All season long, Bobby Valentine seemed impervious to the slings and arrows that were aimed his way as manager of the Red Sox.
Thankless job that it was, especially in a lost season in which the Sox finished with their worst home record (34-47) since the 1965 team went 34-47, Valentine was fully prepared to do his best one last time for a Fenway Park crowd that jeered him as much as it cheered him.
On a night when the Red Sox announced their All-Fenway team, there was a sense that it was likely Valentine’s final appearance in the park.
“I’m not getting fired today, if that’s what you mean,” said Valentine before a 4-2 loss to the Rays.
Asked if he viewed this as potentially his last game at Fenway, Valentine replied, “I don’t think so, no, not until you asked that.
“And if this is my last day [at Fenway], I’d like to thank you all, or at least most of you, for your professionalism this year and your willingness to put up with all the stuff that goes on on a day-to-day basis and wish you all great health to you and your families. Enjoy.
“Because it is the last day this year.’’
But Valentine, who signed a two-year contract last December, wasn’t convinced this was the end of his tenure.
Did he have a gut feeling on whether he would return in 2013?
“My gut feeling is that they haven’t told me yet,’’ Valentine said.
Asked if he had any dialogue with ownership about his status, Valentine replied, “No, there hasn’t been any dialogue. I mean, we’ve talked, but not about that. Which makes me think I’m coming back. I don’t know.’’
Valentine inherited a roster with several big-ticket free agents — among them oft-injured left fielder Carl Crawford and Gold Glove first baseman Adrian Gonzalez — a starting rotation anchored by Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, and the lofty expectations that he could be an agent of change in a clubhouse that went sour on Terry Francona, resulting in an epic 7-20 collapse last September.
The lost season of 2012 started with Valentine having to appoint recalcitrant reliever Alfredo Aceves as his closer when Andrew Bailey went on the disabled list and missed 116 games because of right thumb surgery. It was a harbinger of the difficulties to come for the manager, who was forced to shuffle and reshuffle his lineup, bullpen, and rotation as the team used a record 56 players and put 27 on the disabled list.
“Obviously it wasn’t what I set out to do,’’ Valentine said. “When you don’t accomplish what you set out to do, you feel like you haven’t done a good enough job — it’s simple.’’
Valentine committed his fair share of managerial missteps, including calling into question the commitment of hard-nosed third baseman Kevin Youkilis. He may have miscalculated the blowback in his own clubhouse from that when Dustin Pedroia rose up in Youkilis’s defense, saying, “That’s not how we do things around here.’’
Then he kidded third baseman Will Middlebrooks after the rookie committed a pair of blunders, cracking, “Nice inning, kid.’’ A unnamed player took offense and complained to the front office, prompting the manager to later explain that his jibe was meant to relieve the young player of the pressure he was feeling.
The Sox struggled to get above .500, causing fingers to be pointed at Valentine, who was unable to get production out of his top two pitchers. The team went 20-32 in Beckett and Lester’s starts.
In addition to roster upheaval, Valentine was forced to deal with a midseason blockbuster trade that sent the team’s three highest-paid players — Beckett, Gonzalez, and Crawford — in addition to Nick Punto to the Dodgers in exchange for first baseman James Loney and four prospects. It was a salary dump that netted the Red Sox a quarter-billion in financial flexibility but sent a message that the team had raised the white flag.
“All those variables are things I feel I’m prepared to handle,” Valentine said. “When I come back next year, I think I’ll be prepared to handle them and hopefully we’ll have better results.
“Not much I would’ve done differently.”
Then, interjecting a bit of gallows humor, he added, “I think I would have kept the beer in the clubhouse. I could have used it after a few of those games.”
Asked if, after all he endured this season, he had learned anything about himself, Valentine paused to ponder his response.
“Well, I don’t know about learning about myself, you know?’’ Valentine said. “I have the gas masks. I could handle the chemical weapons. The bullets penetrated a bit, but they didn’t kill me.
“What did I learn about myself? I’m almost a year older, I know that, and it’s gone quickly.’’