All anyone’s talking about this week is David Price verbally accosting Dennis Eckersley on the team plane at the end of June. Almost a month later, the full story is out: an overpaid pitcher who can’t handle a little criticism from the media repeatedly told former Red Sox pitcher, HOF-er, 6x All-Star, AL and ALCS MVP – I could go on, but you get it – to fuck off. Multiple times throughout the flight. With no provocation. In front of the media and his fellow team members, a pitcher who can’t perform in the postseason attacked a legend. And it’s embarrassing. For Price, the franchise, and the fans.
If I were David Price, I’d be embarrassed that I’ve choked in the postseason, both pitching against and for my current team. I’d be embarrassed that I refuse to speak to the media because I can’t handle a few words of criticism when I’ve made no effort to endear myself to a city, fanbase, and franchise that pays me the largest contract for a pitcher ever. And considering Eck wasn’t even talking TO or ABOUT him, it’s pretty pathetic that Price’s skin is thin enough that just hearing someone insult someone who does the same job as him set him off.
Red Sox Nation is a fickle bunch. We’re loyal to our franchise, and if you love us, we will love you back, endlessly. David Ortiz is proof of that. But we also have a tendency to turn on a player in a heartbeat. If you want proof, look no further than the Championship-esque celebrations online when the Sox announced that they were DFA-ing Pablo Sandoval last week. I myself went off about it on Twitter ad nauseam. Nothing grinds my gears worse than an overweight, overpaid, underperforming, ungrateful guy like Pablo Sandoval, who openly admitted to ‘getting complacent,’ and dissed both the Giants and Red Sox before crawling back to the Giants as a minor leaguer. From three-time World Series Champ to minors all because you can’t control your mouth or your stomach.
Nothing pisses me off more than players who CLEARLY don't give a fuck, have a bad attitude, act ungrateful when they're making MILLIONS
— Gabrielle (@gfstarr1) July 20, 2017
But there are bigger issues at play here, illuminated by the Pablo and Price situations, namely, a lack of player leadership in clubhouse. The Red Sox have not had a team captain since Jason Varitek, who retired at the end of 2011. While having a team captain isn’t required – Tek was only their fourth official captain since 1923 – the difference between a team with leadership and one without was most evident during the 2012 season, with the Chicken and Beer Boys, lackluster performances by overpaid Adrian Gonzelez and Carl Crawford, and the disgusting decision by all but four team members to skip Johnny Pesky’s funeral (don’t even get me started on that one.) That season was a disaster, both performance and PR-wise. David Ortiz then took up the mantle of leadership, and thank the baseball gods for him.
Having an effective team captain will help to ameliorate a deeper, longstanding issue: Bostonians are tough critics, and it’s hard to play for us. We either love you or we hate you, sometimes both, in one season. Long before Price painted a bullseye on his own chest, Ted Williams had a difficult relationship with the media. Look at Jackie Bradley Jr.: this week he’s Spider-Man, a few months ago he was batting under .200 and people were practically eulogizing his career. Fans and members of the media even said that David Ortiz was done in 2012. It’s a tough town to play for, and many players can’t handle the fans and media’s watchful eye and loud mouth.
With a team captain educating and leading this very young team, we might get better performances on the field and fewer antics off it. Look what Papi did for Hanley: he mentored him, advised him, and helped him turn around a bad relationship with the team and fanbase. I’m not saying anyone will be able to replicate his role, because let’s be honest, dude is one in a million. But is anyone even trying to lead this team?
As the most senior team member, Dustin Pedroia is the obvious choice to be captain. But if he’s unwilling to take up the mantle – no judgements, it’s a lot of work – then Dombrowski and Farrell have a problem to solve, and fast. David Ortiz’s retirement left a massive void, and while we can’t blame him for leaving, we have to acknowledge that his leadership, experience, and guidance is something this team is lacking. He’d have told Price that he owes Eck an apology, which, by the way, Price has yet to do, and Farrell isn’t forcing him to, which is a whole other can of worms. Maybe he thinks it’s unnecessary because Eck is only filling in for Jerry Remy, even though I’m pretty sure attacking former Red Sox players automatically makes you a dick. Or maybe he just thinks that being one of the highest-paid players in history gives him carte blanche to act like an immature jerk, but it’s going to leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouths until someone – preferably Price, but also Farrell – owns up to this being a majorly embarrassing situation.
On Opening Day, I sat behind the Sox dugout and something just felt weird. I turned to my game companion, who happens to be Paw Sox president and former Red Sox EVP, and asked him if he felt it too. He said, “Papi isn’t here.” At the time, we both accepted it, the simple, yet painful absence of a franchise legend and team leader. Four months into the season, it’s not just a vibe, it’s a problem. It’s been a rough season for the Sox from a PR standpoint. From the Adam Jones incident to incidents with players and the media, this year’s Red Sox are not making a great name for itself. This is the youngest team the Sox have had in years, and they have boundless potential. They’re in first place, but they either win or lose spectacularly, and it’s hard to root for them. As someone who watches or listens to every game, and watches the 2004 DVD when I’m having a bad day (I watched it yesterday, FWIW), I don’t say any of this cavalierly, but the team needs leadership and an attitude adjustment. I’m fine with being a fan of a team full of idiots, rooting for a team that is 90% beard, but I am not okay rooting for a team of assholes. You shouldn’t be either.