Bobby V.: You Knew From The Start It Would End Badly

Many great ideas have sprung from our town since Adriaen Block arrived on the Connecticut River in 1614. Larry Lucchino's idea to bring Ben Cherington along to meet Bobby Valentine at the Hartford Club last Nov. 3 wasn't one of them.

It was, let New England history show, a blockhead idea.

It was an idea that threw open the doors to internal discord and external controversy. It was an idea doomed from the start. When the Red Sox looked toward Valentine as their prospective manager following that World Affairs Council event on Prospect Street, I argued, "The prospect of it ending in flames on Yawkey Way isn't really a prospect at all. It's a guarantee."

I was wrong on one count: It didn't end spectacularly. There was no conflagration. Bobby V. died of a handful of bad arms, a thousand injuries and a million brush fires. By the time the club announced Thursday that he wouldn't return in 2013, in fact, Valentine already was a pile of wet ashes. It took only 10 months and the worst Red Sox record in nearly five decades. In retrospect, Valentine fired himself in April, in July, in August and again in September. The press release of his dismissal, less than 24 hours after a 14-2 embarrassment in Game 162 at Yankee Stadium, served only as the notarized death certificate.

All the injuries that led to a record number of 56 roster players and nearly 1,500 manpower games lost, miserable starting pitching by some miserable starting pitchers — these cannot be placed at Valentine's Stamford doorstep. Yet as the franchise desperately tries to put "Mean Girls" drama in its rear-view mirror and sound baseball decisions in its headlights, Valentine is an unnerving, unpredictable dynamic that could no longer be tolerated. The million brush fires were his fault.

Appearing as an ESPN analyst — a position Valentine, 62, held at this time last year — Terry Francona made an entirely valid point about managing the Red Sox. There is no need to go out looking for news in Boston. In Boston, news will find you. That's how deep the passion is for baseball, and that's how superficial the arguments surrounding the Red Sox can be. Even little things are big things. Francona knows this better than any man alive.

The status quo always bored Bobby V. His track record is filled with evidence he could never leave well enough alone. It turns out he couldn't leave bad enough alone, either.

When asked if he had "checked out" on the season on Sept. 5 by Glenn Ordway of WEEI, Valentine answered, "If I were there right now, I'd punch you right in the mouth. Ha, ha. How's that sound?"

Nine days later, when he was asked if he could use more call-ups, Valentine said, "This is the weakest roster we've ever had in September in the history of baseball. It could use help everywhere."

As late as Wednesday, Valentine said he felt undermined by some of his coaches. He offered no specifics. He gave no names. On radio and again in the Yankee Stadium media room, he simply said, "That's just what I feel." Curt Schilling called Valentine "gutless" on ESPN. Even the diplomatic Francona said he would have confronted coaches individually rather than paint them with a public brush.

And those are the brush fires that occurred after the season already was toast.

When Cherington appeared to be overruled on Dale Sveum and strong-armed toward Valentine last November, the general manager was made to look weak. When ownership subsequently allowed players to go above Valentine to cry a river during the season, Valentine, in turn, was made to look weak. The Red Sox keep hiring new sheriffs and then give them plastic badges. Whether John Farrell ends up getting the job, or it's somebody else, that must stop. These days all successful managers are "players' managers." What they cannot be are players' stooges.

The Red Sox did the right thing Thursday. They didn't let this thing drag on. Valentine was gone 15 hours after the final pitch. Last year, Cherington's role in selecting a successor to Francona appeared to be delayed and then waylaid by Lucchino's desire for a big-bang, big name. In the written statement Thursday, Cherington notably was the first one quoted. And owner John Henry said, "We have confidence in Ben and the kind of baseball organization he is determined to build."

No training wheels. This should be Cherington's bike to ride. And unlike Valentine, he cannot crash it in Central Park the way Bobby V. did Tuesday.

"This year's won-loss record reflects a season of agony," Lucchino said. "We are determined to fix that which is broken."

Lucchino must see he did some of the breaking. The question now is can he swallow his ego and let baseball operations lead the way in hiring a new manager. Can he let baseball ops take that quarter of a billion dollars he helped save in the mind-frying nine-player deal with the Dodgers and trust those guys to wisely rebuild from the ashes?

We'll see.

On Wednesday, Valentine conceded if he had it to do over again he wouldn't have said what he did about Kevin Youkilis in April. He wouldn't have said, "I don't think he's as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason."

Did Valentine, who had wiggle room starting out to go after slackers, actually think it was wise to go after Youkilis? He and Dustin Pedroia were the two guys who left it all on the field. And why, for heaven's sake, would Valentine later bring it up himself that he greeted rookie Will Middlebrooks in the dugout after an error with this sarcastic jab: "Nice inning, kid."

On ESPN, Buster Olney pointed to a spring training incident in which Valentine screamed at Mike Aviles during a drill. Others pointed to the Youkilis drama. Others pointed to the players' meeting with the owners in July in New York. Everybody seems to know the moment when Valentine lost it with the players. On Wednesday, Valentine suggested it was his reputation coming in that he couldn't overcome.

Eccentric? Quirky? Occasionally weird? All of the terms follow Bobby V. Yet, it is his condescending reputation that dogs him most. Valentine has forgotten more baseball than most people know. He has a great baseball mind. Yet managing the game is also about managing people and when enough people think your life mission is to act like the smartest guy in the room, well, that's not good.

"I don't have time to deal with intelligence or morality," Valentine lectured to the media in March. "I can't deal with those. If ignorant people misinterpret simple statements, it's not my fault. If factual statements are misconstrued as criticism, that's somebody else's problem."

In the end, both the criticism and the fact of 93 losses became his problem. The team didn't win. He couldn't win. It was a blockhead idea from the start.

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