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What We Really Know

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By the time you read this you'll likely have read Jeff Passan's piece on the dissension in the Red Sox clubhouse. I don't feel like linking to it, but a simple Google search will help you find it if you haven't seen it yet. In a nutshell, the article tells of a July meeting between some of the players and the owners and front office staff which turned into a complain-a-thon about the manager. So now the fact that some of the players don't like playing for Bobby Valentine and told the front office and ownership so in no uncertain terms is public knowledge.

So let's see. We've got the players complaining to the front office in general. The players going over the manager's head to do so. The manager losing/having already lost the clubhouse. Bad communication. Lack of respect. No communication. No respect. It all sounds bad. Very very bad. And guess what? It's supposed to.

After reading Passan's article here's what I tweeted yesterday:

Yes it sounds bad. But don't underestimate the reporter's responsibility to call attention to him or herself and the story. This is purposely framed in a way that makes things sound bad. Very bad. And maybe things are. But we really don't know.

Yesterday morning we didn't know about The Meeting. We all had strong opinions on the team, the manager, the way the team was put together and on and on. But we didn't know about this apparently pivotal event. Now we do know. And all our strong opinions on the team, the manager, the way the team was put together and on and on are informed at least in part by that knowledge.

Which is fine. But we still don't have the whole picture. We are still subject to the media narrative, subject to anonymous sources and their agendas, subject to whomever wants to drive home their own particular self-serving point.

I wonder what else we don't know. I'm sure there is a lot of stuff, which isn't to say it's all bad stuff. I'm further sure there is a lot in just about ever major league clubhouse, and I'm even further sure there is much more in the clubhouses of teams that aren't performing like they and their team's owners and fans expect. And most importantly we know hardly any of it. This allows certain people to paint a picture that will serve their interests.

Passan's article like Bob Hohler's in the Globe after last season will point towards the truth. It will say, "Look at all this! These events are telling, emblematic events. This is the way it is in the Red Sox clubhouse." And many people will say, "Yes!" But these are only single events. Of course they paint a picture and of course it isn't a flattering one. But the important thing to remember is it's an incomplete one. Very incomplete. We simply don't know what happens in the Red Sox clubhouse, no matter what Jeff Passan says, no matter what any Red Sox reporter says. We aren't there, we don't know the interpersonal interworkings of the players, managers, owners, and front office staff. We just don't know. Passing one or two events on to us all like in Passan's article makes it seem like we know. We don't.

Further, there is an underlying idea to all these TERROR IN THE CLUBHOUSE!!! pieces that says a team can't win when players aren't friends, when players don't love and respect the manager, when players don't respect the chain of command, when the manager can't communicate with the coaching staff. I don't think that's true. I'm sure individually that each of those things helps in it's own way, but I also know that while a happy clubhouse can facilitate winning, winning facilitates a happy clubhouse. In fact, I'd guess the second is a stronger effect than the first.

How many first place teams have stories like the Passan piece written about them? Do you think that every first place team doesn't have dissidents in the clubhouse, that every first place team loves playing for their manager, respects the chain of command? No chance. Players are less likely to complain on a first place team (complaining begets complaining) but outward expressions of hostility, dislike, what have you aren't the only indications that someone is upset with the way things are.

A perfect example actually exists in our recent past. Last year when Terry Francona had supposedly checked out, spending all his time playing cribbage in his office with Dustin Pedroia, when John Lackey and Josh Beckett were pounding beers during games, when a whole bunch of other stuff that ended up in the newspapers was going on, nobody heard about it. Not a peep. Nobody wrote about it. Why? Because the Red Sox were in first place. This was a winning team, and that was the narrative. That was the storyline, and nobody was rocking that boat. It wasn't until mid-September when the wheels were coming off the wagon in spectacular fashion that reporters started sniffing around for signs of discontent.

Go a bit farther back in history and you'll recall that the 2004 team routinely drank in the clubhouse. They probably did a whole bunch of other crazy stuff while they were going 41-40 from May through July as well. In fact we know they did because Terry Francona has said, and I'm paraphrasing here, that if half the stuff that happened with that team ever got out then oh wow would people go nuts. It's easy to forget because of what that team ended up doing, but people were upset at the team at that time. Dan Shaughnessy wrote a column about the team around that time calling them (paraphrasing again) the biggest frauds to ever fraud. I'm sure that stirred some fun stuff up in the clubhouse. But the team started winning and reporters kept their mouths shut.

Back to the present day. Here's what we really know about the 2012 team. They're under performing what was expected of them. They've dealt with a huge rash of injuries. Some of the players may not like the manager. (Or they may. Time has passed since what Passan wrote about happened.) There was a meeting. That's about all we can definitively say. We can't say anything definitive about how upset in the clubhouse has caused the team to hit, to pitch, or to field. We can't say that because we just don't know.

The Red Sox probably aren't going to make the playoffs. There will probably be some turnover this off season. It isn't unreasonable to think that Valentine and the coaching staff may not be back. Ditto with some of the players. There will be more articles like Passan's written likely before the year ends and more into the off season. They will detail things that you and I will read and think, "That is bad. Very bad." These articles will give us the illusion of knowledge. But we won't know the whole picture. We'll never know the whole picture. That's all we really know.