The tireless manager packs a lot into 24 hours — even a baseball game
It’s 6 a.m. on a steamy Saturday morning in the Back Bay. The elevator doors part, and Bobby Valentine emerges, sunglasses and helmet already on, bicycle and coffee in hand.
The previous night, the Red Sox manager’s underachieving team blew a 5-1 lead and lost in extra innings to the lowly Minnesota Twins. By the time he got home, yesterday had faded into today.
Most people would be tired and grumpy. Not Bobby V.
“I don’t do sleep,” he says, flashing that gleaming white smile. “Actually, I’ve always been lucky; when my head hits the pillow, I’m out. I can’t wait for the next day to start.”
His shirt from the Pan-Mass Challenge, in which he will soon be riding to raise money for the Jimmy Fund, reads “Committed” across the front. In some ways, it describes the manager’s charitable nature.
Today’s schedule is a doozy, Valentine’s longest day. The first half is all for charity. He will be driven to Babson College, then pedal 20.7 miles from Wellesley to Wrentham.
At 10 a.m., he speaks at a sold-out Boston University conference titled, “Sabermetrics, Scouting and the Science of Baseball,” also for the Jimmy Fund. Then he will have lunch with fans who wrote fat checks to Theo Epstein’s “Foundation to be Named Later,” before heading to work at Fenway Park until midnight.
By 6:33 a.m., he is at the starting line at Babson College doing a radio interview, posing for pictures, sipping more black coffee, stretching, and lining up for the 7 a.m. start
He spies designated hitter David Ortiz and family, there in support of his wife Tiffany, and greets him warmly. But the jovial Ortiz, whose dog Happy is unhappy with the heat, offers a prediction on Bobby V’s time.
“He might die,” says Ortiz, laughing.
Tuning out talk radio
By 9:30 a.m., Valentine is already back in Boston, showered and steering his Buick toward Boston University. Despite his team’s terrible performance and the constant criticism and controversy, Valentine is relaxed, comfortable in his skin.
“I’m not in this for the money,” he says.
He wears a colorful striped shirt, not tucked in. He looks like he could be ready to board the Hyannis-Nantucket ferry.
On the way, the car radio is turned off. This is a no-sports-radio zone.
“I did listen to it in New York for a couple of years,” he says. “Stupid. It’s not even comical.”
He doesn’t read articles that have placed his head on the chopping block, either.
“If I read it or engaged in it, it would probably drive me crazy,” he says. “And then I’d probably start saying, ‘It’s not fair, it’s not fair.’ The only thing that matters is whether the team wins or loses, so why are you going to worry about that stuff?”
Valentine knows that people either love him or hate him. That’s fine by him.
“I don’t need to be loved by certain people,” he says.
He loves music and is an accomplished ballroom dancer. He doesn’t listen to Sinatra, although his theme song could be “My Way.” He prefers Adele or Carole King or James Taylor. But recently, it’s been more “Fire and Rain” than “You’ve Got A Friend.”
At the BU parking lot, Valentine’s name is not on the list of speakers. “It’s not your fault,” he tells the attendant, then peels off a $10 bill. On Commonwealth Avenue, he pulls out a protein nut bar and offers half to a reporter.
At the Sabermetrics conference, he forgoes the microphone and podium and stands directly in front of the audience. (“I’ve never heard an umpire say he couldn’t hear me.”) He reminds the crowd that he is the only manager to be fired in the American League, the National League, and the Japanese Professional League.
Valentine says he’ll take any info he can get to gain an advantage, but he wants his players to “just play” when the games begin.
“I’ll give you a scoop,” he says. “I haven’t been given one suggestion based on Sabermetrics since I’ve been in Boston.
“Sabermetrics and numbers can’t tell a different story, I don’t think, unless you’re reading a different book. And the book of winning is what everyone’s trying to deal with.”
Lesson from Lasorda
Valentine also vaguely hints at problems in Boston.
“I can tell you the truth,” he says. “Establishing the communications system is tough because sometimes it gets short-circuited.”
The dynamics of the clubhouse have changed in the last 20 or 30 years, he says. That has made ballplayers harder to find. Back then, there was a manager’s office and a clubhouse. Now there is also a weight room, a food room, a training room, and saunas and cold-plunge pools.
“To think that the manager is going to go around and talk to 25 guys and take their temperature every day . . . is ridiculous,” he says.
Valentine had the 200 fans in attendance in stitches when someone asked him about Tommy Lasorda, his former manager, and Valentine obliges with a story.
As a 19-year-old outfielder in the Dodgers organization, Valentine quickly jumped to Triple A Spokane, but Lasorda switched him to shortstop and he made 50 errors. The veteran pitchers issued an ultimatum: They would not pitch if Valentine played shortstop.
Lasorda, screaming and swearing, said he was going to give his players five minutes to go find a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. Valentine, the scared rookie, stared at the ground.
