In a lengthy conversation with the Journal on Monday afternoon, Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester acknowledged that starting pitchers did drink beer in the clubhouse during games but also strongly condemned what he called a "witch hunt" to assign blame for the Red Sox collapse in September.
"This is a good group of guys who want to compete and win, and that's getting lost in all this hoopla of finger-pointing and getting reports blown out of proportion," he said. "People are on a witch hunt to try to find out why the second-highest-paid team in baseball lost. It's not one particular reason. It was a group effort. We didn't play good baseball at the end of the season. I hope people can understand that we care and that we're going to do better next year. We're going to compete our asses off for the city of Boston. That's the biggest thing I want to get across to fans. We're going to do this. We're going to make it right."
There will be much more to come in Tuesday's Providence Journal. Among the key bullet points:
* As Lester told the Boston Globe earlier Monday, starting pitchers did drink beer in the clubhouse while games were being played -- but not to the extent that has been reported.
"When the original report came out, it was made to seem as if guys were just sitting in the clubhouse with a 12-pack of Bud Light in front of them and drinking it until the game was over," he said. "That's not the case. We'd do the occasional ninth-inning -- if we were tied or down by one -- rally beer. We'd be sitting up there and drink one beer and come back down. We're always watching the game. We're always paying attention to what's going on. We're not sitting up there getting hammered."
* Lester denied an earlier Globe report that starting pitchers were playing video games in the clubhouse.
"Video games never happened," he said. "I don't even know where that came from. I don't even know how to turn one of those fricking things on."
* Lester also downplayed the reports that Red Sox pitchers ordered takeout fried chicken during games.
"The report that comes out says we're eating fried chicken every day and we're drunk in the clubhouse between starts, and that's not the case," Lester said. "Out of a six-month season, we ate fried chicken maybe three times."
* Lester said that he saw the much-discussed team meeting in Toronto as a "positive meeting."
"We had a lot of the September blues going on, and that's because of the long August we had," he said. "We had a long August. We were on the road for like 16 out of 18 days, and that's a long stretch on a team in August, especially when you're playing the team we're playing and going to the places we're going. That's tough. Every year, you're going to have the September woes or the September blues because it's the last month of the year. It's the grind, that summer, grind, that really hits you, and I, myself, was part of that group. It was a lot of us.
"Tito had to remind us who we were: 'We're the Boston Red Sox, and we need to start playing better and need to stop worrying about outside things.' For me, it wasn't a negative meeting; it was a positive meeting. He got his point across."
* Lester acknowledged that "guys got away" from the authority of manager Terry Francona, who seemed to be "burnt out" by the end of the season.
"Tito has been great to me and great to my family, and I've thanked him many times for what he's done for me -- off the field more than on the field," he said. "But there comes a time, like in any business in the world that's run by somebody, that you need to step back and let a fresh face step in. Tito got burnt out. Eight years in Boston, it's a tough place to be a manager -- or be a player. Night in, night out, he's got to answer questions about his job and about every else's job. He was burnt out. He was ready to go.
"In the clubhouse, yeah, it could have been more. But that was the luxury of having a manager like Tito. He trusted as far as controlling the clubhouse. He knew things would take care of themselves and that he didn't have to have an iron fist. Guys respected him for that."
Francona acknowledged after he vacated the manager's office that he felt like he couldn't reach players he'd once been able to reach, but Lester said he didn't see that.
"The really good thing about Tito is that he keeps everything in-house so well," Lester said. "I've been in his office a couple of times when he's needed to kick me in the rear end to get me going or to tell me I need to quit bitching about things and move on and start pitching better. But nobody would ever know that because he does it in his office. It's just you and him or you and him and the pitching coach. I didn't have any issues with that stuff this year. ...
"I don't know who he's implying that to. For the most part, we had normal stuff this year as far as in-house issues that come up every year, and I felt like they were handled."
* Lester came strongly to the defense of Josh Beckett and John Lackey when asked a general question about the perception that the clubhouse needed a shakeup this offseason.
"Those two guys are two of our bigger leaders on the team," he said. "If you get rid of those two guys just for the sake of getting rid of them, that tears us apart, period. Josh is a very influential person in that clubhouse, and so is Lack. Guys look to them for advice. Guys look to them for leadership -- and people are making these guys out to seem like the devil.
