Senior Baseball Columnist

After proving 2011 collapse no fluke, Red Sox make moves to improve

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No one came to embody what ailed the Red Sox more than starter Josh Beckett. (Getty Images)  
No one came to embody what ailed the Red Sox more than starter Josh Beckett. (Getty Images)  

Don't you dare call it a fire sale in Boston.

Pesky's Pole and the Citgo sign remain standing, right? The Red Sox haven't shipped those out of town yet.

Beyond that? Call it a cleansing.

This is the best thing to happen in Fenway Park since they bleached the restrooms. My goodness. The sooner the Red Sox begin clearing out some of their toxic mess, the better. The team stinks. The sense of entitlement reeks even more. Describe it how you will. Underachievement. Star players in decline. Ownership in decline. Spoiled players run amok. Bobby Valentine. The Curse of Terry Francona.

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Whatever.

Bottom line is, this is the losingest, most unlikeable team we've seen in generations, possibly since the last days of the Huns. And now that the Red Sox just cleared some $270 million in payroll from 2013 and beyond in dealing Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers, they've got a chance to reinvent themselves.

What a break.

But with great fortune (especially when part of that fortune is being sent to Hollywood) comes great responsibility.

All the Sox have accomplished this year is prove last September was no fluke. Since last Aug. 31, they've combined to go 67-86. Few this side of the Marlins have done less with more.

They've conducted a cutting-edge clinic in how to leave a trail of garbage. The sliming of Francona by unnamed sources on his way out of town last October was a disgrace. They badly botched the managerial search, ownership clearly neutering general manager Ben Cherington as soon as the Cubs bagged Dale Sveum, which set in motion the chain of events blowing through Fenway this year with hurricane force.

Within that, they badly mistreated Gene Lamont in the hiring process. Or, in Lamont's case, the non-process. He gave them his time and energy in interviewing, then they gave the job to Valentine, which was their decision, and that was fine. What wasn't fine was allowing that decision to publicly leak without even having the courtesy of phoning Lamont first to tell him that Valentine was their choice.

So there was a highly respected, veteran baseball man sitting at home, clueless, fielding calls from reporter after reporter asking if it was true that Valentine had gotten the job. It was. Not that Lamont knew what was going on as he twisted in the wind.

That part is old news, sure. But it's relevant because it is part of what's become an established pattern. What the Red Sox have become most proficient at is in either mistreating or misreading people, neither of which is conducive to winning baseball games.

Francona, Lamont, Kevin Youkilis, even Valentine, to an extent, are victims in the former category.

Into the latter go, among others, Gonzalez and Crawford, one a huge trade acquisition and the other a blockbuster free agent signing. Both pulled on their red socks two winters ago under Epstein's watch. Neither player's personality was a fit, and that that wasn't identified until too late is on the Red Sox.

Gonzalez started out fairly well and produced in 2011, though his power numbers declined. But as things went south in September it was clear that he was not enjoying himself one bit, evidenced by his complaining about the length of Red Sox-Yankees games. He was right, of course, but he shouldn't have said it. For one, it showed a lack of understanding of the culture. Second, it is because of dramatic death-battles like Yankees-Red Sox that Gonzalez can draw his $154 million salary.

Crawford never did achieve liftoff, and it was an awful match from the beginning. Start with legitimate questions regarding whether he was too small-town (so to speak) to play in a big market like Boston. Move on to players who know him well saying his preference was to go west, but the Red Sox made him an offer ($142 million) he couldn't refuse.

When you're spending dough like that, you've got to be sure it's for better and for worse. It turned out to be worse.

Then a bad situation turned into rabies when owner John Henry opened his mouth and told a radio station last winter that he initially opposed the Crawford signing. He apologized to Crawford for that one this spring, being that, at the time, it appeared the two would have to co-exist for six more years.

Until ... they didn't.

So now it's binge-and-purge. After binging, the Red Sox are purging. We can only hope they get hold of themselves before they binge again (and believe me, with James Loney now atop the depth chart at first base, there will be more binging).

Of course, they sort of did this last winter, when they offed Francona and caught a break when the Cubs job opened for Epstein, thus allowing an overly-pleased-with-itself ownership group to flex and seize more control. In doing so, hiring Valentine was a colossal gamble, albeit one that could have worked.

Except, when Valentine dinged Youkilis earlier in the year and Mighty Mite Dustin Pedroia immediately issued the "That's not the way we do things around here" challenge, Cherington and the owners both failed to publicly back Valentine.

That was, as they say, a teachable moment.

With a clubhouse full of players badly in need of learning a few lessons.

And the Sox let it slip right through their fingers, much like Thursday's 14-13 loss to the Angels.

What's left is ruins. Wreckage. The coulda-beens and shoulda-beens of 2012. Larry Lucchino promised the other day that Valentine would remain manager through season's end. Of course he will, his failure is on ownership. And ownership isn't going to admit another mistake until it absolutely has to.

The incredible thing through the fried chicken grease and strewn beer cans is how much goodwill and professional collateral the Red Sox have pissed away so quickly. From two World Series titles to this. It is absolutely astounding.

Each week brings another disgrace. Beckett is caught on the golf course two days before skipping a start with a rib-cage injury. Only four players show at the iconic Pesky's funeral. On and on it goes.

The Sox had to do something, and do something major.

Now, if they can just deal John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka, they'll be in business.

But I'd keep the Green Monster.

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