“And I’m thinking, ‘Why is he making everyone get a pen and pencil?’ ”
Lasorda continued screaming, telling the other players, “And every one of you go over to that kid’s locker and get his [expletive] autograph because when he’s in the big leagues, you’ll be carrying lunchpails and working a job in a factory.”
Valentine still stared at the floor. But soon he saw toes.
“I looked up and, I’ll be darned, everyone’s in line,” he says as the crowd roars.
“The advice he gave me at that time was don’t let the outside world determine who you are.’’
He said that if you believe media reports, you’d think I berate and curse as many players as I can. I don’t ever think that public humiliation is the key to success.”
Valentine’s charitable work is usually below the radar, except in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, when he was managing the Mets. New York officials had asked the Mets if they could use the Shea Stadium parking lot as a collection point. Valentine led a group of players in collecting emergency supplies for firehouses, hospitals, and Ground Zero.
But this was no photo opportunity. Valentine had lost one of his best friends, Chris Quackenbush, who leaped to his death to avoid the inferno inside the falling towers.
Valentine was still there five days later when his team chartered to Pittsburgh to resume the season. He arrived the following day by commercial air. He has kept a guardian angel eye on his friend’s children, who are now in college. He still has trouble talking about 9/11.
“It still bothers me a lot,” he says.
The extroverted manager is uncomfortable — almost shy — when talking about his good deeds.
“Karma?’’ he says. “Ahhh, this is just what I do. It’s all I’ve ever done. Why wouldn’t you do it?”
Back to the office
After lunch at Eastern Standard in Kenmore Square, Valentine is off to Fenway, five hours before game time.
This would be the perfect time for a nap for a sleep-deprived 62-year-old. There is a couch opposite the wall where Valentine has posted photos of every past Red Sox manager. But that’s not going to happen.
“I don’t take them very much,’’ he says. “I’ve got to do the lineups. There are a million little things to figure out and tweak properly. Then we’ve got a Sunday afternoon game coming right up.”
Told that he has nearly the energy of another 62-year-old, Bruce Springsteen, who rocks Fenway twice this week, Valentine shrugs.
“My dad had energy, and it comes from him,” he says. “He was a carpenter by trade. He always worked night jobs, day jobs. He always worked, never a vacation.”
Valentine says staying in shape is a top priority.
“I love riding the bike,” he says. “I’ve been doing that all my life. Last 20 years taking it on the road everywhere I’ve been.”
Red Sox home clubhouse manager Tom McLaughlin disassembles the bike into three pieces and packs it in the team’s luggage, then reassembles it in another city.
“I don’t mind it at all because he uses it everywhere,” says McLaughlin.
Bobby V rides along the lake in Toronto, on freezing cold days in Chicago in early April, across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, through Central Park in New York, and even in Texas when it’s 100 degrees.
“Doesn’t bother me,” says Valentine. “The bike makes its own breeze.”
Valentine says the reason he bikes is simple.
“I just like to see things, see new places, a lot of people, exercise.”
Boston has good bike lanes but gets a bad rap about its drivers, according to Valentine.
“Chicago has the worst drivers,” he says. “Nobody signals. They don’t look before they turn.”
‘The day was going perfect’
Some critics charge that Valentine doesn’t think before he talks, others that he thinks too much before he speaks.
In April, the manager spoke out about what he perceived as Kevin Youkilis’s declining passion. After rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks made two errors in an inning, Valentine jokingly said to him, “Nice inning, kid,” and was infuriated when the comment was relayed to the front office.
“Tone it down,” he says softly about himself.
During this night’s game against the Twins, he summons Pedro Ciriaco to pinch hit in a tie game in the eighth inning. He looks like a genius when the skinny-as-a-rail rookie hits his first big league home run, over the Green Monster. Cody Ross singles in an insurance run and the Sox lead, 4-2.
“The day was going perfect,” he says.
But the baseball gods would not be charitable. With victory a strike away, and Valentine yelling, “C’mon Ace,’’ to closer Alfredo Aceves before every pitch, Twins catcher Joe Mauer hits a game-winning three-run homer to extend Boston’s losing streak to four.
Valentine shouts an expletive into his towel and then tosses it. At the press conference, he promises, “We’ll bounce back.” He looks positively fried.
At 10:51 p.m., Valentine is in his office, putting on his socks. General manager Ben Cherington is there on his cellphone, and principal owner John Henry arrives and gently closes the door.
Henry, who flew in from London that day, said he saw Valentine’s press conference and felt it was time to show some support to his manager.
“It was a tough loss and a tough homestand,” Henry says the next day. “If anybody needed bucking up, now was the time. I made it clear to him that we don’t see him as the problem. It wasn’t specific to last night.
“We’re facing a team that gives up more runs than anyone in baseball. We’re having bad at-bats. Is that because of the manager?
“He appreciated it. It was a long day.
“It was a long night.”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org