Talkin Sox with Dan

Where baseball fans gather for commonsensical, opinionated Red Sox banter.

This is Only the Beginning

Bobby Valentine has taken the Red Sox, Fort Myers, Jet Blue Park, and the month of February by storm. Sparring through the media with former Sox manager and current ESPN analyst Terry Francona, jabs at Derek Jeter over a play that happened over a decade ago, compliments to Jason Varitek for placing his catcher’s mitt into the middle of Alex Rodriguez‘s face almost eights years ago, and receiving blame for Carl Crawford‘s recent setback regarding his rehabilitation from wrist surgery. I’m out of breath.

It’s amazing what can unfold in a matter of weeks.

Despite all of the seemingly unwanted turmoil, it has actually been smooth sailing for the new Red Sox skipper. So far. Larry Lucchino Ben Cherington looks like a genius for hiring Valentine. So far. The media has taken quite a liking to Valentine. So far. Players, including the oft-irritated David Ortiz, have given their stamps of approval for the new manager. Fans of the Old Towne Team who generally possess a well-deserved affinity towards Francona (two World Championships will do that sorta thing) have also reluctantly nodded in the direction of Valentine.

So far.

As Talkin Sox With Dan discussed almost exactly one month ago, I firmly believe that if Francona had to be sent packing (and he did), Valentine was the best choice. It is natural to juxtapose Francona and Valentine, and after the way 2011 ended, it is super-easy to draw the conclusion that Valentine’s methods are better. However, I do not believe that is necessarily the case.

Are Francona and Valentine different? Certainly. Valentine is like a parent who is always around, always trying to make their son or daughter the best possible person he or she can be on that given day. Sure, that parent can be irritating, sometimes even annoying, but in the back of your mind, you know that he or she has only the best intentions. Francona was more like a caring parent who just wasn’t constantly checking with their kid. He trusted his children to be respectful and responsible without having to be constantly reminded of exactly what that meant.

Are Valentine’s methods better than Francona’s? I’m not sure. Francona’s philosophy relied upon being ready and healthy for the end of the season and, presumably, postseason play. If that meant applying less pressure to the throttle early in the season, so be it. It was the ends that mattered most, not the means. For Valentine, the ends still matter, but he is determined to change the means by which their achieved. More hands-on, more fundamentals, more work. However, it is less about Francona and Valentine and more about the buttons they push.

For eight seasons, Francona applied pressure to the same set of buttons. For seven and half seasons, the buttons worked. Late last season, the players stopped responding, and when that happens, change is necessary. Valentine represents that change.

As of today, Valentine seems like the perfect medicine for a Red Sox team that had grown complacent. He is an active teacher. He enjoys the spotlight. He can work a crowd. The guy will be working on Yawkey Way, but he belongs on Broadway.

So what does this all mean?

It means that I hope the fans who have fallen in love at first sight with all that is Bobby V this spring know what the expect this summer. He will shake things up. Baseball fans are a lot like its participants. They like routine. They cling to it. Valentine does not believe in a set lineup. Kevin Youkilis leading off? Probably not something I would do, but Valentine might. Daniel Bard getting the ball on Opening Day in Detroit? It is not out of the realm of possibility. Change is certainly on the horizon.

Just like it did with Francona, there will come a time when Valentine’s message grows stale, when the buttons he is used to pressing cease to work. I know what I’m getting myself into by advocating for Valentine. There will be more than one instance this summer when the guy leaves me at a loss for words, bewildered by whatever decision he has made on or off the field. This season, let’s make a concerted effort to not juxtapose Valentine with his predecessor. Let’s give him the season to show his mettle.

I am a believer in Valentine.

So far.

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