According to the standings, the Boston Red Sox were the American League East’s best team during the 2017 regular season. The Red Sox won 93 games, holding off the hard-charging New York Yankees to win the division by two games.
But the truth is, they were far from the happiest team.
There had been much speculation that growing tension in the clubhouse was overriding the joy that often goes along with team’s attaining that level of success. Tension deep enough that it ultimately served to undercut that success and perhaps distract them enough to result in a disappointing ALDS exit against the Houston Astros.
Four months later, speculation has turned to fact after two of Boston’s brightest stars, right fielder Mookie Betts and shortstop Xander Bogaerts, confirmed to ESPN that tension in the clubhouse was palpable, and sometimes even visible, throughout the season.
Mookie Betts said Thursday that the 2017 Red Sox felt “tension in the locker room.” Xander Bogaerts took it further, describing “head-butts” and “disagreements” and expressing a need for the team to learn from the experience and go forward.
“I mean, we all know. We all know what was going on,” Bogaerts said. “I don’t think I really want to get into details. The quicker we move on is the better for all of us.”
It was public knowledge that pitcher David Price and television analyst Dennis Eckersley were at odds over a comment that rubbed Price the wrong way during a Red Sox broadcast. That tension led to a reported confrontation on a Red Sox team flight.
There were the back and forth incidents with the Baltimore Orioles, which stemmed from Manny Machado’s hard takeout slide on Dustin Pedroia. In the aftermath, television cameras caught Pedroia deflecting the Red Sox retaliation to his teammates and coaching staff after relief pitcher Matt Barnes threw a pitch behind Machado.
Those incidents fueled the speculation that the Red Sox weren’t on the same page. When a trainer was caught using a smartwatch to relay stolen signs to players in August, it put an even brighter spotlight on Boston’s issues. But apparently it wasn’t enough to accurately frame how deep the problems ran.
Perhaps the best indication came after the season, when manager John Farrell was fired in spite of the team’s success. Dismissing a manager literally days after a postseason doesn’t happen unless there’s something going on behind the scenes. An unraveling clubhouse would certainly qualify. If Farrell was unable to bring the team back together, someone new would have to be given that task. That’s one challenge new manager Alex Cora will be facing this spring.
But he’s not alone.
Ultimately, it will be the players responsibility to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. According to Bogaerts, the first step will be looking forward.
“We had a lot of stuff going on last year, to be honest. We all live and learn. We can’t just sit back and keep reminding ourselves about the past. That’s not something we want to do.”
The Yankees are strong early favorites to take control of the division this season. If the Red Sox can add another big bat before the season begins, that would help them gain some ground. But the reality is, with much of the 2017 team returning, nothing they do to improve the team now is likely to matter if last season’s tension carries over.
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