Tag Archives: Pitching
By Stephanie Burke
This season has been nothing short of tumultuous for the Red Sox. Since the teams historic collapse last September it seems drama has been in play the most over at Fenway. I was very excited when I recently got the chance to pick the brain of a baseball insider. Dave O’Brien was kind enough to do a Q&A with me. Dave has been the voice alongside Joe Constiglione since 2007. He also calls games on Wednesday night baseball for ESPN and during the basketball season can often be heard calling college basketball games. In our Q&A we talk about everything from the collapse last September to the trade of Youk.
Q. I’m curious to know your thoughts on the collapse of the team last season and the chicken & beer debacle.
A. Last September will take a team of forensic scientist’s years to explain. That club went from a 100-win playoff lock to all of us picking through the rubble like a plane crash. “Chicken and Beer Gate” was a predictable blame point I guess. Did that have anything to do with the collapse of the pitching staff? Of a wildly talented team failing to make routine plays? Probably not. But everyone was searching for a reason the club failed. And some of those involved handled their responsibility poorly. The pitching just stunk the last 30 days, and the pitchers involved in the beer drinking stuff all under-performed, so they became targets. But if one of those guys throws a shut-out the last 2 weeks, the Sox have a playoff spot and you never hear about Popeye’s Chicken.
Q. How do you feel about the release of Theo & Francona?
A. I think Terry Francona is the best manager the Red Sox ever had, and if he wins another ring somewhere else he’ll be a Hall of Famer. He is a terrific manager. Two World Series championships. I was sad to see Tito go, and how he went wasn’t fair to him. And I’m not alone – remember the ovation he got on the 100th? Still, I’ll bet Tito would change a few things. Maybe be tougher on players publically once in a while. He protected a lot of guys over the years, and he took heat he didn’t deserve. And generally the players were allowed too much freedom to call the shots. Tito thought he’d treat them like men, and they could police themselves. It worked in 2004 and 2007. Why not 2012? But they’d gotten too comfortable. And when the collapse began they couldn’t get to that necessary gear. I think Theo’s running of the Sox will be broken into 2 parts – before and after the signings of John Lackey and Carl Crawford. Spectacular success and rings followed by a lot of money spent on free agents – and getting away from his draft-building philosophy. Look – both Lackey and Crawford can rebound to have good careers in Boston – they have time. They can put much of the criticism of them away with a championship. Both have strong track records, just not in Boston. But until they do it here they’ll be anchors around Theo’s neck, defining his last few years.
Q. What do you think about Bobby V’s performance so far this season?
A. Bobby got off to about as rocky a start as a manager can, but that smoothed out when the club started playing better. He isn’t Tito – Bobby V is a very different personality. And it has taken a while for the team to figure him out. The Youk comments were ill advised. But as the season has progressed, I think Bobby has settled in and done several things really well: handling the bullpen, putting Franklin Morales in the rotation, building Salty’s confidence. He has directly influenced a winning path. And he has a lot more players on his side than his critics say. That doesn’t mean he’s been perfect. But initially his detractors outnumbered his fans – by a lot, and he gave them plenty of ammo. Now he is starting to get positive credit as the Sox finally look like a playoff team potentially.
Q. In your opinion has Bobby V clashed with most of the players and created a “house divided”?
A. I thought that “toxic clubhouse” story went way too far. I never feel that way around this club. Guys get along pretty darn well. No doubt some players were ticked-off about Terry’s departure and have kept in touch with him. But that doesn’t mean most of them are anti-Valentine. David Ortiz recently came out with some very positive comments about Bobby’s managing style. I think he has support there. I don’t think Bobby and Youk could have co-existed much longer, but considering his All-Star centerfielder, left-fielder, closer and about 6 other outfielders were lost to injury, he has done a good job keeping the Sox in the hunt. “House divided” would have meant a total collapse, and that hasn’t happened. More the opposite, actually.
Q. What do you think of reports last week that most of the players “dislike” Bobby and have been complaining to management?
