Valentine, Like Queeg, Convicted Himself

This is not to suggest that any known or alleged president of Red Sox Nation should proclaim, "Our long national nightmare is over." But it is to suggest that the Red Sox and their minions can go to sleep tonight not having to wonder whom Bobby Valentine threw under the proverbial bus this time, if not shooting himself in the proverbial foot yet again over some actual or alleged slight or accusation.

It is also to suggest general manager Ben Cherington, who did not want Valentine after Terry Francona essentially resigned before he could be fired last offseason, has been as gracious as a man can be in assessing what was or wasn't until Valentine cashed his own check. You can only speculate what truly coursed Cherington's mind as he composed the statement by which Valentine's execution was announced Thursday:

"Our 2012 season was disappointing for many reasons. No single issue is the reason, and no single individual is to blame. We've been making personnel changes since August, and we will continue to do so as we build a contending club. With an historic number of injuries, Bobby was dealt a difficult hand. He did the best he could under seriously adverse circumstances, and I am thankful to him."

Numerous managers over numerous seasons have been dealt comparable hands. Most of them manage to resist the temptation to quell such fires with gasoline.

The absolute best Valentine could have done was to figure out a way to harness his tongue to the point where it coordinated with his mind before letting it wave, and to learn the lessons his failure to learn cost him clubhouses in Texas and New York in earlier generations. But he walked into a clubhouse fragile enough, barely recovering from that surrealistic pennant race collapse, and detonated a depth charge.

He walked into a fragile enough clubhouse, barely recovering from a surrealistic pennant race collapse, and detonated a depth charge. And it is fair to a certain extent to say that in one sense the Red Sox never saw it coming. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe isolates the point:

"Valentine often couldn't contain his emotions and said things he shouldn't have said. But that should not have been a surprise, because he has always been that way. He never deviated from who he was, as much as the Red Sox tried to suppress him.

"How could the Red Sox not have done their homework on Valentine? He has always ruffled feathers, always put his foot in his mouth, yet they seemed surprised."

Cafardo may not be quite right when he goes on to suggest the players preferred someone "more supportive and never critical — the way Francona was for eight seasons." Francona simply saw no point to airing out a player in public. He had reasons often enough to criticize a player but, if you didn't count Manny Ramirez's impossible-to-ignore public act, Francona inclined more toward approaching a player and speaking to him man to man.

It wasn't Francona's style to push a plunger on the air or in the press. It certainly wasn't Francona's style to pick unfounded feuds with any players, never mind particularly popular players. If Francona were to have noticed Kevin Youkilis's physical struggles early in the season, he would never have questioned Youkilis's heart. Not privately and certainly not publicly.

That isn't political correctness at play, as Cafardo might describe it. That's just plain sense.

Yes, there were instances in which you could say Valentine himself was undermined. He wasn't Cherington's choice no matter what team president Larry Lucchino propagated upon his hiring last winter. But there were instances enough before the season began that Valentine undermined himself. He wasn't happy about the coaching staff holdover, and the holdover coaches weren't happy with him, but he didn't seem to work all that arduously in bringing them aboard whatever his train might have been.

Then he had the audacity to suggest the coaching staff undermined him, the afternoon before the Red Sox put paid to this trainwreck of a season by letting the New York Yankees bury them alive Wednesday night, showing barely any semblance of pride enough to think at least about forcing the Empire Emeritus into a potential tiebreaker game. Or, if not that, considering the engaging Baltimore Orioles ended up on the wrong side against Tampa Bay, at least going home on the heels of just a plain old win.

"That figures," was all bullpen coach Gary Tuck would say when told of Valentine's the coaches-undermined-me remarks. Small wonder: Valentine, remember, took a nasty poke at pitching coach Bob McClure, when McClure needed to miss three weeks in a family emergency: "Bob McClure was on his two-week vacation — I'm sorry, not vacation, his two weeks away from the team," Valentine said on WEEI.

This is the same man, managing the New York Mets over a decade and a half ago, who took comparable cheap shots at pitcher Pete Harnisch, suffering clinical depression in the aftermath of quitting smokeless tobacco. The same manager who questioned Hideo Nomo's guts, when the struggling Nomo declined a starting assignment in a critical stretch drive game because he believed his record to that point didn't justify handing him the honour of such an important start.

How indeed could the Red Sox not have done their homework?

