Nomar Garciaparra, speaking exclusively with SB Nation Boston from the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA on Friday morning on behalf of SUBWAY's "Buddy Bage" contest in support of the Challenger Division, shared his thoughts with us about the current state of the Boston Red Sox.
Garciaparra, currently an ESPN baseball analyst broadcasting the Little League World Series who was drafted by the Red Sox in the first round of the 1994 amateur draft and played nine seasons with the team, addressed the lackluster 2012 campaign put together by his former ball club, saying that any time the Sox don't do well, it's a disappointment. Boston has a 59-66 record and is fourth in the American League East, 13.5 games behind the division leading New York Yankees and 8.5 games out in the wild card as of Friday.
"It's obviously disappointing," Garciaparra said. "The mentality [in Boston] is if you're not going to the postseason, it's a disappointing season. If you don't win it all, it's a disappointing season. That's one of the things I loved about it. Right now, it doesn't look like they're going to be getting to the postseason, so that's a disappointing season. But I think there's more to it than just what's going on in the clubhouse. I think up and down, it starts way at the top. They need to recognize the chain of command that goes up to the top, and I think that trickles down to the rest of the team. When it's all said and done, you can point fingers all you want and if you choose to do that, when it's all said and done you have to look in the mirror and say did I do enough, did I do enough and did I do my job in order for us to get to our ultimate goal, and that has to change first and foremost."
A significant portion of the blame for this season's shortcomings has been placed upon Booby Valentine, the new manager brought in by ownership last offseason to replaced the fired Terry Francona. Valentine has a reputation for dividing clubhouses, which it appears that he has done in Boston, but Garciaparra doesn't think that this year's mediocre results are all Bobby V's fault.
"It's not all his fault," he said. "That's what's easy to do. Whenever things are going the way you hadn't planed, it's easy to pick one person and say it's all this one person's fault. I think that's an easy way out, and I don't think it's all Bobby Valentine's fault. A couple things that stand out to me, with all the guys on the disabled list -- I forget what the count is, I lost count. I know at one point it was like 23 to 25 different players on the DL, which is the most in the major leagues this year -- and you've got some really key players on the DL, [Jacoby] Ellsbury, [Dustin] Pedroia], David Ortiz, those are some pretty big names that you have to play without for an extended period of time.
"And then when you look at the top two guys that you depend on from a pitching standpoint [Josh Beckett and Jon Lester], and I don't know what the numbers are now today, but I remember doing this a few weeks ago and I knew the numbers. At that time, it was 10 games under .500 for your top two pitchers if you took them out. Their record was 10 games under .500 when they took them out. You can't have a record like that when your two aces [if you take them out]. I was like 'If they were just .500... If you played .500 baseball when you took them out, they would have been tied with the Yankees.' That was the difference right there. So I look at those numbers as well. But that's not all on the manager. I can't say 'Well, that's the manager's fault we're 10 games that way when these guys take the mound.'"
Aside from Valentine, fans have been very critical of the character of this year's team, particularly guys like Beckett, John Lackey and even Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez. Garciaparra wouldn't admit if there was a character issue, saying that if you aren't in the clubhouse daily, it's not fair to judge.
"That's difficult to say for me,' he said. "For others to recognize a team's character, you have to be more on the inside, you have to be a part of the team. I'm not, I'm on the outside looking in. I think it's unfair. I always felt like it was unfair for somebody when I'm playing to say [there are character problems]. You can't judge that because you're not in there, you're not going there on a daily basis, knowing what they're going through and how they get along and understand that from the outside. For me to really comment on that is unfair to them and it doesn't do justice to if there's a character issue because I don't know that and I'm not there on a daily basis."
Putting the game aside, the Sox have also seen their share of tragedy this season with the passing of longtime public address announcer Carl Beane as well as the death of Red Sox Hall of Famer Johnny Pesky, who passed away at age 93 this month. Garciaparra was very close to Pesky and took time from his busy schedule to attend Pesky's funeral on Monday morning in Swampscott, MA.
"It's a tough loss," said Garciaparra. "It was hard for me when I heard the news of him passing away. For me, he meant so much to me. He taught me what it meant to be a Red Sox, what that uniform really meant. I'm from Southern California, that's where I grew up. I wasn't a huge Red Sox fan then. I really didn't follow the Dodgers or Angels all that much, I just played baseball. I played multiple sports, I was outside all the time, and sports was a part of my life, so it wasn't like I was just following a team... until I got drafted by the Red Sox.
