Why Bobby Valentine was the Right Choice
Never in the aftermath of the Red Sox disaster last season did I think that Bobby Valentine would be the manager of the Boston Red Sox. Never.
Now, as we approach the middle of February, there isn’t a guy I would rather have at the helm of a team that is coming off of an epic collapse that left such a gut wrenching feeling in the pit of my stomach, I can still feel it two nights after I watched the Patriots lose another Super Bowl to the Giants.
Going 7-20 is that bad. Playing the final month of baseball, the most vital games of the regular season at a still-demoralizing .259 clip is that bad. The last time the Red Sox lost 20 games in the month of September? 1952. That was the same year Ted Williams played in six games, the last of which was April 30th of that year, because he was SERVING IN THE KOREAN WAR. Yeah, this past September was that bad.
When it became clear that the Red Sox were going to look to replace Terry Francona, I thought it was obvious that the Red Sox would pursue a relatively inexperienced manager, someone without the reputation of Valentine but with a solid baseball resume. Dale Sveum immediately came to mind. While at work, a buddy of mine had mentioned that Valentine would be a great choice to manage the Red Sox. He liked his personality, his flare. Because I apparently think I am part of the front office on Yawkey Way, I dismissed the idea as rubbish. When the Globe’s Nick Carfardo mentioned Valentine has an ideal choice, I chalked it up to a [respected] writer attempting to create an unwarranted buzz or even garner some readership.
I was wrong. On so many levels, I was wrong.
Valentine was introduced as the 45th manager of the Boston Red Sox on December 1, 2011. Since then, the former Mets and Rangers skipper has made more appearances than I care to recount. Charity events, press conferences, town hall meetings–you name it, and Valentine has done it over the course of the past two months. Although his energy will certainly serve as a asset during his inaugural season as Red Sox manager, it will ultimately be Valentine’s attitude, in-game managerial skills, and dedication to fundamentals that I believe will be the true catalysts in any success he has in Boston.
- Bobby V. Answers to Bobby V.- It would have been easy for the Red Sox to bring in an individual who had never been a full-time Major League manager of team before, like Sveum. On the other hand, Sox brass could have hired a more experienced baseball guy like Gene Lamont who had not managed a squad in over a decade. Either option would have given members of the front office more of an opportunity to contribute their opinions or suggestions to the manager. In other words, Sveum and Lamont were two individuals who represented what would have been an extremely smooth transition from Francona (a guy who was always receptive to input from higher-ups). Valentine is not cut from the same cloth. Love him or hate him, Valentine possesses a strong personality. He is about to turn 62 years old in May, and it’s not like he’s going to change who he is between now and Opening Day. Carfardo, in the beginning of October, phrased it nicely: “He [Valentine] would have to know he has complete control of his team in the clubhouse and on the field. Some would say that’s not the way 21st-century baseball works, but it would be the way it would have to work.” Valentine, for better or worse, will put an identifiable stamp on this team. He is the sculptor, and I don’t anticipate anyone else having their hands on the pottery.
- Valentine Can Coach. Period.- I need to preface this by saying that nothing I write here is designed to take anything away from Francona. I like to think that I’m quasi-objective, but Tito will always (and I mean always) be my guy. He was the right guy at the right time for the right amount of years. With that said, I believe Red Sox fans are going to see a recognizable difference in in-game managing with Valentine. I think Valentine will be a better overall better decision-maker than Francona. Everything I have read, heard, and overheard is that Valentine is a flat out, straight up gamer in the dugout. He has a little bit of Joe Maddon in him, mixed together with the attitude of an old school baseball guy. I don’t know what it is, but he just seems sneaky-good. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian characterizes Valentine as a manager: “No manager in the game will outfox Valentine on any strategic move. In the one year I covered his team, and for the 30 years I have known him, not once have I asked him a question about a move he made in a game for which he didn’t have a legitimate answer.” Francona was not a bad in-game manager, but he truly excelled at dealing with guys who made a great deal of money and possessed a great deal of personality. It remains to be seen how Valentine manages guys like David Ortiz and Josh Beckett in the clubhouse and with the media, but I am confident, excited, and anxious to see how he pulls the strings between the first pitch and the final out of ballgames.
- It’s Spring Training, not Spring Break- Throw some pine tar on the bats and toss some rosin on the baseballs. Looking back on Spring Training last year, it seems like this was the formula that was designed to get the Greatest Team Ever ready for a 162-game grind. Francona did not loosely supervise a frat house. It’s not like that. For the most part, he simply allowed players to manage themselves. It’s not like Valentine is going to serve as some sort of strict disciplinarian. There will be no boot camp atmosphere in Fort Myers. However, there will an aggressive focus on reinforcing fundamentals. ESPN’s Joe McDonald: “Before this offseason, [Kevin] Youkilis didn’t know Valentine on a personal level, but the Sox’s third baseman believes spring training will be different, tougher. He figures the focus will be on fundamentals of the game.” Another industry source shared a similar opinion. The Globe’s Peter Abraham: “The Red Sox will have tougher days than they did in previous springs and spend more time on fundamentals.” I like it. I like it a lot. Beckett made comments around this time of year that he was excited about the idea of pitching on a 100-win team. I had no problem with that at the time, and I still don’t. What I think Valentine will do is prepare this year’s team to do the little things that help win each pitch, each out, each inning, and each game. Eventually, by doing those things day in and day out, the Red Sox will be better prepared to strive towards the playoffs and that 100-win plateau that Beckett alluded to early last year.
Valentine will succeed as manager of the Red Sox. He is inheriting an immensely talented team, which is probably the most important reason why he will win more games than he will lose. However, Valentine comes off as a guy who is a talent sponge. I expect him to get more out of his players in 2012 than Francona was able to squeeze out of them in 2011. A tighter ship will be manned under Valentine. That is for sure. Because he possesses such a dynamic personality, I believe Valentine will be able to win over the big egos in the clubhouse and still run the team the way he would like. I am especially excited to see how some of the not-so-sexy players fare under Valentine. Guys like Mike Aviles, Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney, and Nick Punto could be the biggest beneficiaries of Valentine’s guidance.
The most important aspect of Valentine’s job as he enters his first Spring Training as the Red Sox manager is getting the members of the team to care about each other. It may sound stupid, but it’s true. The 2011 version of the Red Sox were good…really, really good. However, they were less of a team and more of a group of individuals, which ultimately lead to their demise. They did not have the back of one another. Valentine will have the responsibility of making that group of individuals into a team that cares deeply about one another.
No matter what the outcome is in 2012, it will be a team that is distinctly his. That is just how Valentine operates.