BOSTON - As the Boston Red Sox disintegrated in what would become the worst September collapse in baseball history, some at Fenway Park grew concerned that the pain medication Terry Francona was taking after a half-dozen procedures on his knee was affecting his ability to manage, according to a report in the Boston Globe.
In a 2,500-word, front-page article headlined, "Inside the Collapse," the newspaper spread the blame on all sides: apathetic players eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games; a general manager who squandered a US$161 million budget on underperformers; ownership that thought players could be bought off with $300 headphones and a party on John Henry's 164-foot yacht, "Iroquois."
But the most salacious revelations involved Francona, who left the team after the season when his contract options were not picked up. Since then, reports have surfaced about the dysfunction in a Red Sox clubhouse that produced a 7-20 record in September to turn what had been a once comfortable lead in the playoff race into an early off-season.
According to the Globe, team sources "expressed concern that Francona's performance may have been affected by the use of pain medication." The sources were not identified, the article said, saying those interviewed feared for their jobs or their relationships inside the organization.
The article also said Francona was worried about his son and son-in-law, who are Marine officers serving in Iraq. At the same time, Francona was living in a hotel, separated from his wife of more than 30 years.
Responding to the allegations that he was "distracted," Francona noted that he was dealing with the same problems during the four-month period when the team was going 80-41. Francona's ill health was no secret — he was taken to the hospital with chest pains from Yankee Stadium in 2005 — and he said he was taking the medication after multiple knee operations and at least five procedures to drain blood from his knee.
"It makes me angry that people say these things because I've busted my (butt) to be the best manager I can be," Francona told the paper. "I wasn't terribly successful this year, but I worked harder and spent more time at the ballpark this year than I ever did."
Francona and second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who declined to assign blame for the collapse, were the only individuals who were willing to discuss the team's clubhouse culture on the record. (Designated hitter David Ortiz also commented, but said, "I don't feel like talking about it anymore.")
Francona told the paper that he confirmed with team Dr. Larry Ronan that he did not have a problem with drug abuse.
"I went and saw the proper people and it was not an issue," Francona said. "It never became an issue, and anybody who knew what was going on knows that."
If Francona was distracted, he was not alone.
A hastily scheduled day-night doubleheader to avoid Hurricane Irene angered players, who complained that management cared more about the money from ticket sales than winning. Sensing the "lingering resentment," the article said, ownership threw a players-only party on Henry's yacht and gave each player a pair of expensive headphones.
Pitchers Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Wakefield also appeared — in their uniforms, in front of the Green Monster — in a music video for a country song, "Hell yeah, I like beer." Henry did not know about the appearance, he has said, and it is more troublesome when coupled with reports that Beckett, Lackey and Jon Lester were among those who would eat fried chicken, drink beer and play video games in the clubhouse during games, instead of being in the dugout with their teammates.
"The guys that weren't down on the bench, I wanted them down on the bench," Francona said recently. "I wanted them to support their teammates."