Baseball and the Red Sox have occupied a meaningful place in my life for about as long as I can remember, and it’s out of tradition and habit that a season’s pending end comes with a tinge of melancholy.
No matter whether the final scenes feature a popup falling softly into Graig Nettles‘s glove, a routine and soon forgotten play concluding a routine and soon forgotten season, or a pigpile of delirious humanity on a mound in St. Louis, I always dread the long, cold wait until next year.
But that sense of wanting the season to last just a little bit longer, well, it’s not coming around this year. Not with this team and this manager.
I’m not waiting for next year. I’m waiting for this year to hurry up and turn into Celtics season.
Mercifully, a season that never really began — they were never more than five games above .500 — is almost over. Tonight marks the 150th game of the Bobby Valentine era, a justifiable one-and-done, it’s-not-us-it’s-you divorce if there ever should be one. It will be either their 69th win or their 82d loss during this season almost entirely devoid of memories worth retaining.
The completion of tonight’s formality will leave 12 games to go. And once those dozen games are complete, he has to go.
There should be no drama around it, no period of further evaluation, and surely no second thoughts. He was the wrong man for the job, capable tactically but incapable of being tactful, always certain above all else to leave himself enough wiggle-room in his passive-aggressive criticisms that he could always claim his intent or his “humor” was misunderstood.
Last September, during the 7-20 meltdown and the nuclear fallout that followed, it didn’t seem like things could get any worse. Instead, Terry Francona was replaced by a person in Valentine whose greatest talent, even beyond ballroom dancing, deck-building, or being a wrap impresario, is making everything worse. Everything.
He gripes about drama, as he did on the “Dan Patrick Show” Wednesday, and yet he seems wholly incapable of passing up an opportunity to create some. There have been more Bobby V.-inflicted or exaggerated messes this season than there were in the first 7 seasons and 5 months of Francona’s tenure.
The abbreviated list: There was the unsolicited Kevin Youkilis criticism that essentially cost him the clubhouse, the time he turned Liam Hendriks into a lefty, batting Scott Podsednik third then feigning ignorance about the lineup, his contentious, weird “punch-you-in-the-mouth” interview with Glenn Ordway (possibly a point in his favor, actually), the backfired sarcasm aimed at Will Middlebrooks, letting Alfredo Aceves show him up and show him up again, and on and on.
Most recently, there was his decision to send up Daniel Nava (.148 in 62 second-half plate appearances) to hit for struggling Jose Iglesias with two strikes, a moment when Valentine confirmed beyond a doubt that he’ll never resist the chance to look like the smartest guy in the room, even if it means humiliating a young player in a meaningless game.
Can you imagine if he had Bill Belichick’s job? He’d might have traded Wes Welker to the Chicago Bears for the football equivalent of Zach Stewart by now.
If the Iglesias/Nava look-at-me nonsense wasn’t the quintessential Bobby V. moment, then it’s second to last Friday’s occurrence, when Valentine offered this response to the question of whether there were specific aspects of the roster that could use reinforcements from Triple A: “This is the weakest roster we’ve ever had in September in the history of baseball. It could use help everywhere.”
The hyperbole there is understandable to some degree — he’s frustrated, very little has gone right, and he’s smart enough to know he’s blown his last chance to manage in the big leagues, a chance that took a decade to come along.
But just when you start to feel a tinge of sympathy for him, you remember that he’s covering his own failings, notice that he retreats as soon as he’s called on it, and that it’s not really close to the truth — he has one former MVP (Dustin Pedroia), last year’s runner-up for MVP (Jacoby Ellsbury), and a couple of relatively accomplished starters (Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz), not to mention workmanlike pros such as Cody Ross and Jarrod Saltalamacchia and a group of young players trying to establish that they belong. The Astros should be so lucky.
Until his public embarrassment of Iglesias — someone he wanted to make the team out of camp, by the way — and his backhanded dismissal in one sarcastic swoop of the likes of relatively promising players Ryan Lavarnway, Junichi Tazawa and Ryan Kalish, I thought there was a chance he might be back next year.
But a manager who can’t play for the future doesn’t deserve to have one himself. Even Larry Lucchino, who is going to have to eat a concession stand’s worth of crow on this, cannot justify keeping him around now.
Bobby Valentine has 12 games left as the manager of the Boston Red Sox after Wednesday. It’s not a lot before the fresh start mercifully comes around again.
But it’s also plenty of time for him to aggravate the fans and players with a dubious, self-serving comment or decision, and then do his who-me? moonwalk one more time.
For a man reputed to have many talents, he’s proven here that he does nothing better than that.