"I know Lack hasn't performed up to what people think he should. He'd be the first to come out and say that. ... He's not going to talk about his personal life, but it's tough to perform when you're going through that stuff."
In an interview with Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe on Monday, Red Sox starter Jon Lester said that, although he and his fellow pitchers occasionally drank beer in the clubhouse during games, that was not the reason Boston lost 20 of 27 September games to miss the playoffs.
Lester called it "a bad habit" and said that he understands "how it looks to people and it probably looks bad." He added that he personally should have been in the dugout more often during games than he was. At the same time, Lester clarified that "it was a ninth-inning rally beer" and that it was typically a single beer he and the other pitchers would drink during games. Fried chicken was ordered maybe once a month from Popeye's, the pitcher said, and nobody played video games during the game.
Perhaps the most interesting thing emerging from Lester were his thoughts on departed manager Terry Francona.
"There comes a time when your authority is no longer there," Lester said. "You kind of run your course. People knew how Tito was and we pushed the envelope with it."
Lester suggested the Red Sox could benefit from having a greater veteran presence in the clubhouse. He dismissed the idea that he follows Josh Beckett or that Boston's pitchers were out of shape. He instead attributed the team's weight gains to "some crazy hours with the travel."
In the end, Lester said the Red Sox -- and he personally -- simply hit a slump at the worst possible time.
"It bothers me because I'm supposed to be a stopper," Lester said. "I picked a terrible time to stink. That's on me."
"I told them what I thought of them -- that they're a bunch of undisciplined, spoiled brats, disobedient, sometimes selfish, always complaining, always whining."
Was it Terry Francona?
That quote is from Marc Lievremont, the coach of the French rugby team, which, after edging Wales in the semifinals, will take on host country New Zealand in the finals of the World Cup next weekend.
Lievremont's team is playing for a world championship.
The Red Sox missed the playoffs for the second straight season.
Perhaps, if he held players more accountable -- both publicly and privately -- Francona still would have a job.
And the Red Sox might still be playing.
Among the highlights of principal owner John Henry's impromptu appearance on WBZ-FM on Friday was his disclosure that he opposed signing left fielder Carl Crawford in the off-season.
Henry was being asked about Boston's big off-season by hosts Tony Massarotti and Mike Felger, who believed part of it was motivated by public relations -- namely, the desire to prove to Red Sox fans that Henry's purchase of EPL club Liverpool wouldn't impact the Sox budget. While Henry agreed there was criticism about Fenway Sports Group's branching out beyond Boston, the team's off-season was full of purely baseball decisions.
"Can you imagine spending $300 million for PR?" he asked with an incredulous tone. "[Crawford was ] definitely a baseball signing. In fact, anyone involved in the process, anybody involved in upper management with the Red Sox will tell you that I personally opposed that. They all know that."
Pressed for why Henry didn't think inking Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million contract was wise, he cited the team's plethora of left-handed hitters before saying he didn't "have to go into why."
"I'll just tell you that at the time I opposed the deal, but I don't meddle to the point of making decisions for our baseball people," he said. "Theo will tell you, this was driven by our baseball people. It wasn't a PR move. Neither was the Gonzalez [trade].
"I was more concerned that we didn't make the playoffs than what the TV ratings are. We felt we needed to be aggressive in the off-season, and we were aggressive. But it wasn't because we needed to prove we were still going to spend money here. That is the most ridiculous...we have sellouts because we win."
Henry's comments confirm at least one part of the Boston Globe's story dissecting the team's collapse, in which Bob Hohler wrote that "ownership was divided over Epstein's push to acquire Crawford." In his first season with the Red Sox, Crawford posted a career-worst .289 on-base percentage and stole only 18 bases.
wrote, Henry won't be thinking about sellouts next year...that streak will definitely come to an end....
wrote, 2 moves to be made re bard&crawford...
Read the rest, write another...
Henry dropped by the studios of WBZ-FM to address what he termed to be "misleading" statements, and he spent more than an hour on the air addressing a variety of topics -- one of which was the up-in-the-air future of his general manager. It has been widely reported that Epstein has agreed to a contract with the Cubs and that only the details -- compensation and the staff members Epstein can take with him -- remain to be worked out.
