When did it all change?
When did players become softer, more sensitive to what was said by their manager or general manager? When did managers have to stop criticizing players so as not to hurt their feelings in public? When did all of this happen and why?
“I remember Dick Williams didn’t speak to me for two weeks because I got thrown out at third base [trying to steal],” recalled Jerry Remy.
It was couple of weeks later, Remy recalled, before Williams gave him the green light to steal on his own.
Williams also threatened to send Remy back to Triple A after his first major league hit, because he got picked off first base by Steve Busby.
Remy once tried to talk to Don Zimmer in his office about why he wasn’t playing against lefthanders, but, said Remy, “He started airing me out before I could say a word.”
Billy Martin once fought with Reggie Jackson in the dugout. Gene Mauch didn’t have much of a bedside manner. And as one former Orioles player told me, “There’s no way Earl [Weaver] could manage now. That’s one of the reasons he got out of managing. He saw the trend with the way players are.”
The Red Sox have had a series of player’s managers, from Jimy Williams to Grady Little to Terry Francona. Francona had it good, because he had great self-policing players such as Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, Pedro Martinez, and Curt Schilling. But by the end of his reign, his players had gotten very, very comfortable, and that was his undoing.
Things have gotten so ridiculous that Bobby Valentine can’t sarcastically say, “Nice inning, kid,” to rookie Will Middlebrooks — the very kid he fought to give the third base job to — without some oversensitive player running to management and crying about mistreatment.
Whichever person in authority received the complaint should have responded, “Get your butt back downstairs and deal with the manager.”
Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda put it best: “What some of these players don’t understand is, they’re not playing for the manager. They’re playing for the name on the front of their jersey.
“The one thing I always told my players was, ‘You signed your contract in good faith and all I ask is that you earn your paycheck.’
“This notion that the players are playing for a manager is ridiculous. They’re playing for the team and they’re playing to earn their paycheck.
“I played for managers who didn’t even talk to me.”
Not anymore. If you don’t talk to a player now, you’re uncommunicative.
Now players need to be told a day ahead of time if they’re in the lineup. They have to be asked whether they are willing to hit in a certain spot in the batting order. There is no question they have the hammer.
“You can’t paint them all with the same brush,” reasoned Valentine. “You don’t have to tell every player whether he’s playing the next day. Some you do and some you don’t.
“It depends on the player, and that’s what I’ve found as this thing has gone on.”
Money seems to be the universal reason that players have so much control.
What can a manager making a mere $2 million a year say to the $20 million-a-year superstar? The players can make a manager’s life miserable if he’s too tough, too demanding.
In spring training, some Red Sox players were rolling their eyes and complaining about drills they had to do under Valentine that they didn’t have to do under Francona and other managers.
Increased medical and rehab information and programs have also played havoc with the dynamic between manager and player. Managers seem to be at the mercy of training staffs and rehab coordinators who want to have specific programs designed for each player before they’re back on the field.
Also, everything is instant news with Twitter and blogs. Things that used to slip under the radar are now major stories. Valentine’s comment that Kevin Youkilis is “not physically and emotionally into it” would have been ho-hum if Weaver or Martin had said it, but now it is made out to be an absolutely horrific thing to say.
Do you think owners would have held a player round-table to hear complaints and concerns 20 years ago? Of course not. Back then, the manager was empowered. He, and not the inmates, ran the asylum. It didn’t matter what an Adrian Gonzalez thought. His job was to play baseball, not dictate how the clubhouse is run.
The power of the players union has also played a strong role in making the players the kingpins.
Ken Macha, who managed the A’s and Brewers, said, “I think what happens is, when you take a job as manager, you study all your players so you know a lot about them before you even meet them.
“But they don’t seem to know much about you. So what I did was hold individual meetings with players just to say, ‘This is who I am and this is what I do and this is the way I want things done.’ ”
Macha has no idea when the culture began to change, but he, too, cites the money as a major culprit in the lack of respect around the league for authority figures.
“It’s hard to make guys do something they don’t want to do when they’re making all that money,” Macha said.
