What happened in the Red Sox clubhouse this season was reminiscent of the dark days of 2001, when this franchise was a barren tree, fruitlessly and incompetently searching for a title that eluded them for decades. The problems that developed this season -- players against players, players versus management, and now, in typical fashion, the brass sniping and scapegoating everyone but themselves -- brought back those dark memories.
In conversations with sources both inside the locker room and in the front office, some disturbing stories emerged:
Carl Crawford kept more and more to himself as the season progressed, largely because the clubhouse culture here was unlike any he'd experienced during his decade with Tampa Bay. A consummate pro, Crawford had once grabbed Pat Burrell and thrown him up against a wall, angrily telling Burrell that his unprofessional ways were not accepted in the Rays' clubhouse. Tampa Bay management had their speedy outfielder's back, trading Burrell a short time later. That's the kind of cache Crawford had in that room, and with that organization.
But in Boston, Crawford apparently felt he couldn't exert his influence because he wasn't one of the veterans who understood what the Sox organization considered acceptable and what had led them to victory. Finally, late in the season but before the team entered its death spiral, Crawford had had enough. He launched into an impassioned speech, imploring teammates to get it together. It fell on deaf ears.
As for the now-infamous "Go ask the captain" line, Crawford had an issue with the reporter who asked the question -- about that person's relationship with Jason Varitek -- and not Varitek himself. What followed, with 'Tek going over and hugging Crawford, was considered as nothing more than a dog-and-pony show, done to put a happy face on an unhappy locker room.
Crawford wasn't the only newcomer marginalized by the Sox' toxic culture. The other big offseason acquisition, Adrian Gonzalez, was dumbfounded by the lack of professionalism that surrounded him, and couldn't believe it was allowed to continue. And while he struggled with a variety of injuries that sapped him of his power, Gonzalez still showed up, still worked, still competed. The same couldn't be said of some of his new teammates.
If there's anyone who epitomizes what Theo Epstein tried to build in Boston, it's Dustin Pedroia. A blood-and-guts guy, one who took groundballs on his knees a year ago with his broken foot in a cast, Pedroia lives to play, lives to compete. Yet Pedroia became more and more like an island unto himself, isolated by veterans who believed that, because of his relationship with former manager Terry Francona, he couldn't be trusted. It was often joked that Francona was Pedroia's father, but that joking apparently led to the point where Pedroia found his influence on the clubhouse minimized.
The Boston Globe's characterization of Jacoby Ellsbury is incomplete. Yes, he was more distant this season than in the past, and some of that stems from his distrust of the organization (resulting from his misdiagnosed rib injury a year ago) and of some teammates (who called him out for it). But the root of that mistrust goes much deeper. Ellsbury has always been viewed as private, a one-man corporation, and aloof to a degree. No one can argue with the performance he had this season, how hard he played, but he's not a universally loved figure in that locker room.
In the days that followed Francona's dismissal, very few Sox players stepped to his defense. Francona was understandably hurt by that, but it wasn't as if he didn't see it coming. Players whom Francona had defended (Varitek), supported through difficult times (David Ortiz) and considered to be almost like a son (Jon Lester) had already tuned him out long before the late collapse.
Their silence was just a reinforcement of how bad the Red Sox clubhouse had gotten and -- sources reiterated -- how it will remain until those responsible for it are moved out or held accountable for their failings, both on and off the field.