"There's a prohibition against announcements being made during the postseason in baseball," Henry said. "It would be unfair of me to the Cubs, who I don't care that much about, but certainly to the Red Sox and to Theo and to the people involved to comment on what's going on until there's something to be announced."
If it was up to him, Henry said, Epstein would not have left.
"I'd love to have Theo back," Henry said. "I would have loved for Theo to have been our general manager to be our general manager for the next 20 years. That was my hope. That would have been my hope. But you don't always get what you want. I did everything I could, personally -- and so did Tom and Larry -- to make that happen. But the fact that is, and I think people don't understand this, the fact is that being the general manager in Boston or being the manager in Boston is a terrifically tough job. ...
"He never saw the general manager's role as longer than 10 years for himself. I mean, maybe he did early on, but, certainly, after a few years, he knew the stress of this job was too much."
Henry also downplayed the public perception of dissension between Epstein and Larry Lucchino, the Red Sox president and Epstein's one-time mentor. Lucchino's contract is expiring this year, but Henry said he intends to sign Lucchino to a multiyear extension to remain at the helm of the team.
"We never had to make a choice between them," Henry said. "Tom (Werner) and my role is to have the best management possible. ...
"We've had great management. (Terry Francona) and Theo brought two World Series here, arguably the best general manager, in my mind, and the best manager. It's just really a sad day to see them both leaving."
As incoming general manager Ben Cherington -- nothing is yet official, but it seems extraordinarily unlikely this saga will end with Theo Epstein anywhere but Chicago -- sits down to evaluate his team, he'll have to start with his pitching staff.
Even before the Pitchers of Beer saga became an undeniable part of the legacy of the underachieving team, the Red Sox needed to address their starting rotation. The failures of Josh Beckett and Jon Lester in the final two weeks only put a cherry on top of the overall failure of the pitching staff to deliver down the stretch. Red Sox starters finished with a 7.08 ERA in September. Both Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon blew key games at the back end of the bullpen. None of the youngsters from Triple-A Pawtucket could seize the opportunity. Alfredo Aceves looked, by the end of the season, like the only reliable arm on the entire staff.
As Cherington looks at his pitching staff, he'll have to start with two basic truths:
2. The Red Sox boasts more high-ceiling relievers than high-ceiling starters. Kyle Weiland pitched more capably than his 7.66 ERA would indicate, but his repertoire suggests he might have more success as a reliever than as a starter. Felix Doubront is out of minor-league options and can't bide his time as a starter at Triple-A Pawtucket anymore. Alex Wilson struck out more than a hitter an inning as a starter at Double-A and Triple-A this season, but he, too, knows he's probably a future reliever. Chris Balcom-Miller and Junichi Tazawa likewise have a better chance to impact the Red Sox next season as relievers than as starters. The best starting-pitching prospect in the organization is Anthony Ranaudo, and he hasn't thrown a pitch at Double-A yet.
Whether Papelbon -- who will file for free agency after the World Series -- returns or not, Cherington has to bolster both his starting rotation and his bullpen this offseason.
Free agency is a dicey proposition for pitchers, as evidenced by the flops of Bobby Jenks and John Lackey. Cherington might have enough in-house options to do what he needs to do without going that route.
1. Both Aceves and Bard should come to spring training as starting pitchers.
The "Start Aceves" movement gained more and more momentum down the stretch, even counting David Ortiz as one of its advocates. Terry Francona staunchly refused to use Aceves as a starter, pointing to his ability to pitch almost every day as the best way to maximize his value. The Red Sox bullpen at that point was just as much in shambles as the starting rotation. It was hard to say Francona was crazy.
But Aceves prefers starting to relieving, and he has shown enough ability to get outs that he deserves the chance to try.
Bard, too, has the ability to start and pitch deep into games. The recent development of his changeup only makes his potential in that role more tantalizing. He's been such an effective middle reliever it has been difficult to think about moving him, especially with the Red Sox rotation seemingly stacked. But with Daisuke Matsuzaka out of the picture and John Lackey possibly on his way out, an opportunity exists.
It's not as if Bard is going to resist a move to the starting rotation. When buddy Justin Masterson was traded to Cleveland two years ago -- a move that gave Masterson a chance to start full-time rather than pitching out of the bullpen -- Bard put his seal of approval on the career move.
