Sox throw a changeup in their search
Valentine’s profile vastly different from other candidates
The Red Sox had a clear model in mind for a manager when they set out to replace Terry Francona in the early days of October.
Bobby Valentine did not fit those well-considered parameters.
New general manager Ben Cherington wanted someone with the ability to work closely with the baseball operations staff to implement the organization’s philosophies, but with enough of an edge to restore order in the clubhouse. Major league managerial experience was preferred, but not required. The idea was to find a good fit for the Red Sox, not a big name.
That blueprint was reflected in the first four candidates to interview. Pete Mackanin, Dale Sveum, Sandy Alomar Jr., and Torey Lovullo were low-profile coaches hungry for their first chance to manage on something other than an interim basis.
The Red Sox departed from that path when they invited Gene Lamont to interview Nov. 12. The 64-year-old Lamont has eight seasons of experience as a manager, and Cherington acknowledged after the interview that Lamont’s candid responses were refreshing.
“He did not answer questions in a way where I felt like he was telling me what I wanted to hear,’’ said Cherington. “He answered questions based on what he felt, and that’s what I want.’’
In Valentine, who is now in the running for the job, Cherington would get all of that he could handle.
Valentine is everything the other candidates are not in that he is well known and would arrive with his own time-tested ideas about how to run a team. He also would bring several carts worth of baggage that the others do not, along with a front-and-center personality.
Valentine confirmed that he spoke to Cherington “a while ago’’ and that he hopes for a second chance to meet with the GM and Sox ownership.
He also told the Associated Press, “I’m looking forward to having conversations, if that’s what they want to do.’’
Though Cherington spoke to Valentine informally early in the process, Valentine was not among the candidates subjected to daylong interviews at Fenway Park. As an analyst at ESPN, Valentine has been careful to tread lightly with job openings the last two years.
Cherington seemed to favor Sveum, the only candidate invited back for a meeting with principal owner John Henry and team chairman Tom Werner. That came over lunch Wednesday in Milwaukee.
Henry, Werner, and team president Larry Lucchino remained at the restaurant for 15 minutes after Cherington and Sveum left, discussing their options.
Lucchino then told reporters the Red Sox were willing to open their search to other candidates. The next day, Valentine emerged as a possibility after the Cubs hired Sveum.
Hiring Valentine would be a change in direction for the Red Sox after eight seasons under Francona.
Francona absorbed criticism, deflected praise to the players, and was careful to maintain good relations with the baseball operations staff. He was content to blend in and let others have the spotlight.
Valentine, along with Mike Piazza, was the face of the Mets when he managed in New York from 1996-2002.
Valentine then became a cultural superstar in Japan during his six seasons with the Chiba Lotte Marines, changing the way the Japanese game did its business and lending his name to a host of products and charities.
Now the Red Sox are on his radar.
“I think Bobby, quite frankly, is what the Red Sox need,’’ said Jim Duquette, who was assistant GM of the Mets during Valentine’s tenure.
“They need a veteran manager who can clean up some of the issues that arose with that team. They may not like what Bobby has to say sometimes, but you have to respect it.’’
Duquette, who grew up in Massachusetts and now works for MLB Network Radio, knows Valentine well.
“He’s one of the best baseball minds I’ve ever been around,’’ Duquette said. “He’s fiercely loyal but he doesn’t put up with any crap. The situation there is crying out for somebody like him.’’
According to Duquette, Valentine welcomes suggestions from the front office if they are worthy of consideration.
“If you’re going to go to him with an idea, you better have a good reason,’’ Duquette said. “But Bobby is open-minded. He was using statistics and matchups before a lot of the new matrixes existed. He has old-school beliefs about baseball but a cutting-edge baseball mind.’’
There are potential obstacles. Valentine clashed with Mets GM Steve Phillips to a point where he was not allowed to attend the Winter Meetings. The two sometimes bickered about even simple roster transactions, and when Valentine was fired after the 2002 season, he was more upset that Phillips did not get the ax, too.
The 2011 Red Sox were a thimble of controversy compared with the raging waters that were the 2002 Mets. A photo of pitcher Grant Roberts smoking marijuana from a water pipe was plastered across the New York tabloids. One report suggested as many as seven Mets were regular drug users.
The team was replete with underachieving free agents, clubhouse chemistry issues, and sloppy play on the field. Veteran players were accused of betraying Valentine by telling owner Fred Wilpon that he should be fired.
The Mets, expected to make the playoffs, finished in last place. Valentine has not managed in the majors since.
“That was 10 years ago,’’ Duquette said. “He knows how to handle a big market and superstar players. If he’s going to come back, Boston makes a lot of sense.’’
The Sox added lefthander Drake Britton, outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin, and third baseman Will Middlebrooks to the 40-man roster from Triple A Pawtucket. The 40-man roster is now at 38.