Bobby Valentine was a mistake from the start and everybody knows it, yet the Red Sox still cannot bring themselves to admit it. The Red Sox couch their words. They focus on semantics. And they continue to destroy their own credibility not by what they say or do but by how they say or do it.
The firing of Valentine was an easy decision, after all, the kind of train wreck on which everyone should be able to agree. In Boston, Valentine was precisely the manager he always has been, a Napoleonic know-it-all, albeit with far less baseball acumen that he possessed when he left the New York Mets in 2002. A prolonged absence from the game would do that to any man, and we must wonder now whether Valentine and the Red Sox were ever on the same page at all.
The Red Sox handed Valentine a $190 million payroll, a two-year contract and a mandate to win now. Valentine treated the Sox as he did the 1985 Texas Rangers or the 1996 Mets, clubs in need of a reconstruction more than a reprimand.
“I’m not sure that’s fair. We thought the decision was a sensible, rational one last year,’’ Red Sox president Larry Lucchino told colleague Chris Gasper on Thursday. “What we were looking for at the time seemed to be what Bobby Valentine presented at the time.”
Seemed to be. Interesting that Lucchino would use those words. On Friday, in the wake of a decision that came 14 hours and 14 minutes after the Red Sox made the final out of their season, Gasper also asked why the Red Sox waited until the end of the season to pull the trigger on a decision that seemed apparent to everyone else for months.
“Well, again, you said seemed to be apparent,” Lucchino answered. “When did it seem to be apparent? In August, there was a lot of fluttering about on this issue. We thought we needed to put it aside when the team was still in the race. We wanted to create some white space, a period of quietude that would last at least until the end of the season. That was part of the motivation.”
Got that? When the firing of Valentine seemed a given, the Red Sox argue that things are not always as they seem. But when Valentine seemed like a good choice at the time, we’re supposed to give them the same latitude Lucchino would not afford Gasper.
Are we talking about accountability here or the court of law?
What a bale of hay.
Here’s what the Red Sox needed to do on Thursday, out there for everyone to see: they needed to stand up and say, in no uncertain terms, that Bobby Valentine was a mistake. They needed to say that they miscalculated the depth of the problems in their own clubhouse last year, when their solution to a team filled with overpaid underachievers was to fire the manager, tweak the medical staff and reassign clubhouse personnel. By failing to address the roster that was at the core of their problems, the Red Sox took the 2012 season and flushed it down the toilet, along with whatever money fans paid for 81 sellouts (ahem) and whatever hours fans spent in front of their televisions.
And before the Sox suggest that their approach on Thursday was humane, that they did not want to smear Valentine, stop. The Sox took no such approach with Terry Francona, who gave them eight years and two championships, yet was smeared on his way out of the door. Valentine, meanwhile, all but threw his entire coaching staff under the bus, but got better treatment.
The most honest thing the Red Sox said on Thursday came from principal owner John Henry in a statement issued by the team, when Henry penned: “Ultimately, we as owners are responsible for arming our organization with the resources — intellectual, physical, and financial — to return to the levels of competitiveness to which we aspire and to which our fans are accustomed.”
No semantics. No gray areas. Just the bottom line.
Anything else on Thursday was an attempt to manipulate the message and the media, who were invited into a meeting with Lucchino and general manager Ben Cherington on an entity-by-entity basis. NESN. WEEI. MLB.com. The Globe. The Herald. Etc, Etc. Henry needed 35 words to say all that really needed to be said. The Red Sox took up an entire afternoon giving each entity “personal” time, which should tell you just how worried they are about their brand.
What the Red Sox and Lucchino are missing on the Valentine hiring is that everybody within an earshot of professional baseball – in either of the earth’s hemisphere – knew Valentine’s reputation when the Red Sox hired him. Universally, most everyone noted that the Sox were taking a colossal gamble. When the season began, Curt Schilling likened the Red Sox to the Titanic. And despite it all, the Red Sox went ahead with the decision, undercutting the recommendation (Dale Sveum) of their first-year general manager in the process, injecting a team defined by chaos at the end of 2011 with one of the most divisive figures in recent baseball history.
And we are to believe, still, that it seemed like a reasonable idea at the time? It wasn’t reasonable. It wasn’t anything close to reasonable. It was a big gamble.
Lest Cherington completely skate here, the Sox’ decisions on the field were similarly delusional. The Sox needed innings in their starting rotation last fall, and their solution was Daniel Bard. They needed to rebuild the back end of their bullpen, and their solution was the tandem of Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey. Each of those players ultimately lived up to a reputation earned during his professional career, one the Sox arrogantly or carelessly cast aside either due to payroll restrictions or misjudgment. Hiroki Kuroda, Joe Saunders and Edwin Jackson, among others, all were there for the taking last offseason on one-year contracts. Interestingly, all three of those men ended up on playoff teams.
On Thursday, during the media session with the Providence Journal, Lucchino and Cherington were asked about the expectations for next season, about the message they would deliver to their fan base in the wake of a season that has rightfully destroyed public confidence.
Said Lucchino. "You want a send a message to fans, send this for us: Don't judge us by what we say, what platitudes we use. Judge us by the actions we take and the success we have over the next few years."
Of course, that is precisely what we are doing now.
On the field and off, from the (bad) attitudes to the (bad) platitudes, the 2012 Red Sox were a laughingstock.
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