A fungo bat is to Jimy Williams as an exercise wheel is to a hamster. It keeps him busy. Every day Williams, the Boston Red Sox' manager, loads the back pockets of his uniform pants with baseballs, like a squirrel filling his cheeks with nuts, and mindlessly hammers one grounder after another to assorted infielders during pregame drills. This exercise not only feeds his ravenous work ethic but also spares him the apparent displeasure of having to speak to his general manager and players, who don't mind the silence in the least.
Last Saturday was another typical day in what New England fans call Red Sox Nation. As Williams pounded his daily grounders at Fenway Park, general manager Dan Duquette visited the batting cage but kept a safe distance from the skipper. Duquette did chat with players but not with infielder John Valentin, who for the second time in a week had refused Duquette's request to accept a minor league assignment (this one intended for rehabilitation). The temperature in Boston was 80�, but you had to be wearing an expedition-weight parka not to feel the frost.
Throw in the usual mix of infirm players—in addition to Valentin (plantar fasciatis in his right foot), starting catcher Jason Varitek (broken right elbow), star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra (surgery on his right wrist) and All-Star centerfielder Carl Everett (bruised right knee) were unavailable for the game that evening against the Toronto Blue Jays—and it was a normal day in what has been a bizarre season for a team that is never confused with Up With People. Red Sox Nation is eminently divisible, a nation in which civil wars rage and e pluribus unum sounds like a box score notation describing the miscue of another hard-handed Boston infielder. Despite the dysfunction, not to mention the Blue Jays' handing them their first series loss in nearly a month, the Red Sox ended the week in first place in the American League East, leading the second-place New York Yankees by two games.
"Not a day goes by without something going on," reliever Derek Lowe says. "It's a soap opera, but you know what? This is a veteran team that for three hours every day can put everything aside and play hard."
Says righthander David Cone, "What's important is there's never been friction among the players. We've stuck together."
What has bonded the players, according to several of them, is a dislike of how Williams has been running the team. That was most obvious in an explosive closed-door meeting (the details of which are previously unreported) before an afternoon game on May 5 in Oakland, one in which several Red Sox shouted profanities at their manager.
That meeting in the visitors' clubhouse at Network Associates Coliseum had been called by Williams. Boston had lost the night before, 7-3 to the Athletics, for its fifth defeat in six games. Williams scolded the team for what he considered unprofessional conduct. For instance, righthander Tomo Ohka, the starter in that game, kicked a watercooler and threw equipment in the dugout after Williams removed him with a 3-2 lead in the third inning. Ohka had allowed only four hits and thought he had been yanked prematurely.
Williams also was angered by infielder Jose Offerman's attitude, after Offerman had grounded out as a pinch hitter leading off the ninth inning. Instead of remaining on the bench with his teammates, as is the custom, Offerman grabbed his warmup jacket and headed back to the clubhouse.
After Williams finished laying out his complaints, he turned to walk toward the short corridor that leads to the manager's office. He didn't make it. As one player puts it, "It was like, Where do you think you're going? That's when it became our meeting."
Several players profanely fired back at Williams. Chief among their complaints was Williams's penchant for using different lineups nearly every day and posting them without explanation to the players. "He just stood there and took it," says another player. "I couldn't believe it."