November 24, 2011
This started Nov. 3 at the Hartford Club. And make no mistake, it would end spectacularly. This started with an arranged meeting before a World Affairs Council event on Prospect Street. And the prospect of it ending in flames on Yawkey Way isn't really a prospect at all.
It's a guarantee.
Bobby Valentine? Manager of the Red Sox? They won't only be wearing pink hats at Fenway in September of 2013 or 2014. They'll be wearing pink asbestos suits.
1. Valentine is from Connecticut. 2. The chances of conflict before a crash and burn are unavoidable. From a selfish, drama-loving Connecticut columnist's point of view, I'm not 100 percent behind Bobby V. becoming Red Sox manager. I'm 1,000 percent. The storyline is juicier than a Thanksgiving Butterball.
Gene Lamont is too old. Torey Lovullo is too inexperienced. A package of the two, with Lovullo being groomed, is too safe. The Valentine situation is perfectly combustible. No, no, not in the Ozzie Guillen way. It's more nuanced than a Hothead Gone Wild. Brilliance, ego and strong wills make for a complex ballroom dance and wouldn't you know it? Bobby was once a champion ballroom dancer. I, for one, can't wait for Bobby V. and Dan Shaughnessy to do the deadline samba.
Little ends quietly in Boston. Managerial reigns end even less quietly. Grady Little left as the dumbest manager in the history of baseball for trusting Pedro. Terry Francona "resigned" as John Belushi's tour director for Delta Tau Chi.
Boston's need to eat its baseball skippers is well documented, even if the documentation at times needs to be rinsed through the hyperbole cycle. Off-day pitchers scarfing down fried chicken and beer in the clubhouse? Child's play compared to Valentine's 2002 Mets. There were accusations of at least seven players smoking dope. Keith Hernandez claimed the team quit on Valentine, although he later apologized. When the owners weren't feuding, Valentine and GM Steve Phillips battled in the media. Veterans went directly to owner Fred Wilpon to try to oust Valentine.
The 2010 Red Sox were the Spartans at Thermopylae compared to the 2002 Mets, a strong playoff contender in the spring and a last-place finisher in the fall. After an inspired World Series appearance in 2000 and even more inspired community work after 9/11, Bobby V. went out ugly in 2002 and hasn't been back in the major leagues.
That's not to say he isn't brilliant. He is. One only needed to stand around his Shea Stadium office or flick on ESPN the past few years to appreciate his knowledge, his creative thinking, his ability to examine different angles.
And man, he wants this job. Bad. He said so Monday after a full day of interviews with the Red Sox brass. And Wednesday on WEEI, his ESPN partner Karl Ravech went so far as to say Valentine "smelled blood." Having said all that …
If I were making the hire, I would steer clear. Not because of a fiery end, but because there's too great a chance that everyday conflicts during the interim could impede immediate success. The Red Sox are capable of winning the 2012 and 2013 World Series and the potential damage of Valentine's self-inflicted wounds must be weighed against his brilliance.
Bobby V will win the job interview. He'll win the podium. He'll win the box office. Perfectly aware he never has won a World Series title, he will be entirely focused. He will use statistical analysis, heck, he was using it three decades ago in Texas. He will challenge players. His game managing is top tier. Fans will love him this December, because he'll take their minds off September.
My fears, if I were making the decision — I'm not entirely sure who is — are for when the honeymoon ends and Valentine stops talking about how lucky he is to manage such a storied franchise in such a crazed baseball town. My fears are how he'll handle the daily suggestions pouring down from Bill James and the brass about who to pitch when and who to bat where. My fears would be how he'll handle the constant media barrage, talk radio and a fan base that knows only one thing for sure in July: It is smarter than the manager.
Except this manager knows he is the smartest guy in the room. Bobby V. is not a pin cushion. He is a pin. There are shelf-lives on pins like Valentine and it's not because he's 61.
He has demonstrated he'll get bored with the status quo. He's known to start needless fires, act eccentrically — remember the fake nose and glasses? In Boston, little quirks can become big deals and Valentine's inclination is not always to run cover for players or break out the fire extinguisher.
The right man for the job, of course, is former pitching coach John Farrell. The real rot in the September collapse was in the pitching staff. Farrell would have brought acumen, stability and respect. As a manager, he would have brought the same. And that's why the Blue Jays won't let Farrell back across the border.
In his stead, the Red Sox walk the thin border between genius and baseball insanity. Can Bobby V. work with Ben Cherington? Can Cherington work with Valentine? It's more than Valentine accepting advice. What happens when he starts dispensing advice to his GM and owners? He is a man with a lot of ideas and he isn't afraid to express them. Heck, he doesn't back away from the idea that he invented the sandwich wrap. Yep, Al Gore met Tony La Russa and, voila, we have Bobby V. Will John Henry, Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino and Cherington bend to Valentine's wishes? Or might that cause a rift among his bosses?
Right now, Cherington looks almost powerless in this process. Lucchino seems to be enjoying his role of outlasting Theo Epstein. No matter what Cherington says, Bobby V. looks like Lucchino's guy. Dale Sveum was Ben's guy. Sveum went to lunch with the owners and the next thing we know he's manager of the Cubs.
After Lucchino got Cherington to meet with Valentine in Hartford before a panel discussion on the global impact of baseball, Lucchino called Bobby V. a "great man and a great manager." The power of those words seemed to dissolve when Cherington didn't include him in the initial interview process. The search has dragged on ad infinitum, however, and the rules seemed to change midstream.
After a historic September collapse, the organization has wandered around shell-shocked. Valentine would give them a definitive voice. More than that, he will give a different voice than Francona. As Valentine-supporter Peter Gammons said, he will "rattle cages." Taking people out of their comfort zone can be a good thing, but when sometimes it seems like it's done for Valentine's self-amusement … watch out. And if a Lucchino-Valentine power base is wedged between Cherington and the owners … watch out again.
Then again, as a drama king, I love the fireworks. So you go, Bobby V! I'll have a turkey wrap at your press conference.
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