Bobby Valentine has made plenty of mistakes this season.
He is too honest for his own good when it comes to discussing the players with the media, telling the truth about them complaining about playing time (Kelly Shoppach) or their minor injuries (Carl Crawford). If somebody makes a mistake, he doesn’t pretend everything is fine.
Terry Francona was good at covering up and often times looked ridiculous defending the indefensible. But clearly he had a good handle on how fragile the egos were in that clubhouse.
Valentine also is too much of an adherent to the idea that if a player has a problem, the player will come see him. After eight years under Francona, who was the definition of a players’ manager, Valentine needed to cross the bridge more than halfway. Maybe not as far as Francona did, but more than he has.
Perhaps the biggest mistake Valentine made was failing, until recently, to forge closer ties with his coaching staff. That one is not entirely his fault given that some of the coaches weren’t willing to give him a chance from the start. In retrospect, Valentine probably should have demanded more coaches he was comfortable with when he got hired instead of accepting house men more loyal to the front office.
If you think those reasons are good enough to fire Valentine after only one season, nothing I write is going to dissuade you.
But in the wake of Jeff Passan’s story for Yahoo! on Tuesday, there a few facts are worth mentioning:
• The Red Sox last made the playoffs in 2009. They last won a playoff game in 2008. It is now 2012. This core group of players was underachieving a long, long time before Valentine showed up. That is undeniable.
The Red Sox have become accustomed to losing. With a few exceptions, most of the players shrug their shoulders and go about their business. That business, with few exceptions, is not winning baseball games.
• It’s beyond comical that some players were offended that Valentine made Jon Lester pitch four whole innings against Toronto on July 22 when he allowed 11 runs. This just in: The Sox had 20 games in the next 21 days. They had worn out the bullpen the night before. Maybe the idea of further wearing out the bullpen so a 5-8 pitcher wouldn’t have his lousy ERA go higher wasn’t a big concern at the time.
• It has become apparent over the last calendar year that the Red Sox front office made some serious miscalculations when it came to assessing the character of players they signed to large free-agent deals or contract extensions.
John Lackey and Carl Crawford are obviously uncomfortable in Boston and it has affected their play. If Adrian Gonzalez was indeed the ringleader against Valentine — and he didn’t deny Passan’s charge that he was — that speaks poorly about his character, too. It is worth noting that Valentine was a staunch defender of Gonzalez in the spring when the first baseman was hitting .256 and going weeks between home runs.
Josh Beckett, hailed as the leader of the pitching staff when he was signed to a huge extension, has been anything but. Unless, of course, the Red Sox wanted their pitchers led by somebody who doesn’t seem to much care what happens to the team.
It’s telling that earlier this season, Valentine pulled Clay Buchholz aside and advised him to be his own man and not to follow the example set by others.
Somehow — and this is the crux of the matter — the Red Sox went from being a franchise of grind-it-out, hard-nosed players to being entitled, selfish and unlikable.
What are they so entitled about? That’s the mystery. Yeah, five years ago you had a heck of a team.
• Dustin Pedroia is the de facto captain of the team. Plenty of players follow him whether he has a “C” on his jersey or not. That he was so tight with Francona was going to be a problem for Valentine. Both men needed to find common ground in spring training and it seems that never happened.
If only for the sake of the team, Pedroia should have been more demonstrative in his support of Valentine and Valentine should have invited Pedroia into his office once in a while. That would have headed off a lot of problems.
Pedroia should be careful. His image is getting more bruised by the day.
• None of this peripheral stuff is an issue if the team is winning and the team isn’t winning because Beckett and Lester have pitched so poorly this season. Francona couldn’t fix that last September and Valentine hasn’t been able to this year, either.
• Finally, there is the overriding idea that the front office and ownership has allowed this to happen. The Red Sox seem intent on appeasing their players as unprofessional behavior often goes unchallenged. The players are unhappy about a doubleheader? Bribe them off with headphones and a yacht trip. The players are out of shape? Fire the strength and conditioning coach. The players quit on the manager? Fire the manager. The players are unhappy with the new manager? Rush to New York and have a meeting with them.
This started years ago, not when Valentine was hired.
You can’t fire 25 players, true enough. But when the time came, the Sox dumped Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez because they were obstacles to success. That time has come again.
If Valentine gets fired, all it will be is more appeasement.
Then again, you might be doing him a favor. Then he can sit around for a season, collect on his contract and not worry about winning. In that sense, he would be just like the players he was given to manage.