FORT MYERS, Fla. — Adrian Gonzalez was always polite and courteous. Carl Crawford’s work ethic was not questioned. Both seemed to be good guys and solid talents.
Yet they played on a Boston Red Sox team that suffered a historic collapse in September of 2011, and then spent the majority of the 2012 season with a club that went 69-93.
Then in 2013, Boston assembled a group of good guys. They had fun and they worked hard.
And they won the World Series.
What made the difference?
The 2013 team featured terms you rarely, if ever, heard in the previous two years: “close-knit” and “on the same page” and “good chemistry.”
“That was the closest team I’ve been around in 30 years of professional baseball,” Boston Manager John Farrell said.
And Farrell said 2014 should be no different. He cannot predict results for this upcoming season, but he likes the process so far.
“It’s right in line,” he said. “There’s a known commodity in our clubhouse. They know one another. They have met challenges together.”
But does togetherness overcome a David Price fastball or a Detroit Tigers lineup?
There is no guarantee. But it helps.
Good fielding, clutch hitting and dependable pitching go a long way toward a championship, and Boston had all that last year. But it might be argued that a team playing together brings out those qualities.
The 2011 squad was filled with skilled personnel, but they were shredded in the final month. Manager Terry Francona was perceived as having lost control of the team and therefore lost his job.
The 2012 team had talent – maybe not championship-quality talent, but enough to have a winning season. Under Manager Bobby Valentine and a coaching staff that didn’t talk to each other, the Red Sox underachieved like few others.
Then came 2013. Expectations were low. The Red Sox had skill, though not the most skillful players. But together they featured the most skillful team.
“You do it by contributions by a lot of people, in addition to outlining player expectations,” Farrell said. “It’s all about due diligence in finding people. That’s what Ben (Cherington, the general manager) did last year. That’s where it all started. He selected the right people.
“Add that, in combination with a committed coaching staff that was on the same page. All those factors led to team unity.”
Last year’s coaches gushed about players who did not need motivation. Outfielder Jonny Gomes saw young outfielders going through a drill and volunteered to join them, knowing a veteran presence means as much as the actual instruction. Dustin Pedroia was always the first to perform infield drills and did so with his trademark all-out hustle.
Over and over, the players talked about one thing: winning.
“They’re good teammates and they buy into a team concept,” Farrell said. “It’s all focused on what we can do to win today.
“The more simplified and direct our mindset and approach is, then the personal agendas and the egos get set aside, and we’re all about taking care of business today.”
Pitcher John Lackey was part of those 2011 and 2012 teams (although injured all of 2012). He heard the questions about chemistry before last season. He’s not hearing them anymore.
“It’s a non-issue,” he said. “We get along great. A lot of guys work hard. Fun place to come and hang out and work.”
You hear the same themes over and over – fun and work.
Grady Sizemore is new to the Red Sox. He is trying to come back after years of injuries. He is finding support and a few laughs.
“This is fun, a lot of fun,” Sizemore said. “It’s a loose atmosphere. Everybody works hard and plays well together. I couldn’t ask for a better situation to be a part of.”
Baseball’s regular season goes on for six months. Disunity and personal dramas can be poison.
Farrell believes Boston’s unity will again be a strength.
“We got a high number of returning players,” he said. “We know that they bonded together. Because the personnel has not changed, there’s a high level of confidence that we’ll go about our work the same way we did last year.
“That’s not to say we’re taking anything for granted. But given the way our players are driven by personal pride and wanting to achieve something as a group, we’re looking forward to continuing to build and move forward.”
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at: