In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a fan of Bobby Valentine for a purely personal, childish standpoint. My first Banner Day was 1984, when my buddy and I made our very own banner and paraded it through center field, across the short outfield to the first base line, then out of the right field gate. It was near the first base line where Valentine was looking at every single banner while nodding in approval. But it was our banner … and only our banner, that Valentine pointed at and verbally expressed approval.
“That one’s nice.” -Bobby Valentine, Banner Day ’84
I was a Bobby V fan from that day forward. Yeah, pretty stupid reason, but when you’re 13 years old you respond to the most simple things. Those three words had me and my buddy convinced that we had Banner Day won. “The third base coach liked our banner, dude! It’s in the freakin’ bag.” Little did we know that Valentine wasn’t one of the three actual judges sitting at the table. And I don’t remember who they were but they obviously couldn’t tell a good banner from their elbow. Bobby V liked ours … so as far as I’m concerned, we won.
So as I discuss Valentine here in this space, he’ll always get the benefit of the doubt from me (that is unless he engineers a trade for Ike Davis at which point he will have crossed into the realm of the enemy, but the chances of that are very very low.) It is with this backdrop that I tell you that the Red Sox have absolutely made the right call in hiring Valentine.
To hope he does well isn’t a stretch for me. After all, in addition to the anecdote above he now gets his paychecks signed by the enemy of my enemy. So of course my half baked analysis will be tinged with that. But trust the neutral part of me when it tells you that the Red Sox pulled off a stroke of genius by hiring Valentine to coach the team. And the Sox deserve a round of applause for not going the route of seemingly everybody else in baseball and picking a manager that lacks in experience, and potentially easily manipulable. Of course it’s this very same ownership that created this problem in part themselves by making Terry Francona the scapegoat for what happened (and then blasting him after he was out the door), and for that they deserve tomatoes being thrown at them. But ownership recognized that the roster, more than anything, needs a strong presence in the locker room. And this has nothing to do with Valentine being some sort of disciplinarian, because his square peg can’t be placed in that round hole. Remember, years before there was a clubhouse incident involving fried chicken and beer, there was a clubhouse incident involving blackjack. How was that handled? All you need to know is that Bobby Bonilla was released that January, and Rickey Henderson was gone by May.
I’m sure Valentine is kinder and gentler now than he was ten years ago. Who isn’t? But make no mistake about this: While everybody on that roster starts off with a clean slate, they’re all on notice. Incidents that involve fried chicken, beer, card games, or sacrificing virgins isn’t going to be tolerated. Whether the upshot is a private conversation, a subtle jab in the media (remember Todd Hundley “not getting any sleep“, a distraction tactic that Bobby’s not afraid to pull out of the bag), or even a trade, Valentine is going to have as much input into that as he’s allowed to have. Considering that ownership was willing to pull the rug out from under GM Ben Cherington in the hiring process means that he’ll have a lot of input. The dynamic between Valentine and Cherington will definitely be one to watch. Can Cherington put his hurt feelings aside? Can Valentine understand that no matter how much input he has, Cherington is still his boss? Will Steve Phillips have the most insightful analysis of Bobby’s past of all of us? (And if so, should we pray for the end of the world?)
Here’s a hint to all of this, and a hint as to why Valentine is perfect for the Red Sox: During one of the Sunday night games this past season, and this was well before the Red Sox fiasco blew up (I think he might have been talking about Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs, but I’m not 100% sure), Valentine had this to say, and I’ll paraphrase to the best of my recollection:
“I love when managers say I have two rules: ‘play hard and be on time’. Well that’s a bunch of baloney. Because there’s a third rule, and that’s this: ‘Represent the organization in a manner that respects your teammates, your bosses, and your fans.'”
That’s what the Red Sox need right now … and not because the Sox missed the playoffs because of fried chicken and beer. Fried chicken and beer worked just fine in July when the Sox had the best record in the league (and the Sox missed the playoffs because Clay Buchholz got hurt and because Sandy Alderson wouldn’t trade Chris Capuano for one start.) But as that’s what the media and the team is so hung up on now, and because the Red Sox need more unity in that room, Valentine is the man that’s going to provide that. And yes, if the Red Sox follow those three rules, things will be fine.
The ones who don’t follow the rules? We’ll find out who they are rather quickly, because again, Valentine will out these guys or just get them traded. Now I don’t know the Red Sox roster in and out as a diehard Red Sox fan would, but it seems to me that Terry Francona’s biggest ally will be the guy that Valentine takes to most: Pedroia. Guy plays hard, prepares hard, and you don’t hear a peep out of him. The rest? Who knows. Somebody like Adrian Gonzalez should be fine, but might get the Hundley treatment at some point. Josh Beckett seems like a hothead who’d love nothing more than to lock horns with Valentine on an issue or two. I might be wrong on that, and I’m probably irresponsible too. But if I’m right, Beckett will lose, and he’ll be the first one to go. Don’t think Valentine wouldn’t get rid of an established player like Beckett or anyone else who isn’t Buchholz, Lester, Pedroia, Gonzalez, or Youkilis if he feels it will help the room, and/or bring in players that fit in more with his managerial style, which is to not rely so heavily on big names and instead have more role players who he can plug in to a variety of situations. Remember, Valentine took a team to the World Series that had an outfield of Jay Payton, Benny Agbayani, Derek Bell, and Timo Perez … with Joe McEwing and Darryl Hamilton among others thrown in for good measure. Role players don’t phase Valentine.
So the only question becomes, “can he win?” Provided he’s learned from his previous experiences with the Mets and is able to make adjustments to how he relates to upper management and to star players, without changing the essence of who he is and how he does things in the room, then he can absolutely win. The good thing about Valentine’s reputation with veteran players is that having been out of the league for ten years, a lot of those veteran players like Cliff Floyd and Tom Glavine who made no bones about how they feel about Bobby are out of the league. So just as the current Mets gave Terry Collins a clean slate coming in and paid little to no attention to his past, the current Red Sox roster will give Valentine a clean slate as well. If Valentine’s relationships with star players stay positive and don’t deteriorate to the level that it did with Hundley, the Sox will be fine. That’s up to both player(s) and manager to work out. Seeing that the reason Valentine’s here is to clean out any real or perceived nonsense, it will be up to the players a little bit more. It’ll certainly be a culture shock for these players, but if they didn’t need it, Valentine wouldn’t be here.
He’s not for everyone, and not for every situation. When the Mets were getting ready to sack Willie Randolph, I wasn’t sure Valentine was the right fit to come back to the Mets with all of the strong personalities there at that point. Though considering what Randolph’s replacement accomplished, my hindsight is willing to take it’s chances. Maybe it’ll turn out that the big personalities will be too much for a guy who had his greatest success in Japan, where not rocking the boat and hammering down the nails that are sticking up are at a premium. There will be rough waves and loose planks in Boston and plenty of them. If anybody can ride that ship back to calm seas, it’s Valentine. This biased, easily manipulable Mets fan wishes him nothing but the best.