FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox are selling character this spring. They have cleaned up their toxic clubhouse.
No more Josh Beckett snarling and looking for snitches. No more Carl Crawford complaining about how mean everybody is in Boston. No more aloof Adrian Gonzalez, arms folded, looking down on those who would question his commitment. Kevin Youkilis isn’t here to gossip or complain. Goofy Bobby Valentine is gone and so are the coaches who wouldn’t talk to the manager. Jon Lester has promised to smile.
It’s all Hakuna Matata in Camp Farrell.
Character guys have been brought into the fold. Shane Victorinio is the Flyin’ Hawaiian, the man who lit the room with his smile when the Phillies won the World Series in 2008. Jonny Gomes is quick with a joke or to light up your smoke. Mike Napoli looks like he’d be comfortable with a can of Duff in his hand after winning the World Series. Ryan Dempster is rumored to be a successor to Alex Trebek. Stephen Drew is as polite as his brother, J.D. John Lackey is auditioning for Comeback Player of the Year and Mr. Congeniality.
New manager John Farrell is the White Knight, the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
It’s all just swell. These Red Sox are contending for a playoff spot and the Lady Byng Trophy.
Or . . . Sox fans may wake up in the middle of the summer with the horrible realization famously expressed by the townie character (played by Rob Schneider) in “The Waterboy” when he learns that the football team will be without its best player:
“Oh no! We suck again!’’
That’s when it’ll be time to issue the Edvard Munch “Scream” masks on Yawkey Way.
I hate to break it to everybody, but chemistry in a baseball clubhouse is way overrated. Winning requires talent, pitching, and three-run homers.
More than the other team sport, baseball is built on individual skill sets. A batter gets no help from his teammates. It’s the same for the pitcher. Those are one-on-one battles. It’s every man for himself. That’s that’s why you can have winning teams when you have a clubhouse full of guys who hate each other. The players simply don’t rely on one another as they do in other sports (woe is the NFL quarterback who doesn’t get along with his linemen).
History is filled with teams that won despite having clubhouses filled with guys who hated one another. The 1972-74 Oakland A’s are the classic example. Those A’s wrestled on the clubhouse carpet. Billy North got into it with Reggie Jackson and everybody hated pitcher Ken Holtzman. The New York Yankees took it to another level, winning the World Series in 1977 after Jackson fought manager Billy Martin in the Fenway dugout. Rich Gossage, Mickey Rivers, Graig Nettles rarely got along on that team, and Boss Steinbrenner insulted his players, calling them chokers and comparing pitcher Ken Clay to a racehorse who “spit the bit.’’
A couple of legendary Red Sox teams were peppered with sour personalities. The 1986 Sox won the American League pennant and came within a strike of winning the World Series in six games against the Mets. That team had miserable John McNamara as manager, lazy Calvin Schiraldi at closer, entitled Roger Clemens as MVP, and an angry Jim Rice who told Sport Magazine that “my teammates aren’t friends, they’re associates.’’ Wade Boggs was viewed as selfish and joined relief pitcher Steve Crawford in an covert operation designed to embarrass teammates. McNamara hated all young players and believed reliever Sammy Stewart was one of the worst human beings who ever lived. Think it was bad when Manny Ramirez pushed traveling secretary Jack McCormick? Stewart spat at the team’s traveling secretary that year. The ’86ers were a miserable crew. And they almost won the World Series.
Oh, and the 2004 team — the iconic team that threw off the Curse of the Bambino? Let’s not forget all the personal stuff they had to overcome. Pedro Martinez was wildly jealous of Curt Schilling. Manny refused to speak to his manager at times and insisted on taking an off day when the Sox were strapped for outfielders. Nomar was a poisonous presence before he was finally dumped in late July. On the night the Sox lost, 19-8, in the third game of the ALCS against the Yankees, there was a fight in the wives’ room involving Shonda Schilling and Johnny Damon’s fiancee.
It got so bad that the fellows decided to pour a little Jack Daniel’s into cups before Game 4.
Think of all the bad stories we’d have read about the 2004 Red Sox if Dave Roberts got thrown out stealing and they lost Game 4.
Jack Daniel’s before the games? What a bunch of losers. If the Sox had lost four straight to the Yankees, news of the Jack would have made “Chicken and Beer” sound like “Remember the Titans.’’
But those 2004 Sox were not losers. They won. And they are forever embraced and remembered as a lovable bunch of lugs who never tucked in their shirts, wore their hair long, and came up big in the clutch.
It’s all about winning. The winners gets straight A’s in chemistry. The losers are chemistry’s F Troop.
Which is why chemistry is overrated.
Some talent would be good.
Nice guys finish last.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: The artist of “The Scream” was misidentified in an earlier version of this article because of a reporting error.