It seems as though the order of the day in Boston Red Sox camp this week is to bash former manager Bobby Valentine. First Daniel Bard indirectly blamed Valentine for failing to recognize the changes in his delivery. Then team president Larry Lucchino admitted that Valentine was the wrong man for the job last year. Not to be outdone, David Ortiz had this to say:
“A lot of players had a lot of issues with our manager last year. An organization, a team, is like the human body. If the head is right, the body is going to function right. If the head is messed up, then the body is going to be all over the place. It seemed like that was part of our situation last year. Guys weren’t comfortable with the manager that we had.”
It’s awfully easy to kick a man while he’s down. It’s easy to blame the guy that’s no longer around to defend himself. The practice isn’t exactly a noble one, but hey, these are ballplayers, not members of some royal hierarchy. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll seize this opportunity to pile on. And why not? It’s Valentine’s Day.
Valentine ruined the Red Sox last season—not Jon Lester, not Josh Beckett, and not Ortiz. Valentine did it. You’ll never here me say that the guy is a bad manager or that he doesn’t know the game. He’s been around baseball all of his life. But he was never the man for this job. Never. GM Ben Cherington knew it. He told everyone as much last year when the hiring process was underway. He specifically indicated that guys like Valentine would not work in this clubhouse. He said it—more than once. But in stepped Lucchino (the real Red Sox GM?) to force the hiring on Cherington and everyone else. I’ve said this before, and I’ll likely have to say it again. Lucchino is a meddler—and not in a good way.
Last April, with the season just underway, Valentine publicly insulted third baseman Kevin Youkilis. This resulted in Dustin Pedroia responding in kind and challenging the move—also publicly. These were two of the team’s leaders and World Series heroes. Pedroia is a former MVP, and one of the toughest, most hard-working players in all of MLB. But Valentine, nevertheless, managed to ruin these player-coach relationships. Cherington knew this would happen. He did. Lucchino, on the other hand, never saw it coming. He missed it entirely.
The fallout was, as we all know, Youkilis being traded to the Chicago White Sox. And the only reason that this trade wasn’t more highly criticized was that rookie Will Middlebrooks shocked everyone by crushing anything and everything at the plate immediately upon his arrival from AAA. But then Middlebrooks, too, became a target of Valentine’s taunting. No player was safe from Bobby V. He questioned the delay in Ortiz’ returning from injury. He lied to Alfredo Aceves in spring training about being allowed to compete for a starting job. He publicly accused his coaching staff of undermining his authority. Even Cherington couldn’t have predicted this.
Off the field, Valentine was just as much of a clown. He crashed his bicycle in Central Park while reading text messages, he arrived late to the ballpark on one occasion, and he frequently fought with members of the media. Valentine is one of those guys that never met a microphone that he didn’t like. And that part of his persona was as much of a distraction as the very antics that he was constantly whining about.
Every thing came to a head in August when a mutiny of sorts was organized by superstar Adrian Gonzalez. And of course, this was all leaked to the press, leaving the Red Sox no choice but to unload the first baseman in a huge deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers along with Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. If you’re keeping count at home, that’s four all-star players that were traded as a result of the Valentine hiring. The Sox received no all-stars in return. Is the team now better off?
Valentine supporters will argue that the players are responsible for the outcome of games, not the manager. So, in that sense, the guys on the field should be held accountable for the Red Sox 69-93 record. To some degree that’s true. But Valentine did absolutely everything in his power outside of actually throwing games to contribute to that 93-loss total.
Now the Red Sox have a new manager. John Farrell was brought in, and he’ll be expected to clean up what’s left of Valentine’s mess. The 2013 roster he’s inherited is not as good as the one Valentine had, but the collective attitude of the team will be improved exponentially. That will result in more wins. That’s a given. And that’s how a manager can make a difference.
Farrell represents the type of hiring that Cherington foresaw last season—a man that loosely fits the mold of former skipper Terry Francona. Because it was Francona, given the way he handled the individual players on the ballclub, who led the team to two World Series titles. Why Lucchino thought a guy like Valentine was a good fit is anyone’s guess. In an interview earlier this week, majority owner John Henry asked that Valentine not be blamed for the failure of the 2012 Red Sox, but the blame be placed solely on ownership. I’m holding him to those words.
Talent-wise, the Red Sox will field an inferior team in 2013 as a direct result of the fallout from the “Valentine Experiment”. If this team fails, the blame will remain with the owners, and in my opinion, Lucchino should be handed his walking papers.
(JM Catellier is the author of the book Fixing Baseball, a guide to restructuring the Hall of Fame. Follow him on Twitter: @FixingBaseball and Facebook, and check out his site: www.fixingbaseball.com)