Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Anatomy of a Collapse: Inside the BoSox September Implosion

I've rarely seen a more penetrating and perceptive look at the failure of a hometown baseball team in a hometown paper, but Bob Hohler at the Boston Globe dissects the corpse of the BoSox 2011 season and finds a team that rotted from the inside out.

I've taken to calling the implosion of the BoSox's 2011 season simply, The Slide.  So what happened?  How did things go from great to a catastrophic, systemic failure of an entire MLB team?  Some of it rests on the management, some on the manager and a lot on the players.
Team sources also expressed concern that Francona’s performance may have been affected by his use of pain medication.

The closer the Sox inched toward September, the more their ill temperaments surfaced.
In order to prevent a rainout from the impending Hurricane Irene, management decided to play a double-header instead of playing on Sunday.  The players freaked out.
The players accused management of caring more about making money than winning, which marked the first time the team’s top executives sensed serious trouble brewing in the clubhouse.
After winning the series and
getting two days off, the Sox spent the rest of the season playing uninspired, subpar baseball, losing 21 of their final 29 games. 
How bad was that slide? It was the worst September tumble in Major League history.

The seeds of this catastrophic self-destruction were sown early in the season as the team failed to achieve the kind of cohesion you expect from a championship club.  The starting pitchers formed a little club and spent more time drinking beer and playing video games together than working out with the team.  And the prima donna syndrome became more and more a fact of life in the clubhouse.
“It’ s hard for a guy making $80,000 to tell a $15 million pitcher he needs to get off his butt and do some work,’’ one source said.
Manager Francona was also responsible for a chunk of The Slide too.
As he completed his eighth year as manager - a historic run in which he guided the Sox to two World Series titles - Francona by his own admission grew less capable of motivating the team. His losing influence with some former leaders came into sharper relief after he convened a closed-door meeting Sept. 7 after a 14-0 victory the previous night to address the clubhouse malaise. His players responded by failing to adjust their attitudes or improve their slipshod performances. 
The team's fate was sealed in September when even the veterans withdrew into the solitude of the looser.
In the end, only Pedroia and a few other players appeared to remain fully committed to winning, according to team sources. They said the veterans who no longer actively exerted their leadership included the captain, Jason Varitek, who was saddled with injuries and ineffective on the field (he batted .077 in September). 
As a long-time Yankees fan, I have mixed feelings about this.  Am I happy that the Yankees made it to the NLDS instead of the BoSox?  Absolutely.  But nobody who loves the game of baseball wants to see a championship-level team suffer this kind of indignant end to what could have been a 100 win season.  Yes, I'm always happy to see the BoSox loose.  No question.  But this kind of annihilation? It's not healthy.  The self-destructive clubhouse atmosphere, the toxic relations between players and management, none of that is good for the game.  The only good thing that will come from this will be a careful examination of the causes of the slide and what management can do to fix it going forward.

The BoSox will have to do a lot of winter cleaning, some of which has already begun.  The Yankees made it to the NLDS but couldn't overcome a surging Detroit Tigers team this year.  Would the BoSox have fared any better?  We'll never know.

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