I’m here to fall on the sword for those who have helped make the Red Sox clubhouse such a tense and difficult place to work. We, the media, owe an apology to David Ortiz. And no, I’m not joking.
In the midst of an early summer heat wave, the slugger was absolutely right to pop off Thursday afternoon.
All the “toxic” speculation, his own personal situation with the team (his contract is up after 2012) and the mid-90s temperatures combined to bring Ortiz to the boiling point.
Yes, I know he makes $14.575 million a year. I get it. And yes, the lack of long-term security in Boston may have been part of the frustration that bubbled over on Thursday. I know he’s a free agent after this season, and after what I heard on Thursday, it’s hard to think he’d want to come back in 2013.
But as someone who often mutters inside the Red Sox clubhouse about how crowded it is, I can understand where he’s coming from in terms of the overall atmosphere.
What you all don’t know if you’ve never been in Fenway’s home clubhouse is how reporters and cameras are constantly invading personal space before and after every game. We’re getting elbowed and standing on one foot to get our microphones or cameras in a space in hopes of bringing fans up close and personal.
Almost always, this is a professional situation. Players understand we have a job to do and we politely excuse our temporary presence.
So, what was Ortiz so ticked off about on Thursday?
He was upset because, like any workplace filled with petty rumors and innuendo, after awhile, enough is enough.
After leading the team in homers (18), RBIs (49), slugging (.614) and OPS (1.011) heading into Thursday’s game, Ortiz took a look around and asked himself, "Why is this place so miserable?"
Only 30 minutes after Ortiz’s outburst, Bobby Valentine, who has managed in New York, Japan and Texas, offered up a very telling observation.
“Probably, you need a little better support system here,” Valentine said when asked about his disgruntled slugger. “You need to be able to turn the page better, I guess. I don’t know. I’ve never done DNA studies before people came my to my team in New York. You never find out everything. Until you’re in a slump or in a streak, you never know what the big lights are really like. And if you’re in a slump when the team is winning, it goes unnoticed. If you’re in a streak when the team is losing, it goes unappreciated. But if you’re in a slump when the team is losing, this isn’t the place you want to be.
“I think David is trying to speak for more than just himself. And maybe a distraction for the rest of them, put it on his shoulders again, like we have for most of the season.”
Get this straight -- Ortiz absolutely was not ripping his teammates. He was ripping all the outsiders who think they know what’s going on inside. We reporters, like it or not, are outsiders.
We report, but we are allowed access as outsiders. Many of us are held in very high regard for our diligence and dedication to the sport we all love.
Buster Olney is a very, very highly regarded baseball writer who used absolutely the wrong word to describe what it’s like inside the clubhouse.
It’s not toxic. It’s combustible. And we saw just how combustible on Thursday when Ortiz finally had enough and exploded with a rant filled with s-bombs dropped like carpet bombs on the fourth estate.
So, what did Ortiz think of Olney’s comments from the outside, without even laying foot inside the home clubhouse at Fenway?
“Horrible,” Ortiz said. “We had a team right here, a group of guys. They just come in and out, put us all together and try to win a ballgame. I don’t know where those comments are coming from or where they are going to, or where they start at. I haven’t found out yet. In my case, I’m here to provide wins, and my teammates are on the same page.”
Having fun here?
“Not really,” Ortiz continued. “Too much [expletive], man. Too much [expletive].”
“This ain’t all about me,” Ortiz explained. “I’m not the only player here. We have 25 guys who care just as much as I care about playing ball here and providing winning ballgames. It seems like every day there’s something new about players. People need to just leave us alone and let us play ball.”
“We have, the only thing we can control is play ball,” he said. “You guys control the microphones, the papers, everything.”
“It’s becoming to be the [crap]hole it used to be. Look around, bro. Look around. Playing here used to be so much fun. Now, every day is something new. Not related to baseball. People need to leave us alone, play ball and do what we know how to do.”
