Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine watches the game against the Oakland Athletics in the seventh inning of a baseball game Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012 in Oakland, Calif. Oakland won 7-1. (AP Photo/ Tony Avelar)
You can never say for certain that a team has given up, but the Red Sox are making it awfully tempting.
They've lost the first seven games on this latest West Coast swing, which arrived at the tail end of a five week-long skid that saw them plummet from 3 1/2 games out of a potential playoff spot to the depths of the American League East — and toward even more historic lows.
Wondering who to blame? Good luck. In the race to the bottom, it's become harder by the day to figure out who cares less, the players, manager Bobby Valentine, or his bosses.
Things got so bad this past weekend that Valentine not only showed up late to prepare for Friday's game in Oakland, his players responded by losing 20-2. After back-to-back losses followed Saturday and Sunday, he answered questions about his strategy, lineup choices and the mood in the clubhouse with barely disguised contempt.
That attitude was still very much on display when the team arrived Monday for the start of a three-game series in Seattle, where owner John Henry and general manager Ben Cherington caught up with the club to get a look at the sinking ship. Boston lost the series opener to the Mariners 4-1 on Monday.
The only news to emerge thus far was hardly welcome for most Red Sox fans. Henry told the Boston Herald he remained "resolute" that Valentine would keep his job until the end of the season.
"What do you think we talked about? Art? Liverpool? We talked about baseball, our team, what he's concerned with, what I deal with," is how Valentine described their conversation to the newspaper.
"To any of you that are sorry I didn't get fired," he added a moment later, "I'm sorry that you're sorry."
On the contrary.
When a team goes south as dramatically as the Red Sox have — for two years running now — about the only suspense to be had over the rest of this season is who gets fired and when.
After Boston's historic collapse pulled the rug out on the postseason a year ago, it seemed unlikely the ballclub could look any more dysfunctional. Then Valentine stepped into the picture.
He started spring training tweaking the rival Yankees, then apologized — sort of — and came down hard on long-serving Red Sox slugger Kevin Youkilis instead. That turned out to be a prelude to Youkilis' departure, which in hindsight turned out to be the first step in dismantling Boston's once-fearsome lineup.
Valentine appeared to have turned things around at the end of July, when the Red Sox beat the Yankees twice in their final at-bat, then took two more from the Tigers to get to 53-51 and within reach of the wild-card.
Less than a month later, the Red Sox haven't sniffed the .500 mark and are flirting with a 90-loss season, something that hasn't happened in nearly 50 years. Ownership gave a strong indication of where things are headed by shipping first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, pitcher Josh Beckett and injured outfielder Carl Crawford to the Dodgers in an Aug. 25 blockbuster trade that effectively said "No mas."
When the front office says the same about Bobby V. remains to be seen.
The 62-year-old Valentine has a year remaining on the two-year contract he signed last December. Under Henry's tenure as principal owner, the Red Sox fired managers Terry Francona and Grady Little, but only after they completed their respective seasons.
Since the question no longer seems to be whether Valentine will suffer a similar fate, it might be more interesting to wonder why the club hired him in the first place.
Henry and the rest of the Boston brain trust must have known a culture clash was inevitable, since Francona had effectively turned over the job of policing the Red Sox locker room to a core of veteran players — a task that Valentine has relished everywhere else he managed.
He pretty much talked his way out of jobs previously with the Mets and the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan by calling out opponents, umpires, his players or even his bosses whenever he felt the need — which for Valentine is often.
While that candor generally made Valentine an interesting addition to the broadcast booth, it also helped explain why he hadn't been given charge of a major league clubhouse for the 10 years prior to landing in Boston. If nothing else, his behavior and quotes of late suggest Valentine may be headed back there soon enough.
Speaking of which, Henry, too, has had the benefit of some practice for his next role — apologizing for the mess the Red Sox have become. His Fenway Sports Group also owns storied English Premier League club Liverpool, which is off to its worst start to a season in 50 years.
"It will not happen overnight," Henry wrote in a letter posted on the Liverpool website.
No argument there — which makes his lack of urgency on this side of the Atlantic more puzzling still.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.