Saturday, October 27, 2012
This is the Thanks David Ortiz Gets?
If you wouldn't necessarily call him a downright defender, at least you couldn't accuse David Ortiz of being one among any Red Sox looking for Bobby Valentine's head on a plate during their nightmare of a 2012 season. No matter what fresh turmoil Valentine inspired or abetted, Ortiz wasn't one of his would-be prosecutors and brushed away any bid to compel him in that direction.
Even as late as just days before the blockbuster deal that made Dodgers out of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto, Big Papi told reporters the issues on the team weren't the manager so much as it was the injuries, the inconsistencies.
"Who cares if a player's against a manager?" he said at the time, in a kind of dugout press conference. "We've got to deal with the manager anyway. A manager is not something you can go and change like you change your underwear. It can happen at some point, but the possibility of it happening, especially in the middle of the season, is a small percent, so that's not our case."
That may have been more than Valentine actually deserved. His divide-and-conquer managing and public relations style, which just about anyone in baseball knew except the Red Sox when they hired him to succeed Terry Francona, divided an injury-and-confidence wracked team and metastasized the toxins in a clubhouse still poisoned by September 2011. And there was Ortiz, not exactly offering Valentine a ringing endorsement but not exactly offering him a blindfold and a cigarette, either.
And this is the thanks he gets?
Sitting for a television interview with NBC's Bob Costas, which aired the night before the 2012 World Series was to begin, Valentine called the injury-plagued Ortiz a quitter in every conceivable phrase without using the word explicitly.
"David Ortiz came back after spending about six weeks on the disabled list and we thought it was only going to be a week," the former manager told Costas. "He got two hits the first two times up, drove in a couple runs; we were off to the races. Then he realized that [the 25 August trade] meant that we're not going to run this race and we're not even going to finish the race properly and he decided not to play anymore. I think at that time it was all downhill from there."
Three weeks ago, when Valentine got the guillotining everyone in baseball knew he'd get, never mind his periodic brave (desperate?) talk that he expected to return for the second year of his contract, I wrote Red Sox Nation could sleep at last not having to wonder for whom Valentine would find a space under a bus while shooting himself in the foot yet again over some actual or alleged accusation. That'll teach me.
The word of Valentine's remarks to Costas oozed forth a few hours before the interview was broadcast. Big Papi, arguably the most popular player still in a Red Sox uniform, forced by continuing Achilles tendon trouble to shut his season down a few weeks before the schedule ended, accused by his now-former manager of quitting on the team after the Big Deal.
Even Peter Abraham, a Boston Globe reporter who bent over backward to offer Valentine the benefit of the doubt often enough during the Red Sox's nightmarish season, found that a little too much. "Ortiz re-injured his foot in that Aug. 24 game," he writes. "He also had an injection designed to speed his healing in September. By then, with the Red Sox hopelessly out of contention, he did not pursue the idea of playing again."
That is not what you would call a downright debunking, but neither is it what you would call a downright defense of Valentine's slightly coarse emission. But it is what those who recalled Valentine's years managing the Mets would call entirely, and precisely, of a piece.
In the same column three weeks ago, I noted Valentine once took comparable shots at two pitchers under his Mets jurisdiction: Pete Harnisch, suffering clinical depression after quitting smokeless tobacco; and, Hideo Nomo, whose struggling season compelled him to decline a crucial start down the stretch — because he didn't believe his performance had earned him the honor. ("Honor" was Nomo's word, apparently.) Valentine dismissed both as quitters then, too.
Valentine also feuded publicly with Todd Hundley, arguably the most popular Met at the time, during 1996. According to Valentine, Hundley kept a few too many late hours, wink wink, nudge nudge. It turned out Hundley's later hours amounted to keeping close watch on his cancer-stricken mother while helping his pregnant wife with their incumbent young children.
"He comes into a whole new situation," Hundley would tell Murray Chass, then still with the New York Times, after the catcher was traded to the Dodgers, "and goes right after I guess the most popular guy. It's not my fault I'm the most popular guy."
You might care to note that, to begin 1996, a group of Mets went to spring training and held a meeting among themselves — discussing whether and how to try getting Valentine fired.
Anyone remembering those incidents would experience the proverbial shock of recognition now. Just as one did when Valentine was foolish enough to question Kevin Youkilis's heart in hand with his health during April, the moment even Valentine's allies agree he lost the Red Sox clubhouse. Just as one might be, now, after Valentine has called Ortiz a quitter on national television.
The real shock may be that Valentine didn't do it within a day or so of Ortiz being shut down after taking the aforementioned shot. Or could Valentine have been made aware that John Farrell's hiring as the Red Sox's manager, following the wrangle with the Blue Jays, has received Ortiz'svery enthusiastic support?
There's a funny thing about quitters. They don't normally find themselves, as pending free agents, on the very night their former managers think they've been exposed as quitters, on the threshold of signing new, possibly seven-figure, possibly two-year contracts.
"I wouldn't be trying to re-sign him if I had any concern about David's commitment to baseball or to the Red Sox," general manager Ben Cherington told ESPN Tuesday night, when the network reached him for comment about the Costas broadcast. "During a trying year, David was a leader for us on and off the field. Unfortunately, an Achilles injury cut his season short. It was a tough break in a season full of tough breaks for us."
Were we only imagining that Carl Crawford pushed himself to play through his own throwing arm miseries — first his wrist, then his elbow, on which he has since undergone Tommy John surgery — because, as he let slip around the time of The Trade, he didn't want to be thought a quitter?
(Here's something to ponder: WEEI radio's Alex Speier, comparing Farrell to Valentine, includes this among his notes: "Farrell was one of the biggest advocates of the role of the training staff in maintaining player health over the course of a full season. Valentine admitted tension sometimes existed between his perspective and that of team trainers on player availability." Perhaps including Ortiz and his Achilles tendon trouble, when he was assessed as being 75 percent at best when he tried to return from the first DL term?)
Ortiz wasn't quite Valentine's sole target during the Costas interview, in fairness. He called himself "incredulous" that his players objected, among other things, to his yelling at infielder Mike Aviles during a spring training drill in which Aviles, apparently, committed a mistake. To Valetine their objection amounted to the tail wagging the dog. (Aviles, by the way, went to the Blue Jays in exchange for Farrell.) "A leader needs to lead," Valentine continued. "He leads by forming the pack, patting down the pack and having other people follow. You can't have the guy at the back of the line coming up and deciding which direction you're going to go in."
This may come as a big shock to Valentine, but if you don't count basic military training there have been leaders who managed to form solid packs without screaming at them over simple mistakes or dismissing the wounded in action as quitters. And leaders do not claim, a few months after the fact, that a wisecrack to a young infielder, Will Middlebrooks, after a rough inning on defense, never occurred in the first place, never mind that Valentine himself was the one who revealed it to WEEI after it happened in the first place.
"The more Bobby Valentine speaks," Todd Hundley once said, after his days in Valentine's crosshairs ended, "the more people will realize why he has the reputation he has in the game."
Ortiz was not one of the Red Sox involved in the infamous text message incident, sent from Adrian Gonzalez's cell phone, asking for a meeting with the team brass after Valentine left Jon Lester in to take an eleven-run beating. Valentine might never have been certain whom among his players or staffers would be the next to ponder or commit mutiny, but he could be certain Ortiz wouldn't be one of them.
Never once upon the news that Farrell would be the new Red Sox manager did Ortiz say anything suggesting Valentine was any kind of deliberate troublemaker, no matter how effusively he received Farrell's advent.
And this is the thanks he gets?