The fresh start so desperately required by the rudderless Red Sox arrived symbolically and fiscally during those two surreal August days when the Dodgers graciously allowed Ben Cherington to heave $270 million worth of sluggish and/or injury-prone underachievers in their general direction.
Though it’s not easy to accept when a team that began the season with pennant hopes waves the white flag with more than a month remaining, the blockbuster that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and that other guy to Los Angeles was necessary and perhaps overdue.
It was not, however, a total fresh start, for one more significant transaction was required. Fortunately for the present and future of this franchise, that happened Thursday afternoon when Bobby Valentine was fired after one disastrous season as manager.
If there was ever a no-brainer about a manager, this was it. Baseball-reference will record the vital stats for all eternity, and the record shows that during Valentine’s single pathetic season — which came a decade after he left the Mets in similar disarray — the Red Sox won 69 games, lost 93, went 7-22 after Sept. 1, and never really contended save for a brief glimmer after the All-Star break before David Ortiz hobbled off to the disabled list, taking any faint hopes with him.
Valentine is not the worst manager in recent Red Sox history (my frame of reference begins in 1978). Joe Kerrigan, whose ego ran amok to the point that he wanted to change Manny Ramirez’s swing and endangered Pedro Martinez’s health, has retired that dubious distinction. Butch Hobson was overmatched, Don Zimmer was paranoid and petty. But save for Kerrigan, there hasn’t been one I’ve been happier to see go.
I’ve had months to come up with a better way of saying it, but I don’t know that there is one, so I’m going to stick with my standard line: Valentine made everything worse, which is actually quite impressive given the mess he inherited from last September. His default mode is sarcasm, and he turtles as if he had been trained by Claude Lemieux when he’s asked about his latest passive-aggressive, often snide comment that inevitably turned a brush fire into an inferno. Who, me? Yes, you. Again.
Valentine is not a disciplinarian. He is a divider who never conquers, and while the players are hardly innocent in this disaster, they saw through his insincerity, pandering, and selective criticism from the beginning. It’s not often I say Curt Schilling was right .. but Curt Schilling was right. And so was Dustin Pedroia — that’s not the way they should do things around here. Valentine fell off the figurative bike and into the ditch before the team even departed Fort Myers.
The most damning evidence against him is not his relationship with Kevin Youkilis or Pedroia or the venomous Alfredo Aceves, or any other player still here or long gone. It was those petty feuds with the coaching staff. The Red Sox’ starting pitching was atrocious almost to a man, yet Valentine and pitching coach Bob McClure barely spoke to one another until the latter was eventually dismissed. Does that suggest a manager who is spending as much energy as possible in a quest for success? No. It suggests a manager protecting his territory, ego, and image at the expense of the team.
I don’t understand how anyone can still back him. Yes, it was just one year, but all the evidence necessary to prove he was not the right man for the job was collected long before the Red Sox went quietly in the ninth inning of Game 162 in the Bronx Wednesday night. Chad Ochocinco got one year. You didn’t hear anyone pining for the Patriots to bring him back, you know? Sometimes it takes less than a year to prove incompetence beyond all doubt. It took Valentine a couple of months.
We were told Valentine was a bright tactician. I bought that one, clinged to it. But I’m still waiting for an example. What’s his legacy there? Pinch hitting for Jose Iglesias in the middle of an at-bat? Putting Scott Podsednik in the No. 3 spot, then feigning ignorance when asked why? Leaving Jon Lester in to give up double-figure runs, prompting the silly but telling Bobby V Super-Duper Haters Club meeting in New York?
His greatest success? I suppose it’s getting good seasons out of relievers such as Scott Atchison and Junichi Tazawa, or perhaps finding roles in which roster filler such as Daniel Nava and Pedro Ciriaco could thrive in short bursts. Of course, they were also two regulars on — how exactly did he put it? — “the weakest roster we’ve ever had in September in the history of baseball.” Apparently his support began and ended at writing their names on the lineup card.
If there’s any blessing in this disaster, I suppose it’s twofold: Maybe now the Red Sox will stop making decisions with NESN in mind. If Tom Werner vows on some radio show that they’re going to sign a big free agent this offseason, you’ll know they’re still tone-deaf and hopeless.
Also — and this is even more crucial — now maybe Larry Lucchino will stop fancying himself as Earl Weaver in sharper clothing and let Ben Cherington do his job. The first-year general manager has had more misses than hits so far, but he’s no newbie; he has been a part of this organization longer than John Henry has owned the team. He is bright, reasonable, informed, and, at least Thursday, decisive.
His next well-considered but swift move should be to find Valentine’s successor, starting with an inquiry about what it would take to get John Farrell, another well-rounded baseball man, from Toronto. If the price is prohibitive, the search should commence immediately, and the choice should be Cherington’s call and his alone.
Who knows, perhaps the next guy, whoever he is, can get them over the seven-win hump next September.
But for now, we’ll settle for Valentine’s greatest contribution during his year here — going away, and leaving behind a truly fresh start.