During his interview with the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham, Red Sox All-Star starting pitcher Jon Lester admitted to sitting in his team’s clubhouse and drinking beer and eating fried chicken during several regular season games.
Immediately following the Red Sox horrific September collapse, reports blaming a stale and indifferent clubhouse surfaced. When the team’s chemistry– once a strong point– came under fire, manager Terry Francona, the most successful skipper in the franchises’ long history, was chased out of Boston. Drowning in a sea of scrutiny, Theo Epstein, the heat of the organization’s immense front office, left his job to take over as general manager for the floundering Chicago Cubs.
Blame for the Red Sox epic “choke” was assigned to Francona’s relaxed-managing style more than Epstein’s front office decision-making. Though Francona had been previously lauded for his fairly democratic style of managing, letting veteran players take the reins when needed, the Boston Globe and other baseball analysts insinuated that his players had lost respect for him.
Last week, the Globe’s Robert Hohler shed further light on rumblings of the team’s “anemic” work ethic. In his article “Inside the Collapse,” Hohler painted an ugly clubhouse picture and further validated rumors of players drinking beer and eating fried chicken during games. Hohler cited team sources that claimed Francona’s increasing detachment was due to painkiller abuse and portrayed the team’s starting pitchers– the team’s ball-and-chain during the season’s final month– as lazy and cavalier.
Sending the franchises’ nose-diving public image into free-falling tail-spin, the Palm Beach Post followed the Globe’s assault on the Red Sox with an even more discouraging character-examination of 2007 ALCS MVP Josh Beckett. After Boston.com’s sports page filled with articles reporting that the fan-favorite starting pitcher swilled booze and played videogames with other pitchers as his teammates competed on the field, the Post’s Joe Capozzi published an article featuring former Marlins manager Jack McKeon attacking Beckett’s leadership.
Monday morning, following a weekend filled with inspiring postseason baseball, the team’s ace starter and rotation leader, Jon Lester, dealt Red Sox nation another rib-crushing live-shot. Lester admitted to Pete Abraham that he drank beer during games “all season” and would sit in the clubhouse and eat fried Popeye’s fried chicken regularly. After conceding the behavior was “the wrong thing to do,” Lester elaborated on his admission (Via phone interview with the Boston Globe):
There’s a perception out there that we were up there getting hammered and that wasn’t the case. Was it a bad habit? Yes. I should have been on the bench more, but we just played bad baseball as a team in September. We stunk (but) to be honest, we were doing the same things all season when we had the best record in baseball…It was a ninth-inning rally beer…We probably ordered chicken from Popeye’s like once a month. That happened too. Most of the times it was one beer. It was like having a Coke in terms of how it affected you mentally and physically. I know how it looks to people and it probably looks bad. We weren’t up there just drinking and eating. Nobody played video games. We watched the game.”
After emphasizing that the mid-game beer-drinking was confined only to starting pitchers on their off-days, Lester answered questions concerning Terry Francona’s managing. Stating his belief that Francona’s departure was beneficial, Lester said:
I love Tito and he did a great job for us… But there comes a time when your authority is no longer there. You kind of run your course. People knew how Tito was and we pushed the envelope. We never had rules, we never had that iron-fist mentality. If you screwed up, he would call you on it. That’s how it worked.”
When asked about the players’ team spirit and respect for Francona’s authority, Lester described a crestfallen and weary manager but pointed to a lack of veteran presence as broken-clubhouse culprit:
I never saw guys purposely breaking rules or doing the wrong thing in front of him and rub it in his face, but this particular team probably needed more structure. Tito was the perfect guy for this team for a long time but I think he got burnt out…We need that good veteran presence… Everybody is accountable and we have plenty of people to look up to…but we have a lot of guys who are kind of middle-aged in terms of their careers. Sometimes you need veteran guys who know their roles and can reach out to everybody.”
Though Lester’s performance deteriorated during the seasons’ final month, he posted a 15-9 record and ranked fifth in the American League in WAR among left-handed starting pitchers. He was also a member of the 2011 American League All-Star pitching rotation and he will receive strong consideration for the 2011 American League Cy Young Award.