When they found a trading partner in Los Angeles and unloaded Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto for James Loney and prime prospects, there were those who saw it as removing not just a nuclear payroll weight but some of Valentine's actual or alleged most vocal critics. There were others who saw it as a signal that a major housecleaning to include Valentine — precisely when, who knew — had just begun.

Perhaps the one thing above all that you can say undermined Valentine fairly was the disabled list. Twenty-seven Red Sox went on it this season. When owner John Henry spoke in August, on a trip to Seattle in which enough thought he might be traveling to hand Valentine his head on a plate, Henry did say, "A lot has been written about injuries to key players this year. The impact of that on the Sox this year should not be discounted."

Fair enough. But the Yankees were bedeviled by injuries enough — and they won the American League East.

The Oakland Athletics were bedeviled by a few injuries, none more shocking than the line drive pitcher Brandon McCarthy took in the head — and they stole the American League West right out from under the Texas Rangers.

The Orioles, who looked at one point as though they'd steal the East right out from under the Yankees, had plenty of injury issues — and they still managed to pocket the number one wild card in the bargain while enjoying their first winning season since 1997.

The Atlanta Braves, whose own devastating September 2011 collapse could be dwarfed only by that of the Red Sox, sent 18 players to the disabled list this year — and they pocketed the number one National League wild card.

On none of those teams could you think of any player, any coach, with cause to believe, never mind to say aloud, that their manager had walked into a testy situation and detonated a bomb in the middle of it.

Of course the 2011 Braves didn't start to tunnel their way back out of their September cave-in by giving their manager what amounted to a choice between burying himself or being buried. Fredi Gonzalez not only lived to play another season but, as of this writing, he's got at least the chance to take a little revenge against the St. Louis Cardinals, who snuck into the National League's only wild card slot at the Braves' expense last year.

Valentine is an intelligent man. Even his most severe critics know that. But he left a huge opening the moment he was hired when he blurted out, unprompted, "I'm not the genius that I've heard people refer to me as." When he questioned Josh Beckett's game pacing — it sure didn't seem to be a problem when Beckett led a World Series-winning staff in 2007 — and then didn't seem to know when Beckett, coming back from an injury, would throw a bullpen session, and when he left Jon Lester in to take an eleven-run beating on a day Lester clearly didn't have his best stuff, his introductory press conference remark blasted back in blinding neon.

Before Wednesday's game, Valentine made a point of walking around the field during practice to talk to each player, handshakes and hugs included, and the players simply had to know it was goodbye. "It may have been his best moment with the Red Sox," ESPN's Buster Olney writes, "and it's unfortunate that it came at the very end, long after his future as manager had been decided."

As the old song hit said, "Too much, too little, too late." Valentine had in common with Captain Queeg a crew not intrinsically allied to him, an inability to forge the alliances he needed, and what proved a talent for convicting himself with his own testimony. Unlike Queeg, who collapsed during his first and only command, Valentine had a command record to which to refer, and those responsible for assigning him the one he's now lost didn't review the record carefully enough.

Comments and Conversation

October 7, 2012

Ct fan:

When is enough, enough? I see you give Francona a pass in this article when he was the start of this mess. Bobby was brought in as the fall guy and we all know it. It’s time to move on. Why don’t you write something that hasn’t already been said

October 7, 2012

Jeff:

Ct: Why don’t you tell me when enough is enough and write something that hasn’t been said, by the Valentine apologists, a few dozen times over in the bargain? But there’s one way in which, yes indeed, it wasn’t fair to Valentine. Bringing in Valentine—-his track record is very much on the record, as the Red Sox would have known if they’d bothered doing their due diligence (if they did do it, and hired him anyway, they’re even more foolish than they’ve looked already)—-to manage a team in the shape these Red Sox were in coming off that collapse was something along the line of bringing John Dillinger to restore a bank.

Valentine wasn’t brought in as the fall guy. He was brought in to succeed the fall guy. And the net results are there for one and all to see.

October 8, 2012

haroldburbank:

players, not V, lost all the 2012 games. sox rotation failed. bullpen largely failed. key position players failed or injured. brass failed to staff the team properly, for injuries, poor rotation, etc. at MLB level it is ridiculous to blame managers for clubhouse, motivation, etc. this is all on the players. either they want to play well or should get other jobs. the constant media harping on managers is for children.