And most of the time, upper management doesn’t back the manager. It backs the player.
And then there’s the old open-door-policy trick. Macha, like Valentine, invited players to his office to talk about any concern. But how many players actually do it? Dustin Pedroia said if he ever had a problem with Francona or Valentine, he’d approach them. But not all players are like that.
“A lot of them just let it fester,” said Macha. “Instead of trying to hash it out with the manager directly, they let it breed and it gets worse and worse.”
And that’s when the problem either goes up the back stairs or to the media. A small problem turns into a big problem.
The bottom line is, the players have the power to get a manager fired. They did it with Francona, and they may do it again with Valentine.
The behavior of players as described in the Jeff Passan Yahoo! Sports story was downright disgusting. If the players had gripes, they should have aired them with Valentine instead of devoting their energy to ripping him apart.
And the players will likely win again.
“Sometimes,” Macha said, “you wonder who is the employee and who is the employer.”
Apropos of something
One of the big stories of the offseason is how the Red Sox will handle Jacoby Ellsbury.
The prevailing feeling had been that Ellsbury would rather play somewhere else because of the medical mixup that occurred with his five broken ribs two years ago and because he didn’t like playing in this market.
But according to a team source, Ellsbury doesn’t necessarily feel that way, and in fact he’d like to stay with the Red Sox if at all possible.
Ellsbury’s agent is Scott Boras, and up to now, neither side has even asked the other to consider a long-term deal. That could change in the offseason.
There were teams inquiring about Ellsbury at the trade deadline, but the Red Sox never considered what was being offered. They may consider such offers if they determine that re-signing him is out of the question, based on his demands.
“That’s a guy I would do anything I could to sign,” said David Ortiz, who may be looking for a little love himself from Sox ownership this winter. “That guy has figured it out at the plate.
“He’s going to keep hitting for power, hitting in the gaps. He’s a heck of a player. You just don’t see talent like that very often, and now he’s in those years of his career where he’s going to do some damage with the bat.”
The Red Sox will likely be very careful in how they approach an Ellsbury contract because of his injury history.
They also could have a fallback in Jackie Bradley, a lefthanded-hitting athlete who started like gangbusters in Single A before being humbled a tad in Double A. In 53 games with Portland, Bradley is hitting .268 with 6 homers and 25 RBIs.
How long will it take Bradley to get to where Ellsbury is today?
That’s the question Sox management will face if it opts to let Ellsbury play out his contract next year.
Apropos of nothing
1. One of my readers asked, “What was the Red Sox record when Kelly Shoppach started?” Much to my shock, it was 26-16. OK, some of that reflects Boston’s success against lefthanded pitching. But the conclusion is, should Shoppach have played more?
2. The biggest bargain in baseball in 2012? My vote is Tampa Bay closer Fernando Rodney, who has a major league-high 37 saves. Rodney earns $2.5 million this season, and the Rays have a $2.5 million option for next season.
3. Worcester native Tim Collins has struck out more batters in one season than any other lefthanded reliever in Royals history — and it’s only mid-August. His 80 K’s lead American League relievers, and among AL pitchers with at least 50 innings, Collins has the most strikeouts per nine innings, 12.2. “I’m just commanding all my pitches,” Collins said. “Last year, the big thing was not being able to command the fastball, and that alone is what killed me with the walks.”
4. Interesting that the guy the Red Sox wanted to manage (John Farrell, Toronto), has a worse record than the guy who wound up managing (Bobby Valentine). And another runner-up (Dale Sveum, Cubs) has an even worse record.
5. A lot was made of the quick pitch by Orioles setup man Pedro Strop that got Adrian Gonzalez thrown out of the game Wednesday. The rule states that such a pitch is dangerous and should not be allowed, but it was allowed. Even though Franklin Morales throws it too, Valentine is adamant about the pitch being outlawed. “If you throw 97 m.p.h. and the batter isn’t ready, and a pitch gets away, it could kill someone,” said Valentine.