"(Masterson) could have been a great reliever, but he's a big workhorse, a big-bodied guy who's going to be able to eat up a lot of innings," he said then. "That pays some good money down the road once you hit arbitration and free agency. It'll end up being a good opportunity for him."
Bard has four years of salary arbitration in front of him, including this year. He knows he'll make significantly more money as a No. 4 starter than as a middle reliever, even as one of the best middle relievers in the game.
2. Sign or acquire back-end-of-the-rotation pitching depth.
3. Start the season with Doubront, Weiland and Wilson in the bullpen.
Doubront almost has no other option but to start the season in the bullpen, given the health issues with which he dealt last year. Both Weiland and Wilson could keep pitching as starters at Triple-A Pawtucket, but there's also merit to the old Earl Weaver idea -- the idea the Red Sox last practiced with Masterson -- that young pitchers are best served by breaking into the major leagues as relievers, not starters. Both Weiland and Wilson have the stuff to pitch in one- or two-inning stints in the major leagues -- and to be really effective, too.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) -- Former baseball star Manny Ramirez has pleaded not guilty to a domestic battery charge involving his wife.
Ramirez's attorney filed the written plea ahead of Friday's scheduled arraignment. Ramirez did not appear at the hearing. He is free on $2,500 bail.
The 2004 World Series MVP was arrested Sept. 12. His wife told investigators Ramirez slapped her, causing her head to strike a bed headboard. Ramirez has denied slapping her.
He retired in April from the Tampa Bay Rays rather than serve a 100-game suspension after testing positive a second time for a performance-enhancing substance.
According to a report in the Pawtucket Times, young outfielder Ryan Kalish is experiencing no pain four weeks removed from surgery to repair a bulging disc in his neck.
"At this point, honestly, I can't really tell that anything was done to my neck," Kalish aid. "You have post-surgery pain and all that, but that's totally gone. It just feels like a normal neck. My range of motion feels good and I'm not experiencing any pain. I'm actually rehabbing my shoulder too; everything is connected. I'm just making sure everything as strong and flexible to prevent anything further down the line."
Kalish, who came to the plate almost 200 times in the major leagues in 2010 after injuries sidelined Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury, missed almost the entire 2011 season after a shoulder injury evolved into a neck injury that prevented him from swinging a bat without discomfort. A season that should been his final opportunity to fine-tune instead ended with his having compiled barely 100 plate appearances.
Had he undergone surgery during the season, he might have been in a position for a September call-up. Instead, he wound up getting surgery in September instead.
"It's hard to look back and you can't really question anything that happened because surgery is not the first option by any means," Kalish told the Times. "You try the treatment and at the end of the day, it wasn't something that we thought it would come to. It would have been good if there was a clear-cut path to get this done, but there wasn't."
If he's healthy at the start of spring training -- as he should be -- he still would have a chance to unseat Josh Reddick as the starting right fielder, barring a free-agent acquisition.
"There's no real rush to move me along without having to worry about right now," he told the Times. "Instead the focus is on next year."
To the question of whether veteran catcher, and team captain, Jason Varitek should return to the Red Sox in 2012, the answer is a resounding: "Absolutely not!"
And not just because of his weak performance at the plate (he hit .077 in the Sox' September Swoon, going 2-for-26, and has averaged just .217 over the past four seasons), nor his obvious difficulty in throwing out baserunners.
The biggest reason Varitek's career in Boston should be over is his woeful lack of leadership in a deteriorating clubhouse.
He clearly didn't hold accountable the pitchers with whom he worked so closely -- John Lackey, Josh Beckett, and Jon Lester, in particular.
As the Sox continued to sink in September, the captain did nothing to save the ship.
wrote, He effectively lost his captainship when they did not renew his contract and he lost his starting position. The Red Sox shouldn't have expected him...
wrote, Big Varitek fan but I realize his active career has effectively been over for the past few years. It's actual painful for me to watch...
Read the rest, write another...
Upset about what's going on in Boston's front office? Still angry about the end of the regular season? Want to rationally discuss what the future may hold for the Red Sox in the off-season and beyond?
Thursday's your lucky day, as Providence Journal Red Sox beat writers Tim Britton and Brian MacPherson will hold court for an afternoon chat starting at 3, leading right into Game Five of the American League Championship Series. Feel free to vent, to criticize and to question what's going on at Fenway Park during an already tumultuous off-season.