His new job requires not so much that he talks a good game, but manages one.
Still, Bobby Valentine has never been known for being at a loss for words, whether it was during his two years as a baseball analyst on ESPN or managerial stints with the Mets, Rangers, or even in Japan, where he learned to speak and write the language.
But at the formal beginning of his introductory press conference as the 45th manager in the history of the Red Sox, he seemed briefly awed by the magnitude of the moment.
“I’m honored, I’m humbled, I’m pretty damn excited,” said Valentine, animated yet choosing his words deliberately after he was introduced by general manager Ben Cherington and donned his new No. 25 Red Sox jersey. “I’m looking around for the teleprompter. And I don’t see one.”
Valentine, a Stamford, Conn., native whom Cherington referenced as a native New Englander in his opening remarks, was quick to thank the first-year general manager and the Red Sox ownership for choosing him at the end of a process that required more than two months to find a successor for Terry Francona.
“I understand how difficult this was for the organization because of the outstanding candidates involved in process,” said Valentine, who received a two-year contract. “I understand the rich tradition of baseball in this city, of sports in this community. I understand the great rivalries this team has. And I understand the great talent that has been assembled here.
“This day is a special day. It’s more than a special day,” the 61-year-old added. “It’s the beginning of a life that I think extend beyond anything I ever thought of doing. The talent level, and the players that we have, and this organization, is a gift to anyone. I’m the receiver of that gift.”
He then turned to Cherington, extended his right hand, smiled, and said, “I think we’re going to do this, man, and I really and truly appreciate the opportunity.”
Valentine, known has a bright tactician with a knack for earning both loyal admirers and bitter adversaries in abundance during his stints with the Rangers and Mets, offered a savvy choice of words when he thanked the Red Sox ownership for “giving the blessings to Ben for his decision.”
It was a subtle way of dulling the perception that Cherington, who initially presented now-Cubs manager Dale Sveum to ownership as a candidate, had been overruled by team president Larry Lucchino, a longtime friend of Valentine’s.
It’s a notion Cherington himself quickly shot down when he was asked about the perception.
“It’s just not true,” Cherington. “We went through a very thorough process. We talked to a lot of candidates, we did a lot of research on a lot of candidates. At the end of the process, I made a recommendation to ownership, I believe it was sometime on Monday, that we offer the position to Bobby, and we did sometime Monday or Tuesday morning, then he accepted it. That is the truth. It was a collaborative process. Ownership, as they as they absolutely should be, was involved in the discussion about all the candidates.”
During Cherington’s remarks to begin the festivities, there was no indication that anyone but Valentine was his first choice, though he did begin by thanking the other candidates, Sveum, Pete Mackanin, Torey Lovullo, Sandy Alomar Jr., and Gene Lamont.
“In the end, I’m very confident that we did find the right person in Bobby Valentine,” said Cherington, who was introduced as Theo Epstein’s replacement Oct. 25. “When I started this process, I said that we were looking for someone who cared about players, who had a strong voice, who was willing to have difficult conversations with players, who could collaborate with the front office and ownership, who could make strong arguments at the right time, someone who was open-minded, and someone who wants to win.
“Based on those criteria, I feel very strongly that we found the right person in Bobby Valentine. He’s a native New Englander, he’s spent over 40 years in the game, he’s managed for parts of 15 seasons in the big leagues, he’s been to a World Series as a manager [with the 2000 Mets], he won a title in Japan. He has enormous baseball intellect, he is creative, he is open-minded, and he badly wants to win. I really look forward to working with him as we face the challenges that we have this offseason. He’s the right person to lead us into 2012 and beyond.”
Valentine takes over a team rich with top-notch talent such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and Adrian Gonzalez, but also one that missed the postseason for the second straight season following an epic September collapse amid clubhouse chaos that expedited the departures of Epstein and Francona.
He implied that he won’t judge players by what happened in September, but rather by what he sees himself.
“Something happened in September that I wasn’t involved in. I didn’t see it first-hand,” said Valentine, who experienced a similar situation when the 2002 Mets’ clubhouse went awry, costing him his job. “And I think that reputation is something that other people think about you. Right now, maybe this group of guys have a reputation that’s not warranted. Because everything I’ve heard about the players who wore the uniform last year and the manager and the coaching staff says nothing but they had great character.
“There might have been a couple characters that got out of line, there might have been situations that got spinning too fast, I don’t know. But I can tell you that I’m looking forward to working with this group and establishing a culture of excellence.”
Valentine’s reputation as a bright baseball mind also comes with the acknowledgment that he can come across as a know-it-all. While it may be a concern to Red Sox fans uncertain of the hire, it is a reputation he’s always been willing to talk about, and he addressed it again today.
“I have a lot of adjectives [said] about me,” Valentine said. “I can’t describe them all and I won’t even defend them all. It’s reputation versus character. I think people who know me, and take the time to get to know me, understand that I have some qualities in my character that are OK.
“I am not the genius that I’ve heard people refer to me as. I am not the polarizing guys that people refer to me as. I’m not the monster that breathes fire that some people have referred to me as. I’m a guy. I’m a regular human being with regular feelings and regular attributes that make me what I am. I think some of them, as I’ve been told by people who know me, are OK. I don’t know if I’m polarizing or any of those other things. It’s just what I am.”
During his two seasons as an analyst on ESPN, Valentine was unsparingly candid, and that included when he analyzed Red Sox games as part of the network’s “Sunday Night Baseball” broadcast crew. He criticized pitcher Josh Beckett’s prolonged pace between pitches and disapproved of Carl Crawford’s batting stance. He said he doesn’t believe that his comments could put him at an immediate disadvantage with those players now.
“Part of that job as an analyst is to be critical,” Valentine said, “I believe that if some people heard what I had to say and took exception with it, I get that.”
He then indirectly referenced his comments about Beckett and Crawford.
“I’m sure they’re looking forward to communicating with me to say it’s OK to have an open stance or take 20 seconds in between pitches,” he said, drawing laughter.