A. Bobby V comes with a lot of history, and everybody in there knows that history. Baseball is a small neighborhood – everyone knows what happened. That and the sour taste of last September, and a poor start this April created a negative vibe right away. Bobby has strong ideas – about the proper way for Carl Crawford to throw a ball, to how the Sox should bunt. We have guys here who only ever played for Terry. There were bound to be grumbles and complaints. I just think it isn’t happening now as it was 3 months ago. My sense is when the club began to play over .500, a lot of these issues diminished or disappeared. Winning, as they’ve said for 100 years, solves a lot of problems.
Q. What are your thoughts on what Ortiz said a couple of weeks ago? (“It’s becoming to be the [expletive] hole that it used to be. … Playing here used to be so much fun. Now, every day it’s something new not related with baseball. People need to leave us alone [to] play ball, man.”)
A. When I heard Papi’s comments, I thought: “David is unhappy about his 1-year contract.” I don’t think he meant 99 percent of that. I’d love to see him get a 2 year deal, and play however long he can and retire in Boston. He should – he is a leader, he’s still a fearsome hitter, he is an amazing ambassador for the Sox. He was one of the engines driving 2 World Series. How can you not love and respect David Ortiz? He was merely frustrated over his contract. The guy I see on the field is laughing all the time, hugging people, there for his teammates. Jim Leyland talked about how rare it is for a full-time DH to be there in the dug-out supporting his team the way Papi does. He is a rarity in many ways.
Q. If you could build the Red Sox team roster who would you have on the team and why?
A. Luckily, this team has a lot of really good players. So it’s easy to say – “Give me Pedroia, any day, every day. He’s going to the Hall of Fame.” Pedey is where it starts for me. I’d want Papi at DH. I know Gonzalez hasn’t had his normal year – not yet. But he’s a terrific player and I think now that he doesn’t have to worry about right field anymore, and the weather is warm, he’ll hit for power in the 2nd half. He needs to get back to being that selective guy of last year, and 3 years ago – when he walked 119 times. Ellsbury in center, of course. Healthy like last year, Ells is amazing. Power, speed, runs. Good defense. I know Beckett gets a lot of negative press, and I know it’s unpopular to say, but Josh is wearing 2 rings for a reason. He knows how to compete, and in big games. 7-3 in the biggest games of his life – an ERA of 1.16 in the World Series. He’d be in my rotation. And I love what Will Midlebrooks is going to be in 2 years – or less. Tell you what – if I had to choose 2 players from outside the Sox, give me Mike Trout from the Angels and Bryce Harper from Washington. How about that outfield?
Q. Where do you think this current team will be come October?
A. I think the Sox are a playoff team. One of those wildcards will fall to the Red Sox. Then it all depends on how well Beckett, Lester and Buchholz are pitching. If they are rolling, no doubt the Sox are one of the top 2 or 3 scoring teams in baseball, so all bets are off. It’s all about getting in.
Q. If you could take over the team today what would you do differently?
A. Differently? Not much. The Red Sox – last year’s stunner aside – are the envy of so many in professional sports. I say that with the knowledge that comes with my ESPN duties, which allows me to see all the teams in baseball every year. Fenway Park is like Disney World now – a destination for all true baseball fans. An American icon. There are one or two contracts I’d love the power to toss out, but as both a fan and a guy lucky enough to call Fenway my office every summer, I can’t think of much I’d change. I didn’t know if the Sox would ever win a World Series in my lifetime, and they’ve won two. Part of my head still hasn’t wrapped around that.
Q. What do you think of the decision to trade Youkilis? Do you think he became a “disgruntled employee” of sorts?
A. I loved Youk. The passion, the grit, the intensity. I admired how he got everything out of his body a ballplayer could. Loved that every strike meant the end of the world to him. We appreciate that stuff in New England. But the timing was right for Kevin and the ballclub. He plays best with a giant chip on his shoulder, and he has one now. That may help him in Chicago. It looked like his skills were declining in Boston at the end, but I still think if he gets back to grinding counts – like he used to – he’ll really help them. All that said, Will Middlebrooks is too good to sit. He had to play. Case closed. The young guy pushing the older star who may have had his day is as old as baseball itself.