"Recognizing what the Red Sox really was all about -- the tradition, the history, what you are a part of -- Johnny Pesky was vital to teach me what that was all about. Meeting him and seeing how much he loved that organization, putting on that uniform. Every person, whether it was a minor leaguer or a big leaguer, it didn't matter. Just the fact that you have that uniform on, you shared something with him. And hearing the wonderful story of when he played and Ted Williams -- I became close with Ted Williams as well -- so all of that really taught me what it meant to be a Red Sox. When I retired, I retired as a Red Sox. I came back and signed that one day to be a Red Sox, and that's the last uniform I wanted to put on because of guys like Johnny who taught me what it was all about. I'm eternally grateful. Baseball lost an icon, Red Sox nation lost a representative of what it's all about, and I lost a dear friend."
Of course, even something as tragic and solemn as Pesky's passing couldn't come without controversy for this 2012 team, as the Boston Herald reported that only four active members of this year's team -- Ortiz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Vicente Padilla and Clay Buchholz -- attended Pesky's funeral, despite being provided transportation, which certainly didn't sit well with Garciaparra.
"You would hope that there was more," he said. "I was obviously there at the funeral myself. I know they were out of town also and I know some former players that came back at others times during the wake, the viewing, and different portions as well. It's unfortunate. It would have been nice if there were more there, there's no question about that. Maybe more there that really knew him. I don't know how much Johnny was around the team this year or the years past, but at the same time, just knowing what he represented. I don't think it takes much, whether you knew him or not, to know what he represented. So it would have been nice to see more people there. ... But maybe they're also thinking, 'Well, I know they plan on having a celebration so I'm going to be a part of that celebration to celebrate his life.'
"Look, I understand the media talking about that -- it had a nice turnout. Regardless of all that, I hope people aren't focused on that and focus on this amazing person's life. Johnny Pesky was an amazing person -- he touched so many people's lives. He impacted and influenced so many people's lives. Hopefully that's the way the focus [is]. Who's there and who's not, that's irrelevant. We all lost someone special."
Garciaparra, who on many occasions has made his love for the Red Sox known -- and that feeling is certainly mutual for many in the fan base, might have his name thrown into the hat of potential future managers of the Red Sox (such has been the case with the recently retired Jason Varitek), but he said that he hasn't had the urge to manage or coach in this city (or any other) just yet.
"I haven't had the itch right now," said Garciaparra. "I know the sacrifice and I know what it takes for the coaches right now, and I enjoy being around my family, no question. That's what I'm thoroughly enjoying right now."
Garciaparra is in his third year working with SUBWAY at the Little League World Series in Williamsport supporting the Challenger Division, which is "a division of Little League Baseball and Softball for developmentally and physically challenged kids as well as their 'Buddies' - that special person that helps their Challenger teammate play the game" (via Catalyst Public Relations).
During the 2012 season, SUBWAY has shown its support of the Challenger Division through its "Buddy Badge" Logo Contest, which can be found on SUBWAY's official Facebook page.
"Subway has been a huge supporter of little league baseball and softball for a long time," Garciaparra said. "When they asked me if I'd help them with recognizing this amazing campaign that they have with the Buddy Badge, this amazing contest that's still going on right now on their Facebook page with regards to coming up with a logo for this buddy badge. When they asked me to do it, I said, 'Are you kidding me? I'd be happy to be a part of that,' because what a tremendous thing ... little league in general and also this Challenger Division [are]. It really helps developmentally and physically challenged kids along with their buddies to play this wonderful game -- this wonderful game that I've been a part of, that's been a part of my life for so long, and it's just really special. It just takes a great company like SUBWAY to make huge donations, to help assist with all the travel expenses, and also the awareness of what this is about "Now being here in Williamsport, this is my third year doing it, and seeing all the happy faces and the smiles at this wonderful event, this Challenger Division just takes it to the next level, it takes it to another level.
He added: "I'll tell you a quick story the other day, doing a late night game, after the game we have to go and get to SportsCenter, so we're there late at night. [We're talking about] the little league world series going on there, and after that I was taking pictures and signing autographs, and then this kid comes up to me, and his name is Noah, and he's in the Challenger Division, and he was lighting up talking about that he gets to play [in] one of these stadiums. He's like, 'I'm a catcher, that's my favorite position.' He's pointing to the stadium he's going to play [in] on Saturday, and I must have spent just 15 to 20 minutes just talking to him. I'm telling you, the smile that it brought to my face that's pure joy that he had, it really took it to another level. His parents were telling me 'thank you for staying to talk' [and] I'm like, 'No, thank you for giving me that time to spend with him and how much fun and how much he truly enjoyed this event and what it's all about.'"
Gethin Coolbaugh is the Editor of SB Nation Boston. Follow him @GethinCoolbaugh on Twitter.