"We couldn't be happier to have added Keith Foulke and Curt Schilling in the same offseason. We've added two of the best pitchers in baseball. That was one of the weaknesses of our club last year." – Theo Epstein, Dec. 16, 2003
"This offseason is going to be more about fixing what's under the hood than it is about buying a new car. We're going to make moves and we're going to build pitching depth and we're going to be active." – Ben Cherington, Nov. 9, 2011
Our long national nightmare isn’t over. We've only just begun.
The Red Sox want us to believe that Larry, Ben and Carmine together picked Bobby Valentine to be their Valentine. He will be the 45th manager of the Red Sox for at least year or two until, we can hope, either Joe Maddon or John Farrell becomes the 46th manager of the Red Sox.
As short-term solutions go, this one ranks slightly above Rex Ryan’s lap-band surgery, Colts starting quarterback Dan Orlovsky and left-handed starter Erik Bedard. The Red Sox humiliated their franchise, needlessly embarrassed their new GM and managed to inflict even further punch lines on their fans throughout this managerial search. The would-be Valentines on “Sox Appeal” were chosen with more discretion, forethought and scrutiny than this Valentine. Bobby V. may have arguably been the best candidate available. And Kim is the best Kardashian. Meanwhile, Gene Lamont is reassessing his campaign.
Valentine is an old-school baseball guy and so is Larry Lucchino, who, in case you missed it, runs the Red Sox. John Henry’s quote, “Larry Lucchino runs the Red Sox,” has replaced “We won’t rest” as this team’s mantra. The phrase “Larry Lucchino runs the Red Sox” in quotes turns up about 8,170 hits on Google. It will now be part of the curriculum in schools across the Bay State – along with Paul Revere’s ride, the life of John F. Kennedy and the FBI’s ability to hide Whitey Bulger from the FBI.
The last Red Sox managerial search began amid the ashes and angst of Aaron Boone’s Game 7 home run in 2003. That also triggered a furious Red Sox rebuilding effort that had Theo talking turkey with Curt Schilling by Thanksgiving. The Great Fall of 2011 has left the Sox befuddled and neutered. Jonathan Papelbon was gone by Veterans Day without even a phone call. The Yankees re-signed C.C. Sabathia with nary a chair being thrown. The Red Sox will be lucky to get a 2017 19th round draft pick and a six-pack of Old Style as compensation for Epstein. And Dale Sveum remains the disconsolation prize of the offseason.
Meanwhile, Heidi Watney still isn't walking through that door.
After the Sox traded for Schilling in 2003, the most-coveted starting pitcher available in Boston's last nuclear baseball winter, the hiring of manager Terry Francona was almost an afterthought. Grady Little was pretty much fired before Boone’s shot landed in the left-field bleachers of Yankee Stadium. Francona was met with lukewarm approval and mediocre expectations. Tito had handled Michael Jordan in the minors, had a solid baseball background and was able to get out of Philly in one piece. "My skin is pretty think, I'll be OK," he said. Good enough. Fans couldn’t have expected nearly as much from Francona as he delivered in his first season in Boston. Fans just wanted a manager who would pull Pedro Martinez before the 115-pitch mark. Francona’s most important qualification was that he wasn’t Grady Little. The Red Sox could have hired Rich Little eight years ago and few would have complained.
The Red Sox and Yankees were at the height of their military buildup. The Sox had just landed a guy who wanted to make 50,000 New Yorkers shut up, owned a shared-World Series MVP award on his mantle and might even replace Barney Frank in Congress.
The rearmament didn’t stop with Francona or Schilling. The Red Sox signed closer Keith Foulke just two weeks after their new manager. Hard to recall now that pre-Burger King, Foulke was as money a closer as anyone in Red Sox history. Like the dearly departed Cinco Ocho, Foulke was the best available closer after the 2003 season (9-1 with 43 saves and a 2.08 ERA that year). Where Papelbon’s last appearance for Boston was a blown save in Game 162 of 2011's collapse, Foulke's last appearance for Oakland was a blown save in Game 4 of the 2003 ALDS against Boston. And those were the days when a top-line closer could be had for $26.5 million for four years – about half what Papelbon got. (And the Sox didn’t even have to pay the last $5.25 million since Foulke declined his option.) The struggle against the Evil Empire reached its post-Ruthian-off-the-field zenith when A-Rod went from the Rangers to the Red Sox to the Yankees in about eight weeks. Meanwhile, Manny and Nomar stayed put.
The 2011 Apopeye-calypse has the line between comedy and tragedy running up the first-base side at Fenway. Nothing that’s happened since 12:05 a.m. on Sept. 29 has triggered as much despair, anger and dismay across Red Sox Nation as the departure of Sideline Heidi. Did anyone really watch those post-game interviews on NESN to hear what Tito had to say?
Now we’ve got fried chicken everywhere and beer in the clubhouse and on You Tube. Any excuse to embed this classic is worth it:
That was joined by secret cups of beer in the dugout, a medical staff that that makes Dr. Conrad Murray look like Hippocrates, special 100th Anniversary Fenway bricks and 2011 game-used balls for sale fresh off the Hindenburg, ticket prices not going down and the best news of the offseason being John Lackey’s Tommy John surgery. Henry’s drive-by appearance on Felger and Mazz last month remains the greatest moment on Boston sports talk radio history this side of “Cliff and Claff” and “The Sports Huddle.”
On the field – the loss of Papelbon to free-agency and the Phillies without firing a shot will affect the team much more than whether or not Valentine will try something crazy like bunting with a runner on first and no one out. It's gotten so bad the Red Sox could not even swap Jonathans, losing out to the Royals on Dodgers’ reliever Jonathan Broxton (who will be a set-up man in Kansas City). Still not sold on Daniel Stanley Schiraldi Bard as the closer. Something tells me neither is Larry, Carmine or Ben.
The fight to land Valentine tore at the heart at the Red Sox Nation and even spread to the residents of the Fenway press box. As far as making the argument for Valentine, this column make a pretty good case . And then there's this piece, ripping Valentine, which notes that Valentine is No. 3 on the all-time list of MLB games managed (2,189) without finishing in first place. That should suit the Red Sox, who have gone 648 games without finishing in first place. One big plus with Valentine is his experience in Japan, which will be a huge positive in working with Dice-K (remember him?) during his comeback.
Valentine's hire is about one thing – Valentine. There’s good and bad in that. His presence will deflect and distract – which should benefit temperamental types like Beckett, especially during spring training. He’s immediately recognizable by the most Pink Hatty fans and the NESN baby can buy his rookie card on ebay for about $25. His official announcement and press conference will grab national headlines. And he hates the Yankees. Valentine’s record is so extensive, you can pick pieces out to make him look like Connie Mack (See 1986 Rangers or 2000 New York Mets) or Ronald McDonald (see 2002 New York Mets).
The miserable cynic in me leans toward 2002. Those Mets swapped out the chicken and beer with weed, on-field press conferences about Mike Piazza’s sexual orientation and a 12-game losing streak that ended with Valentine publicly denying claims he was hoping to get fired.
Valentine is not going to fix much of what is wrong with the Red Sox. But he’ll make for good stories, great quotes, lots of intrigue and the all-important buzz. If the Red Sox manage to win more than 90 games next season, Valentine will be at the front of the line when comes to the Remy Awards. If not, Bobby V. can always claim credit for the burrito, chicken wing and grilled-cheese sandwich along with the wrap. He can’t pitch, play right field anymore, DH or strike out Jeter, Granderson and Teixeira to close out the ninth.
But his hiring will be the biggest splash the Red Sox make this side of Fort Myers.
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