with the official scorer and when he somewhat condescendingly scoffed at the idea that Jacoby Ellsbury could wind up with more home runs last year than Ortiz would (How did that work out, David?).
Third on the leadership rankings (from the perspective of this fan, who has no idea what goes on behind closed doors in the clubhouse) is....well...it might be....uh. Who is it?
On the pitching staff, Terry Francona attempted to anoint Josh Beckett as the leader. That clearly did not work out well. Texas Conman II has shown no accountability and a questionable work ethic. That attitude seems to have affected others on the pitching staff (Jon Lester in particular). Perhaps John Lackey was also responsible for the poisoned attitudes among the pitching staff. At least, he is the favored whipping boy. Who are the leaders among the pitchers? Who are the tough guys?
Aceves and Padilla are very tough customers and I like having them on the pitching staff. They do not back down from any situation. They lead by example. The performance and accountability of most of the relievers has been very professional. But, who among the starters has the potential to step up this season? Buchholz is a follower. Doubront is virtually a rookie. Cook is new and was all too full of giggles about his terrible pitch location in the Friday game against the Yankees. Virtually all of the others on the staff have no significant history with the team and do not overtly show leadership qualities. Lester has shown zero ability to be a leader. You cannot fault his toughness and courage during his fight against cancer, but where are his confidence, determination and poise on the mound? No one is going to look toward Lester (at least the 2012 version) for leadership.
Position players? Salty has significant future leadership potential, but he does not yet have enough experience, confidence, consistency and willingness to assert his will with a pitching staff during his first year as the main catcher. Middlebrooks is only a rookie. Aviles, Ross, Shoppach, Punto, Sweeney and Nava have no real history with the Red Sox or credibility that comes with performance at an elite level in the majors. Ciriaco is just thrilled to be in the majors.
So, who have I left out…oh…Adrian Gonzalez--who would like to be the Invisible Man, Jacoby Ellsbury, who IS the Invisible Man, and Carl "I have never heard a racial slur in my life before my rehab assignment” Crawford, who I WISH was the Invisible Man.
There could be a fire bombing in the clubhouse and Adrian MIGHT call 911. He wants to get his at bats, play (excellent) defense and attribute everything to “God’s will.” Without getting into a theological exchange, it has always raised a question in my mind about accountability and responsibility when athletes suggest that they are merely actors playing a part in a play that has been written by the Man Upstairs.
Ellsbury? Great player. Really good person. Has a hard time staying on the field. Can anyone remember thinking of him as a leader? I have never seen him challenge someone on the bench or say ANYTHING about the team or his teammates or show a flicker of leadership qualities. Not everyone can be a leader, and you cannot force something that is not in your personality. He is what he is.
Then there is Carl Crawford. The Yankees had Mr. October and Mr. May (my all-time George Steinbrenner comment). The Red Sox now have “Mr. Deer in the Headlights.”
Crawford claims that he was trying to hit home runs and suffered a drop in his batting average in 2011 because the “Red Sox obviously wanted me to hit more home runs because they dropped me to 7th in the batting order.” No, Carl, you could not get on base when you were in the 2 spot in the lineup and they hoped to take pressure off you and help the team by moving you down in the order. They were not hinting that you should stop trying to get on base, should not attempt to steal or try at all when you played left field. You were not performing. It was your fault. It was not Terry Francona’s fault that you were terrible last year. It is not Bobby Valentine’s fault that you “aren’t comfortable” this year. Accept responsibility.
Crawford acts like he is being asked to field live hand grenades in left field. The player who Don Zimmer called the “best defensive left fielder that I have ever seen” has been horrid on defense. Crawford is tentative on line drives. He misreads balls hit over his head. He is timid when balls are hit into the corner, apparently fearing that the ball will bounce past him. He has let many fly balls hit the ground in front of the Green Monster or hit low enough on the wall that it obvious that the ball was catchable if he had been aggressive. He has overrun several balls hit to his right and had to lunge back to make (or try to make) plays. He has a below average arm when healthy, and now has to come out of games in the 7th inning if the score is close.
He thinks he needs surgery on the UCL (The Red Sox say that many players have played several years with this condition and do not envision him needing surgery.) . Crawford does not want to risk making a throw that would tear the ligament. Carl, if you want to have surgery now and you think that you may be one throw away from tearing the ligament and having to undergo surgery…well…let it rip (so to speak). If it tears, you will get your wish and get to rehab and come back as healthy as you can expect to be. Maybe you will have the same upgrade regarding arm strength that many pitchers have experienced and have an average arm.
In summary, he’s afraid to throw the ball hard, terrified of making mistakes, is hyper-sensitive to fan and media criticism, and has only rarely shown himself to be the aggressive base runner that used to terrorize the Red Sox. Leadership? Heart? Courage? Aggressiveness? To be fair, his teammates like him and he works really hard on conditioning. He is a nice person. He does not hang out with a bad crowd. He does not abuse animals. He is, however, the "Anti-leader."
Championship teams have strong leaders and some depth of leadership. Other than Pedroia (who has the heart of a gladiator), who else has the potential to step up for this Boston team? The team is going nowhere unless several players do so. I do not see those leaders on this roster (and with respect to the young players, at least during this season). It is unlikely that a big trade or trades will happen by the non-waiver deadline, but if something happens, I hope that it brings players will strong leadership qualities, which will be desperately needed by this team in 2012 and 2013.
What about leadership from management? Larry Lucchino appears to have a tight leash on his general manager and manager. Does either have the authority to act courageously and decisively? I have looked for indications and see none. Organizations are powerful or weak from the top down. John Henry and Tom Warner have entrusted Lucchino with the reigns. Lucchino is VERY unlikely to accept the inadequacies of this roster, to acknowledge that this team has only the smallest chance to make it as far as the AL championship series or to give his GM or manager the freedom to do their job until they show they cannot get it done. I hope that Larry gives Ben some freedom and urges him to do what is necessary to bring in leaders as well as good players.
Edited by AZBlue, 28 July 2012 - 05:29 PM.