Playing a special Red Sox Managerial Search edition of Nine Innings while wondering what our old friend Maurice thinks of Bobby V. ...
1. Bobby Valentine, Red Sox manager? With only a hint of trepidation that comes from hiring such a force of unfiltered personality, I like it. I do. Given his polarizing nature, perhaps it's not an easy decision to come to, particularly when there were other appealing candidates. John Farrell would have been ideal, but his current employers seem to appreciate his work. Dale Sveum, who would have provided some element of continuity from the Epstein/Francona years and their organizational philosophies, would have been a fine choice. Sandy Alomar Jr. is going be a smart hire for another franchise soon. Gene Lamont? He's about as appealing as someone named Gene Lamont can be. In a perfect world, the Red Sox would have woken up before September ended, personal circumstances wouldn't have been a factor, and Terry Francona would still be here. But he's been gone for nearly two months now, and the Red Sox are overdue in finding his successor. Bobby V. has some similarities to Tito -- he's a skilled tactician who has seen the game through various prisms, from a promising prospect to an aging journeyman to a young manager and much more. And in other meaningful ways, he's nothing like Tito at all -- whereas Francona protected his players even beyond the length of their loyalties, Valentine is incurably and almost offhandedly candid, and those postgame media sessions will be must-watch on NESN. The Bobby V. Era will be different than the relative peace of the Tito Years (April 2004-August 2011, anyway). He will be unnecessarily controversial at times, he will say and do quirky things, and he's not the disciplinarian some perceive him to be (2011 chicken and beer Red Sox = 2002 pot and limos Mets). But Bobby V. is a bright, skilled manager who will draw good things out of this team. Works for me. Here's hoping he works for the Sox.
2. Ben Cherington has been with the Red Sox organization since 1998. He predates the current ownership, which suggests he's both extraordinarily capable and adaptable. He's worked with Larry Lucchino for nearly a decade, and he knows the details of his tumultuous working relationship with Theo Epstein. There is no doubt that when Cherington accepted the general manager's job that he knew the precise balance of power between ownership, Lucchino, and the baseball ops people. He knew what he was getting into, that Lucchino was going to have an increased role in the aftermath of Theo's departure and that he wouldn't have the clout as a general manager that Theo had. It could lead to some awkward situations beyond the Sveum situation, particularly if the rapport between Lucchino and Valentine pushes Cherington to the margins. But Cherington knew the circumstances when he accepted the job, and he knows the map of the land. This is Lucchino's show, Cherington knew it when he took the job, and he'll be fine. I just hope that Lucchino doesn't change the organizational philosophy of compiling as much useful information as possible -- via scouting and sabermetrics -- while trying to build that perpetual "player development machine" that Epstein emphasized and Cherington surely favors. Changing that approach would be a far bigger shame than any suggestion that the general manager has been marginalized.
3. If you're searching for further clues on what makes such a complicated and contradictory guy tick, I give you two terrific reads, one from the Sports Illustrated Vault, one new in this digital neighborhood this morning: First, Leigh Montville's 1992 SI article on Valentine and his seven-year run without a playoff berth as the Rangers manager. Also, if you somehow missed it yesterday, here's PeteAbe's insightful recollections on the fun, contradictions, and learning experiences of covering Valentine on a daily basis during his years on the Mets' beat. Good stuff.
4. Loved PeteAbe's tidbit that Valentine banned sliding into first base. I cringed every time Mike Greenwell did it, I cringe every time Dustin Pedroia does it, and I cringed every time any useful Red Sox player in between attempted it. It's not false hustle in most cases, but it is dangerous -- remember Kenny Lofton popping out his shoulder in the playoffs against the Red Sox years ago? -- and it's not the fastest way to get to the base.
5. Valentine is an icon in Japan from his managerial days there, and so it's natural to be curious whether he might be able to connect with Daisuke Matsuzaka in a way that Francona and his staff seemingly couldn't, at least for any length of time. Valentine has said that the thought the Red Sox tried to Americanize Dice-K's approach to pitching too much. I spoke to Valentine in July for my media column as well as a Five Questions feature here, and this is what he said when I asked him about Dice-K:
"He's that hard-headed guy who I felt had to get into the perfect scenario and be in the perfect spot to be the pitcher he could be. At times it was that in Boston, but that's a tough place for anyone to change teams and go to and be successful."
Matsuzaka is expected to return from Tommy John surgery sometime this summer. I suspect he'll respond to Valentine to the point that he's not just salvageable, but an actual asset to the Red Sox' pitching staff.
6. If/when Valentine is offered the Red Sox job, is it too much to hope that it ends up looking like a job swap with his predecessor? While Terry Francona has talked to Fox about a role on its broadcast team next season, I'd love to see him end up in the ESPN booth as Valentine's replacement alongside Orel Hershiser and Dan Shulman. Francona was witty and insightful during his two-game stint with Fox during the ALDS, and I'm convinced Tito, Hershiser, and Shulman would be a fantastic trio.
7. I've mentioned this before, but I still can't get over how he casually pointed out, with corresponding video, during an ESPN Red Sox broadcast this year that J.D. Drew isn't the hitter his flawless swing suggests he should be because he very rarely squares up the ball. Never heard anything like that from the analysts, some pretty astute, who watch the team every day. His knowledge is legit, even extraordinary. That should matter more than anything else.
8. Riddle time! If Bobby Valentine and Larry Lucchino both have the reputation as the smartest guy in the room, what happens when ... they're in a room together? Boom. Mind blown, right? Oh, all right, so Lucchino gets the title by default since he's the boss, I suppose. But man, there is the potential for some serious collisions of ego should this happen. Even if you're enthusiastic about the potential hiring, it's logical to believe given Valentine's history that it will end badly. But that's the risk that comes with hiring such a polarizing, vivid personality. The Red Sox will win plenty of ballgames and maybe even a trophy or two while he is here.
Sure, the timeline is off by 30 years or so. But excuse me while I presume Bobby V. is mocking Derek Jeter's range here. Wouldn't put it past him to claim to have invented a time machine.
Yankees fans: Feel free to insert "Jed Lowrie" for Jeter.
And if you're '80s old-school, Jody Reed is always an acceptable synonym for range-challenged.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.