6. Red Sox chairman Tom Werner bought the Padres in 1990 for $75 million, a deal negotiated on behalf of the Kroc family by then-Padres CEO Jeremy Kapstein, now Boston’s senior adviser. Werner was just in Denver voting on the sale of the Padres to former Dodger owner Peter O’Malley’s group for $800 million.
7. Don’t know what to make of Carl Crawford. Sometimes he looks like the Tampa Bay Carl Crawford and sometimes he looks like the Boston Carl Crawford.
8. So much money was spent on bad free agents that Sox owners aren’t going to be as willing to hand Ben Cherington a blank check as they were with Theo Epstein.
Updates on 9
1. Brian Sabean, general manager, Giants — It’s not something he wants to be known for, but he sure has a lot of experience with performance-enhancing drug issues, from Barry Bonds to Guillermo Mota to Melky Cabrera. Sabean was very upset at the news that Cabrera was juicing. The Cabrera-for-Jonathan Sanchez deal he made with Kansas City was so one-sided because Sanchez performed terribly in Kansas City before being dealt to the Rockies. One suggestion for replacing Cabrera is Vernon Wells, now a fifth outfielder for the Angels, who would be willing to eat significant money.
2. Cody Ross, OF, Red Sox — His contribution as a righthanded bat with power has been undisputable. Ross, who signed a one-year, $3 million deal, wants to return to Boston and hopes to get the security of a multiyear deal. With so many other teams lacking righthanded pop, he could likely get himself a Josh Willingham three-year, $21 million type deal. The Red Sox are very interested in pursuing a deal.
3. Alfonso Soriano, OF, Cubs — Front office personnel are somewhat disappointed that Soriano won’t waive his 10-5 rights to go to the Giants. Soriano has had a good year, but he doesn’t appear to want to play in a colder climate that he thinks may affect his hitting.
4. Aaron Cook, RHP, Red Sox — Now that Cook has hit trade waivers, there could be a market for the righthander, who is owed relatively short money (the prorated part of a $1.55 million major league salary). The Orioles, Nationals, and Dodgers may be among teams taking a look at a sinkerballer who has had problems after the fifth inning.
5. Scott Boras, agent — Give him credit for creating a market for Derek Lowe as a reliever. Boras sold Lowe on the fact that he was running out of gas at the 100-inning mark, and that to prolong his career, a return to the bullpen might be the best way.
6. Michael Bourn, CF, Braves — We wrote last week that Braves personnel thought Bourn would not re-sign when he becomes a free agent. However, Boras reminded me that he has actually had an excellent relationship with Frank Wren and the Braves organization. Boras is not ruling out Atlanta at all, and in fact, Bourn enjoys playing there.
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Red Sox — The Red Sox offered up Salty in trade talks before the deadline, and he could be on the move this offseason. The Sox appear ready to commit to Ryan Lavarnway as their catcher and may want more of a defensive catcher to back him up. Saltalamacchia has a power stroke that could be attractive to another team. The strikeouts are troublesome, but an out is an out. I’ve always said, Salty should swing hard and let it rip, because when he makes contact, it flies.
8. Kevin Millwood, RHP, Mariners — As of Friday, Millwood had not been placed on trade waivers, but once he is, he could be one of the more sought-after pitchers. Scouts consider him dependable in pressure situations during a pennant drive. “He’s got ice water in his veins and he knows how to get big outs,” said a veteran scout. “A guy like that isn’t going to do the Mariners any good going forward but he could solidify a rotation.”
9. Grady Sizemore, CF, Indians — Sizemore will be a free agent this offseason, part of an Indians purge that should also claim Travis Hafner. The Indians will have a lot of money off the books (Lowe’s is gone, as well), but with attendance suffering, would they replace those salaries with other free agents? The farm system is not ripe at the moment, thus they find themselves in a precarious position for 2013.
From the Bill Chuck files: “In a recent win, the Albuquerque Isotopes (72-53) started former MLBer sons Tony Gwynn Jr., Scott Van Slyke, and Ivan DeJesus Jr.” . . . Happy birthday to Gary Gaetti (54) and Tim Blackwell (60).
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.