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Bobby's Sox

Cherington hands it over to Valentine

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / December 2, 2011
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When he met with the media last Monday following his lengthy interview with the Red Sox for their managerial position, Bobby Valentine said that if he were to get the job, “I would feel like it is Christmas.’’

Well, Christmas came early for the Red Sox and for the 61-year-old Valentine, who was introduced yesterday by general manager Ben Cherington as the team’s 45th manager in a press conference at the State Street Pavilion attended by principal owner John Henry and president/CEO Larry Lucchino.

“The talent level and the players that we have in this organization is a gift to anyone,’’ said Valentine, who leaves his job as an ESPN analyst to return a major league dugout for the first time in nine years. “And I’m the receiver of that gift.’’

Valentine agreed to a two-year contract, with options for 2014 and 2015, to succeed Terry Francona, whose eight-year term was highlighted by World Series titles in 2004 and 2007. But Francona’s final season was pockmarked by an epic 7-20 collapse in September that resulted in the squandering of a nine-game lead in the wild-card race and led to Francona’s departure two days after a season-ending loss at Baltimore.

“When I got the offer, it took me 20 minutes [to agree] and there was no counteroffer that I asked for,’’ said Valentine, when asked if he was comfortable with the terms. “I was very comfortable. Let it be known, I would’ve taken one.’’

Cherington disputed any notion that Valentine was not his choice and that he wound up on the losing end of a power struggle with Lucchino. Cherington also said there were no concerns that the club would be subjecting Valentine to a similar fate as Francona, who believed his voice in the clubhouse had been muted by a lack of support from ownership when the team did not pick up his option.

“I don’t necessarily agree with that,’’ Cherington said. “Whatever challenges Tito was having this year, my personal opinion was that it didn’t have anything to do with the option. It had something to do with the fact he had been here for a long time and he had worked his butt off for a long time, and had gone through the grind for a long time, and it’s a difficult thing to do for a long time. And he did a great job for a vast majority of that time.

“My personal view is that the option was not a factor in anything that happened this year. I don’t think it’s a factor [for Valentine]. I think he’s going into this confident and I don’t think the term of the contract matters to him.’’

Although Cherington conducted a wide-ranging search that included Dale Sveum (who wound up being hired as Cubs manager), Pete Mackanin, Sandy Alomar Jr., Torey Lovullo, and Gene Lamont (a finalist for the Sox job), Valentine seemed to be the front-runner from the outset.

“He’s got great baseball intellect,’’ Cherington said. “He’s got great ideas about the way the game should be played, ideas about players, and I’ve already learned some things about our players that I didn’t know from talking to him the last couple of days.’’

This is the third major league managerial job for the native of Stamford, Conn., who had stints with the Texas Rangers (1985-92) and New York Mets (1996-2002). He guided the Mets to a World Series berth in 2000, when they lost to the Yankees.

Valentine’s presence in the Sox dugout seems to add a new twist to the storied Boston-New York rivalry, as a large contingent of New York writers turned out for his press conference.

Asked about facing the Yankees as a division rival instead of an interleague foe, Valentine said, “I’m really excited. Six times during the season is a little different than 18 times during the season.

“You have to put your best foot forward when you’re playing them, and I think it’s going to be exciting. What I enjoyed most the last couple of years at ESPN was those games, because the players take them so seriously.

“I think we’re going to be able to match them. It might not be the best team that wins, but the team that plays the best.’’

Valentine’s term with the Mets ended badly, as the team finished fifth in the National League East and he had spectacular clashes with players and general manager Steve Phillips.

A former ESPN analyst himself, Phillips went on Sirius Radio and endorsed Valentine’s hiring and even accepted responsibility for the falling out with his former manager.

“At times our relationship wasn’t always the greatest,’’ said Phillips, “but I will say, forever I kind of always blamed Bobby for that, and I recognize now that a big part of that relationship I damaged with my stuff that got in the way of it.

“Forever I thought it was Bobby’s stuff. He brought whatever he did to the relationship, but part of the reason it wasn’t a good one all the time was my fault and I want to acknowledge that. I wasn’t the best [general] manager for him sometimes.’’

“To delve on the past is not productive,’’ Valentine said. “What I would do differently is hopefully to have learned from mistakes. I think I’ve learned from most of them.

“The one thing we all know is that things get spinning quickly, and when they get spinning quickly is when they get out of control, and that’s basically what happened.

“One thing Steve probably mentioned but goes unlooked or unnoticed is that we had some great years together, through minor league times to major league times. Those are things I remember.’’

Still, when Valentine ended a seven-year run with the Chiba Lotte Marines of Japan’s Pacific League in 2009, he wondered whether that would be his last job as a baseball manager.

“I was doing good and exciting things and I was getting paid to do things a couple of days a week - at a king’s ransom,’’ Valentine said of his ESPN job. “How could you not be happy with that situation?

“Did I dream about this situation? Absolutely. Did I wake up and put water on my face whenever I had that dream? Yes, I did. So I’m a realist.

“I saw the game as it was changing and it was obviously getting younger and it was getting different and I didn’t know that I could ever fit in. But maybe I’m going to fit in.’’

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