October 8, 2012

Wally:

I loved the Red Sox but this team sucked this year. (I watched most of the games) It was a continuation of the last month of last year.Lester, Beckett, Dice K and Bard sucked. Lackey was out all year, Crawford played about 30 games,Pedroia had a mediocre season. Ellsbury missed half the season and he wasn’t the same player he was last year, David Ortiz missed about 70 games. Look at some of the lineups they were sending out Loney, Lavarnway, Nava, Iglesias, Ciriaco……..WHO??????? Scott Athchison and Cody Ross are Our MVP’s? Yeah, It was Bobby Valentines fault!

October 8, 2012

Jeff:

Wally—-Having less than the hand you expected to play is one thing, as is a combination of a few players underperforming and a lot of other players injured. Those are the things Valentine couldn’t control. But bringing his type of divide-and-conquer, backstabbing toxin into a clubhouse that fragile from the 2011 collapse, whatever caused it, was like giving hiccups to a glass blower.That was Valentine’s history, documented very well, which the Red Sox brass might have known to avoid had they done their homework in the first place. (I have to admit—-I’m waiting to see when Larry Lucchino—-who probably did the most to shove Valentine down the Red Sox throat in the first place—-wears out his welcome in the front office … )

October 9, 2012

Wally:

Jeff- Nice try, a FEW players underperforming? What were you watching? Two opposite managing styles, same results! I love the sox win or lose and been a fan for 40 years. Fragile clubhouse, these are GROWN men that get played very well to play a kids game. We’ll play better when they find us the right manager. If you blame it on Bobby V what you’re saying is that they would have played better if he wasn’t there, which makes them a bunch of crybabies.I’m gonna let down the fans, my teammates and the guys paying my salary because I don’t like the manager. I hope thats not true, lousy starting pitching, injuries and poor play crippled this team. No coach could have made this team a winner

October 9, 2012

Jeff:

Wally—-The old “grown men playing a kids game” argument? Is that the best you’ve got?

Let’s put it this way: The Atlanta Braves were in the same shape as the Red Sox when 2011 ended, if you didn’t count three beer-and-chicken pitchers. (If it hadn’t been for what happened to the Red Sox, they’d have been waxing major on the Braves’ collapse, instead—-or, at least, as major as an Atlanta can do.) The 2011 Braves had a manager rather like Terry Francona in his own way. They didn’t push a panic button and dump the man in favour of a self-promoting, clubhouse-blowing martinet who got in the way (and, in some cases, the faces) of the real team leaders because of it.

The 2012 results are there for one and all to see: The Braves, who had eighteen players hit the disabled list during the season, got to the wild card game at least. And nobody ever feared Fredi Gonzalez was going to blow up his clubhouse, or that half his players were going to try getting him canned—-in spring training (that actually happened to Valentine a couple of times, including his first spring training, when he managed the Mets) or otherwise.

You’ve been a Red Sox watcher almost as long as I. Valentine isn’t the first Red Sox manager to blow up his clubhouse, though he may be the first in contemporary times to do it in what proves his only season on the bridge. Dick Williams, Don Zimmer, John McNamara, and Jimy Williams can tell you about blowing up clubhouses that otherwise might have come together and won, too. And this Red Sox administration isn’t the first to have panicked over any sort of late-season collapse and decided the fire had to be put out with a can of gasoline.

Valentine didn’t play the games, but he didn’t make it any simpler or more comfortable for his players to play, either. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn at least half the Red Sox players, no few of the coaches, and maybe even some of the front office, gazed toward Atlanta and wondered what the Braves were getting right after 2011 that the Red Sox weren’t getting right.

October 9, 2012

Wally:

Hey Jeff- lets take a look at the numbers: Beckett 5-11 5.23, Lester 9-14 4.82, Dice k 1-7 8.28, Cook 5.26, Bard 5-6 6.22, Doubront 11-10 4.86…….Staff ace Clay Buchholz 11-8 4.56……no starting pitcher with an ERA under 4.50? Game on the line???….no problem ……Closers were “lights out” Aceves 2-10 5.36 25-33 (thats 8 blown saves and 10 losses) But things got better when Bailey stepped in 1-1 7.04 6-9 (not!) You can’t defend those numbers, no way no how. And if you think these guys would have performed better under a different manager I would tell you they have no character.

