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Next Red Sox manager needs to command respect

Posted by Leonard Neslin  August 29, 2012 08:56 AM

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Bobby Valentine has won 1,500 games, as he recently reminded us, and he has a contract for next year, too. And as the Red Sox clear-cut their way through a clubhouse that has been infested with overgrown contracts and egos, the cleanup inevitably will lead to the manager's office.

To keep Bobby V or to fire him?

Should there really even be a question?

But before this becomes an assault on Valentine or his style, his personality, or his nature, let us be fair to the man. Bobby V never had a chance here. He really did not. The Red Sox were a train wreck waiting to happen in this ill-fated summer of 2012, and a hybrid of Casey Stengel and Connie Mack might have been unable to save them. Valentine began this job with a clubhouse full of malcontents, with a general manager that did not want him, with an ownership that demanded he do it their way. He was to Terry Francona what Pete Carroll was to Bill Parcells, a transitional person for a franchise rebounding from an ugly breakup.

That is why the Red Sox gave Valentine a two-year contract last offseason; it wasn't exactly a two-karat diamond. In the world of major league managing, a two-year contract is a one-year lease, something Valentine and the Red Sox knew when they signed the deal in the first place.

None of this is really any of Bobby V's fault. But if the Red Sox bring him back next season, they will be forcing him on general manager Ben Cherington again, further perpetuating an organizational deterioration that came from trying to fit too many square pegs into too many round holes.

The sad part for Valentine is that he now goes down in history here the way Joe Kerrigan did, as manager of an underachieving, dysfunctional lot that wanted nothing to do with him. In 2001, when Kerrigan rose from his seat on the team bus in Baltimore and instructed Ramirez to turn down his boom box, the petulant player looked at his boss and said, in no uncertain terms, "Go [expletive] yourself." In 2012, Kelly Shoppach and Adrian Gonzalez reportedly resorted to a text message and all but scampered up the back stairs, continuing subversive behavior that has defined the Red Sox for the better part of the last year.

No matter how you slice it, insubordination is insubordination. And while comparing Valentine to Kerrigan is also unfair -- at one stage, the wretched 2001 Sox went 6-23 and lost 13 of 14 with a playoff spot on the line -- there is simply no escaping the fact that the Red Sox need a transfusion from the manager's office on down.

You got used here, Bobby. The Red Sox owe you an apology for that. But they can't bring you back, either, at least not if they want to distance themselves from one of the most distasteful seasons in club history.

That's almost entirely their fault, not yours.

The identity of Valentine's successor is now of the utmost importance to the Red Sox, a chance for John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino to find their Bill Belichick the way Robert Kraft did. The best owners admit and learn from their mistakes. The trading of Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett was a wonderful sign in this way, JohnTomAndLarry stepping up and taking blame at a time when Theo Epstein and Terry Francona (who took bullets frequently during their time together in Boston) were not obliged to do so.

Admitting mistakes is the first step on the road to recovery, of course, and the Gonzalez-Crawford-Beckett deal was a whopper of an admission.

(As a complete aside and purely for further validation, according to Someone Who Knows: Last season, Beckett "literally wanted [the team] to fail so he didn't have to pitch in October. By far the biggest culprit in the [expletive] show last September with his attitude and recruitment of others.")

Since last fall, the Sox' lust for John Farrell has been the worst-kept secret in baseball, and there are few who would frown on Farrell as the next man in charge. (If, as ESPN,'s Buster Olney suggested, a Daniel Bard-for-Farrell trade is a possibility, that price is too high.) But what the Red Sox need more than Farrell specifically is someone like him, which is to say a strong personality with good communication skills and an indisputable presence.

Here's what the Red Sox do not need: someone whose strength is dealing with young players. This is not Kansas City. The Red Sox need someone who can both tolerate young players and command the respect of veteran ones, the latter of which has been a problem for Valentine. (Maybe Valentine could help the Sox as an evaluator in some other role?) If and when the Red Sox delve into free agency or the trade market -- and they will, presumably -- they must have a manager with the skills and willingness to handle the entire spectrum of their roster, something Francona possessed in bulk.

Beyond that, the Red Sox need someone who can deal with non-uniformed personnel as well as the uniformed, and we're not talking about Cherington, who is a reasonable, even-tempered cooperative sort. We're talking about JohnTomAndLarry. Part of the reason Farrell's name keeps coming up is because he is a known commodity and because he knows what he's getting into, and there seems little trepidation on the part of either side to make it happen.

Farrell, after all, hasn't exactly shot down speculation that he wants the Boston job. Epstein had the opportunity to do the same last summer when talk of the Chicago Cubs opening arose. Farrell thus far has handled it the same way Epstein did, which is to politely say that he is committed to his current job while leaving open the option to leave.

But again, whether Farrell is the actual choice is irrelevant. Someone like Joe Maddon also would be an appealing choice, though Maddon is certainly more quirky than Farrell. Regardless, what the Red Sox need is a manager who will provide them stability, whom the fans and players accept as a longer-term solution, who marks the beginning of a new era more than a connection to the calamitous stretch that began late last summer.

Who is that man? That can be debated.

But it's not Bobby V.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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