“Let me ask you a question: Who came out with the news a couple of days ago? The fans, or the media? Thank you. I’m done.”
Boom, boom, boom.
For the record, I’ve been covering the Red Sox since 1993 and I know exactly of the days to which Ortiz refers.
By far, the worst environment I’ve ever witnessed in the Red Sox clubhouse was 2001. The days of Mike Lansing, Carl Everett and Joe Kerrigan and many others who stirred the pot when left unattended on the stove. Those were also the days when John Harrington was trying to put the team up for sale, and paranoia around the team was running rampant.
That clubhouse -- one that eventually resulted in the firing of Jimy Williams -- WAS toxic. Players were fighting with each other and talking behind Williams’ back. Remember Darren Lewis and Everett having to be separated in the clubhouse when reporters were inside back in September 2000?
They were brought back for more frivolity in 2001. Joe Kerrigan took over for Williams when the team was 65-53 and within striking distance of the wild card. Kerrigan, the pitching coach, thought he also was a batting coach and brought hitters in two and three at a time to talk to them about their approach at the plate.
Remember Sept. 2, 2001? Carl Everett breaks up Mike Mussina’s perfect game and afterward bullpen coach John Cumberland was fired. I was in the clubhouse that night when Nomar Garciaparra, standing at the soda machine, wondered aloud why “No one wants to play here.”
That soda machine was within five feet of where Ortiz had his cathartic four minutes with the media.
There’s none of that now. Just incessant media coverage. Yes, there was talk radio and the Internet. But there was no Twitter, Facebook and other instant-reaction media platforms demanding constant fresh content.
In 2001, players and staff on teams didn’t text the way they do now.
The Olney blog post on Monday that said the Red Sox clubhouse was a “toxic” place was an 8.0 earthquake in Red Sox Nation and the aftershocks are still being felt inside the Boston clubhouse.
When Red Sox public address announcer Carl Beane passed in early May, I wrote then that he reminded me that Fenway was a place filled with intricate and delicate relationships. That hasn’t changed.
But what David Ortiz reminded all of us on Thursday is that there’s a separate family that lives inside the doors of the clubhouse. That’s his sanctuary and the safe haven for his teammates.
He’s tired of people dumping all over it.
So, the obvious question in the Trags Bag: What do fans think of David Ortiz and his venting?
@0_LayDX The media needs to stop being a psychiatrist
@DanStPierre9 It’s amazing how discontent he feels about playing in Boston, but he still talks about how he wants a contract extension
@hurricanept Media set him off, he went off on media. No reflection on team chemistry, and intellectually dishonest to make it seem that way.
@runaway3124 I know he’s ticked, but he’s got to know after all his years here, when he says stuff like this it perpetuates the cycle
@GriffinMorrow typical.... #Toxic
@Matt_Hartley_ He never really experienced losing. He needs to learn to deal with it as the team wont succeed this year as in past years
@PakkAttackk Unnecessary but expected. I took it as a bit of an attack on the city of Boston & that offends me. Calling Fenway a [expletive] hole? Comeon.
@Amy13Phins Don’t make excuses for these overpaid selfish athletes...even Ortiz. Dealing with the media = part of the job.
@BaseballNE I think it’s pretty clear he’s unhappy with you guys, not the clubhouse...
If Ortiz and the Red Sox can keep it together, will they get red-hot this summer and make a run at the playoffs?
@JCullen71 To be honest, given all of the problems and injuries, this team is very fortunate to be over .500. Win at home=they have a chance.
@KingAlfie11 Absolutely! Ellsbury and Crawford (who I expect BIG things from) are on the mend, and Lester’s too good to stay average. #SizzlingSox
@Stacky88 If they move Youk they can get back to a normal situational de and not hurt the off and with jacoby coming back giddy up!!
@mtkr The team has too much talent to be held down the entire season.
@teala Because by all star break we will get 2 all star outfielders back.