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Bob Ryan

Team taking a big chance with this choice

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By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / December 1, 2011
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There has been a saying floating around the sports department of this newspaper for decades.

“God and the Red Sox shall provide.’’

There is now an addendum. For the foreseeable future, the operative saying will be “God and Bobby Valentine will provide.’’

The man who yesterday accepted the team’s contract offer, and today will be introduced to the public as the 45th manager of the Boston Red Sox, is Robert John (Bobby) Valentine, a gentleman who is constitutionally incapable of staying out of the news. Shame on the management of the Boston Red Sox if they think otherwise.

The 61-year old Valentine is universally acknowledged to have a bright, active baseball mind. He sees things others do not. He then lets you know about it. He is the president of the Bobby Valentine Fan Club.

The process that led to his selection has been exhaustively analyzed. It was quite long and we are free to assume was quite contentious.

But today that process is the secondary story. The primary story is that, for whatever reason, the Red Sox have chosen to put the entire stack of chips on one number before rolling the wheel. Allowing Bobby Valentine to manage your baseball team does not come without risk.

Make that a very great risk.

Only the terminally naive believe they can hire Bobby Valentine and then live a stress-free life. Red Sox management must understand that on any one of the 365 calendar days (366 next year) they could pick up their morning paper or switch on the iPad to see a headline along the lines of BOBBY V BLASTS BECKETT or BOBBY V: WHAT HAPPENED TO THE NATIONAL LEAGUE GONZO?’’

Bobby V is not a big “No comment’’ guy.

Nor is Bobby V a big so-called “player’s manager.’’ Rather, he is a big “Bobby V’’ manager.

Oh, and his many critics love to point out that in a 15-year major league managerial career he has never once finished first, at least not in this hemisphere. Japan? Well, yes, that’s another matter - in many ways.

But he has twice made it to the playoffs, the second time taking the 2000 Mets to the World Series, where they lost to a clearly superior Yankee team. It would be false to say he didn’t get the most out of either the 1999 or 2000 Mets.

It would be equally false to say he didn’t blow up a few bridges along the way, eventually losing his job in 2002 after butting heads with Mets general manager Steve Phillips. Now let the record show that Mr. Phillips, now a radio analyst, admits he was more at fault than he could ever have admitted nine years ago.

So there are obvious pros and cons to the hiring of Bobby Valentine.

The primary “pro’’ is that the Red Sox need a managerial change of pace. The colossal collapse in September calls for a radical response; it just does. Bringing in any one of a dozen reasonably well-qualified low-key personalities to manage the 2012 Red Sox would have been a symbol that management did not recognize the severity of the problem.

In choosing Bobby Valentine, the Red Sox have stolen a page from the old George Steinbrenner playbook. The Boss had great success in the 1970s alternating between the “hot’’ personality of Billy Martin and the ‘cool’’ personality of genial Bob Lemon. This is precisely what they have done in replacing Terry Francona with Bobby Valentine.

It’s not a matter of Sheriff Valentine coming in to clean up the town. It’s the matter of creating a daily buzz, of letting the players know they will be held accountable in a more direct way than they were under the more, shall we say, conciliatory Francona. Let’s put it this way: J.D. Drew would not have lasted 16 seconds under Bobby V.

Understand that Francona’s way was highly successful, right up to 8/31/11. But something went wrong, and Tito was willing to admit he didn’t have any idea how to get things straightened out. The Red Sox need an entirely new feel in the clubhouse, and, believe me, they will have it now.

So it’s a matter of Bobby V being the right man in the right place at the right time.

That’s the theory, anyway.

The question before us is whether Bobby Valentine has learned anything in the nine years since he last managed in America. It may not be necessary for him to reinvent himself, but it is necessary for him to tone it down just a wee bit, to occasionally act like the vice president of the Bobby V fan Club, instead of its president and CEO. It might require him allowing general manager Ben Cherington to make a decision without rolling his eyes if he happens to disagree.

Is he capable of even minute change at age 61? Consider his Japanese experience. He has actually been there twice. The first time did not go so well. But he emerged from his second managerial stint there as a certified Japanese baseball icon. And just think for a second about the very idea of any American flourishing in such a vastly different culture. How many other Americans could have pulled this off?

So don’t tell me Bobby V can’t adapt to a new circumstance if he wants to.

We really shouldn’t be surprised that Bobby Valentine, who represents a huge risk, is the new Red Sox manager. Remember who owns this team, and who has all final says. How did John Henry make his billions? He did it by dabbling in the commodities market, the gutsiest possible way to make money that doesn’t involve risking one’s body.

In the old days, John Henry bet on pork bellies. Now he’s betting on Bobby Valentine. A risk is a risk.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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