1. So almost two months to the day after Terry Francona‘s sad goodbye, after the weeks of parades and charades with Pete Mackanin and Dale Sveum and Gene Lamont and Sandy Alomar Jr., tonight we learned the man who will be the next manager of the Red Sox couldn’t be a more polarizing choice if his last name were Steinbrenner.
Robert John Valentine — the only 61-year-old I know of who not only answers to Bobby, but still looks like a Bobby — is what sure appears to be the compromise choice of Larry Lucchino and Ben Cherington to succeed Francona. And the most relevant question we can ask tonight will be probably be a matter of fierce debate through his tenure: Is Bobby V. the right choice?
2. If he manages a team or two that ends its season with a collage of champagne celebrations and duck boat rides, the answer will have to be in the affirmative. But until then, Valentine, a brilliant baseball mind who somehow never finished in first place and made just one World Series in 15 seasons as a manager with the Rangers and Mets, a man who admits he’s a know-it-all and still can’t help himself, a mass of contradictions and conundrums occasionally hidden behind a fake mustache and glasses, will remain a polarizing figure in his new job just as he was in his previous two.
Again: Is he the right choice? I doubt even Lucchino and Cherington are certain of that now, particularly the latter, who knew what he was getting into when he accepted the Red Sox’ GM job but probably didn’t expect to be overruled publicly on his first major decision.
But Valentine was the most daring choice, the boldest option by far, and with apologies to Gene Lamont, whose previous managerial stints look better upon close inspection (two first-place finishes in Chicago, more wins in Pittsburgh than the feeble rosters merited), he’s the one with the most potential to achieve great things.
Of course, he’s also the most likely to spontaneously combust, then tell you he actually invented spontaneous combustion at the kitchen in his restaurant in Stamford, Conn. one fine afternoon. Boston may need four sports radio stations just to keep up with him.
3. Wouldn’t we all love to know the process Cherington, Lucchino (and I suppose John Henry and Tom Werner as well) went through before deciding upon Valentine. I think we know Cherington compromised the most, that Sveum was his guy once the Blue Jays made it clear that John Farrell was unavailable without a ridiculous ransom.
That considered, it absolutely falls upon Lucchino to make sure the new GM isn’t and does not appear marginalized. Valentine, who has been accused of being a relentless and transparent manipulator of more than just bullpens and batting orders, already has a relationship with Lucchino, and it would be a shame if that undermines the authority the impressive and capable Cherington has in the new manager’s eyes.
Here’s hoping it’s made clear to Valentine — by Lucchino, Cherington, Henry, The Eck, Wally the Green Monster, Mrs. Henry, anyone with any clout — that his only job is to utilize his vast knowledge to get the most out a talented, expensive team that won 90 games last season and should have won about a dozen more.
4. Evidence that Valentine is some kind of hard-edged disciplinarian is hard to come by when researching past. In fact, I’m skeptical any exists considering his messy divorce with the Mets nine years ago is alarmingly similar to how it all went so wrong for the 2011 Red Sox. (You just have to substitute marijuana and limos for beer and chicken.)
It’s apparent that those who occupy the Red Sox clubhouse are going to have some real responsibility in policing themselves, whether it’s Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford, David Ortiz, or someone else taking on a more vocal leadership role. I think they are up for the challenge — last year’s embarrassment does linger with these guys — but it’s imperative that Cherington and Lucchino get this across.
Valentine’s style wasn’t to go all Dick Williams on his players, but rather to call them out in the press — he’s casually candid to the point it’s sometimes counterproductive. It will be interesting to see if he’s toned down that aspect of his personality in the nine years since the Mets fired him.
I’m skeptical that a man of Valentine’s confidence and ego learns life-altering lessons between ages 52 and 61, but perhaps he has realized in the interim between his gigs in New York and Boston that he needs to tone down the ancillary nonsense and let his baseball acumen do the talking for him.
If he exerts his authority as the manager conventionally rather than passive-aggressively, all the better. But it would constitute a change in character that I’m not counting on.
5. There will be nights when he manages brilliantly and the Red Sox win, and there will be reasons he makes a move for no other reason than it could make him look smarter than the other guy. His matchups with Joe Maddon could be epic clashes in strategy and one-upmanship.
But look at it this way: You know that he knows this is his last, best chance to cement a baseball legacy, and that should work in the Red Sox’ favor. And no matter what issues Valentine has in Boston — disciplining the clubhouse, dealing with the media, criticizing his players (can’t wait until he compares Crawford unfavorably to Timo Perez) — he can’t mess it up more than it was messed up in September.
That sounds like faint praise, I know, but I really don’t mean it that way. He’s the 45th manager in Red Sox history. The 44th was the best they’ve had in the modern era, and if Bobby Valentine approaches what Terry Francona accomplished, he’ll receive all the accolades his heart desires. But no one, Valentine and his new boss(es) included, knows how it will go.
He could be brilliant and engaging and own this town, he could drive Josh Beckett to run him down with his Ford F-150 in a Fort Myers parking lot two weeks into spring training, and pretty much anything in between would be believable with Valentine.
Nothing should come as a surprise, good or bad. So buckle in. It’s Bobby V.’s show, and before he ever manages a game from the home dugout at Fenway, we already know it will never be boring.
[Note: In an earlier edition of this post, I had Tito as the 43d manager and Bobby V the 44th. I’d like to say it’s because I still refuse to acknowledge that the Joe Kerrigan experience ever happened, but it was really just a goof.]