October 9, 2012

Jeff:

Hey Wally—-I’m not unaware of the numbers, even if I could show you (and I could) that, among other things, Lester actually had a midsummer period in which he had something like twelve quality starts in about fourteen or fifteen games and the games were lost after he left the games. (Uh, whose brilliant idea was it to move Bard to the rotation and make a closer out of Aceves when Bailey was injured out of spring training, not to mention standing stubbornly enough by Aceves when it was clear to everyone with eyes and brains that the guy was an implosion waiting to happen? Hint: It wasn’t Terry Francona’s.)

And if you really think different performances under a different manager equals a lack of character, you don’t know a damn thing about the difference between professional baseball and the kids’ game.

I submit that a different manager would not have blown up the Red Sox clubhouse early and often, would have fostered a far different atmosphere than a divide-and-conquer, deceitful, duplicitous Bobby Valentine did, and that anyone who doesn’t appreciate that an atmosphere made as exponentially poisonous as Valentine made it is an atmosphere unconducive to doing the job is simply ignorant.

We don’t know what the actual numbers would have been, of course, with a different manager. I’d be as much of a fool to try conjugating an unknown as you’d be. But I think it is more than fair to say, balancing all the evidence:

1) That the 2012 Red Sox were given a very unconscionable option that metastasised rather than eroded the toxins in the clubhouse.

2) That that option had a history pointing to that prospect coming to pass, which is exactly what it did.

3) That the front office (I’m inclined to believe Larry Lucchino, in particular) didn’t do enough due diligence to know that that prospect was likely to come to pass.

4) That anyone who tells you even a minimally competent worker bee can do his job—-whether it’s playing professional baseball, working in a newsroom, or working in a donut shop—-unaffected by the kind of poison a manager like Valentine metastasised with his divide-and-conquer, backstabbing, duplicitous manner, is selling you a bill of goods you’d be as big a fool to buy as were the Red Sox to buy Valentine’s.

Professional baseball is difficult enough to play or master under the most reasonable manager. Under an unreasonable one such as a Valentine, difficult can and often does become somewhere between impossible and unfathomable. He was a terrible fit for a team that was on ground shaky enough going in.

The best news—-Hey, at least you’re a legitimate correspondent drawing me to a legitimate discussion. If I had a dollar for all the spam comments kicked my way from one of my columns here, I could retire us both!

October 10, 2012

Wally:

Jeff- I’ll take a player who wants to win, play hard for his teammates and fans and the owner of the club who in most cases was willing to pay more for their services , not to mention the better he plays the more money he will make in the future, over a player who will overlook all those things because he isn’t “mentally tough” and “oversensitive”. This may shock you but I’m not a fan of Bobby V.’s . You want to lay this all at his feet, but this team was LOUSY. Whether it was Injuries, lack of talent or effort( because of “toxic environment”) the PLAYERS didn.t get the job done! Stop making excuses for these guys. Many ex players said during the season “Winning ballgames would cure all this” The players didn’t get it done. No manager could have won more than 80 games with these guys. Bobby was a problem too, never said he wasn’t and it cost him his job. But If you think It was all his fault, I think your anger Is misplaced. It also tells me a lot about your character, If we were on a team together I know which way you would go if things got tough. You dont have to write a whole book to get your point across, sometimes less is more

October 10, 2012

Jeff:

Wally—-I never said it was all Valentine’s fault, merely that he was the wrong man to bring into a situation that was very questionable (at the very least) going in.

If the Red Sox were fool enough to make Terry Francona a scapegoat and decide a better “disciplinarian” was needed, well, there are such managers who could have gotten a better season out of this year’s team even with 27 disabled list trips.

There are managers with reputations as disciplinarians and teachers who don’t have concurrent reputations, that they’re only too willing to renew given a chance, for backstabbing, double-dealing, clubhouse poisoning, because they actually do get their players to work with them, play for them, and actually love coming to play every day even so.

The Red Sox last winter could have gotten the right disciplinarian with nothing more than a phone call to the Phillies’ organisation. The man in question spent six years managing successfully in the Cubs’ organisation and was hoping to get a shot at taking on the Cubs themselves (until the Cubs made clear he wasn’t in their picture, that is), which isn’t exactly that much simpler than taking on the Red Sox.

The Red Sox could still get him if they really want, never mind that he’s just been promoted to coach third base for the parent club. All it takes is a phone call. Maybe you’ve heard of him. His name is Ryne Sandberg. His game-wide reputation is that he’s no-nonsense, demands accountability, takes no crap … but has still made players want to come to the park every day and play their tails off, and win.

That’s what these Red Sox need going forward. They sure didn’t have it in 2012.

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