The Improbable Dream Part III: Popeyes and Valentines

In the aftermath of that rainy Baltimore night, the media and others began looking for a scapegoat. How could this happen? How did the Red Sox go from a surefire playoff team to the outside looking in within just a month? 

Two narratives emerged: fried chicken and beer, and the personal issues of manager Terry Francona.

Pitching Woes

John Lackey struggled at the end of his Boston tenure. Photo by Jim Davis, Boston Globe.

Reports that Beckett, Lester, and John Lackey had drunk beer and eaten fried chicken during games quickly caught fire. However, I’ve never agreed that Red Sox pitchers partaking in the food offered by the Kenmore Square Popeyes (RIP) were to blame for the collapse.  

Pitching had been an albatross all year long. Injuries to pitchers, including season-ending Tommy John surgery for Daisuke Matsuzaka and injury concerns for Clay Buchholz, weakened the team’s rotation. 

It was very easy to scapegoat pitching, not because of fried chicken and beer, but injuries and consistently poor performance. 

Lackey was healthy all season, but he had an incredibly lackluster return from Tommy John surgery. Lester and Beckett carried the rotation, posting a 3.47 and 2.89 ERA, respectively. For Beckett, it was a career year in that regard. 

The Sox lineup was electric – batting in a league-leading 842 runs and leading the league with a .349 On-Base Percentage. David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Adrian Gonzalez won Silver Sluggers. Even during the September collapse, the lineup was 3rd in RBIs and 5th in OBP. Hitting had slumped, but not to the extent to justify a 7-20 record. 

On the other hand, pitching was bad all season, and the Sox’s success was in spite of it. It was a house of cards whose collapse should not have been a surprise.

The team’s pitchers had given up 680 earned runs, more than the league average of 634 runs. In fact, they had given up the 9th highest amount of runs in the majors. They also posted a 4.20 ERA. In September, they gave up more runs than any other team, 158, and posted a 5.40 ERA. 

Was it fried chicken and beer? Maybe. Pitching dipped in performance in September but the team’s pitchers had struggled all season. Injuries were to blame. Lackey’s poor performance after a major injury was also to blame. 

The Red Sox lineup carried that team until it could no longer do so.

Managerial Slander

Terry Francona. Photo by Gene J. Puskar

The other, perhaps more troubling, the narrative centered on manager Terry Francona and allegations that he had lost control of the clubhouse. 

Upon Francona’s departure, it was never explicitly said that Francona was fired. We later learned that his option for 2012 was not picked up by Red Sox ownership. As soon as he was out the door, the smear campaign began.

In October, the Boston Globe, which shares a principal owner with the Boston Red Sox, ran a story that “detailed” Francona losing control of the clubhouse. For their part – Red Sox ownership denied their role in smearing Francona. 

Francona was gone, and the Red Sox were going to learn what actually happens when a manager loses control of the clubhouse. 

Clubhouse Lost

Bobby Valentine was an unmitigated disaster in Boston. Photo via Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The Red Sox hired former Mets manager Bobby Valentine to manage the team, which was such an epic disaster. I could do another four-part series on it. Within his first month, Valentine publicly criticized Kevin Youkilis. This prompted Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez to defend their teammate and oppose their manager. 

He feuded with coaches, he feuded with players. He feuded with almost every class of people that he encountered. The 2012 Boston Red Sox was a worst-case scenario in almost every possible way. As Fenway Park celebrated its 100th anniversary, it witnessed the worst Red Sox season since 1965. 

As the season wore on and it became evident that it was lost – new Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington had to wrestle with a tough decision. What was he going to do with the bloated payroll? Some would say that Cherington found a guardian angel in the Los Angeles Dodgers.

On August 25, Cherington traded Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto, and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers. This gave the team more flexibility going into 2013 and off-loading contracts that could have been albatrosses in the years to come. 

Just six days later, on August 31, the Red Sox lost to the Oakland Athletics, 20-2, and capped off a 9-20 August. 

The Improbable Dream Begins

Shane Victorino. Photo via Jim Davis/Boston Globe

The team ultimately ended the season 69-93, last place in the American League East. It was by far their worst season of the 21st century and the worst Sox season since they went 62-100 in 1965. The team quickly pulled the plug on the Bobby Valentine experiment and sent him packing.

But past is prelude. The 2012 season was only three games better than the 1966 season (where the team went 72-90). And we all know what followed in 1967. 

We also know what followed in 2013. In the next post and the finale of this series, I’ll discuss that season.

Trending This Week:

Leave a Reply