Many moons ago, I interned for a summer in Stamford, Connecticut. While Stamford wasn’t the big city many of us interns were used to, it certainly had its charms (including Stamford Town Center, where much of Scenes from a Mall was filmed). One of our favorite watering holes was Bobby V’s, the eponymous sports bar/shrine/paean-to-one’s-own-greatness owned by esteemed former ESPN baseball analyst and current Red Sox manager – the inimitable Bobby Valentine. Much like our infatuation with Bobby V’s that summer, Red Sox Nation’s honeymoon with Valentine (which already began rocky) appears to be drawing to a close. Ten games into the season.
It started off with the whispers: faint speculation that the Sox and new GM Ben Cherington might seriously be considering Valentine to replace the recently-deposed (and apparently chicken-and-beer-tolerant) Terry Francona, winner of two World Series. That news was greeted about as enthusiastically as a fart in an elevator. How exactly does a man who hadn’t managed in the bigs in ten years; who once famously tried to sneak back into the dugout wearing a fake mustache after being ejected; who emigrated to Japan and all but challenged the champion White Sox to a pistol duel; and, not least, was openly critical of the very organization considering him for employment, get one of the most sought-after jobs in all of baseball?!
That question became moot once the Red Sox introduced Valentine as the new sheriff in town, and he immediately laid down his law-and-order doctrine: no clubhouse libations and tomfoolery, more spring training calisthenics, greater emphasis on “fundamentals,” etc. Which all sounded fine as long as it led to what was sorely lacking in Boston last September: wins. As the new season dawned, sadly, those were in short supply. Of course it’s a long haul, but the Valentine-mobile veered solidly off-road Monday when the skipper suggested that Sox stalwart Kevin Youkilis was not “physically and emotionally into the game.” Perhaps to the chagrin of the routinely inflammatory Valentine, Youkilis was one of the few key Red Sox veterans not implicated in Chickengate, which came to light in the aftermath of last season’s startling collapse. Since 2006, Youkilis’ first full season in the majors, he has won a Gold Glove, made three All-Star teams, and has stood up mightily as the anchor of a roster in almost continual flux since the lovable ‘Idiots’ of ’04. This then begs the question, why would Valentine choose Youk to pick on?
2nd baseman Dustin Pedroia was equally perplexed, offering that such a managerial ploy could work “maybe in Japan or something,” but that his Sox teammates have got Youk’s back. That was heartening to hear from Boston’s de facto team captain, because after essentially being responsible for their beloved Francona being fired, rallying around each other seems to be the Red Sox’s best chance at success. This is primarily because of Valentine’s managerial history: he’s known as a quick-fix artist who turns bad teams around almost instantly, but eventually wears out his welcome. He did it in Arlington and Flushing, but this Boston team is an entirely different animal – they were already good, and but for politics their former manager would still be on the job. Which leads to another question: is Valentine more than just a turnaround specialist who thrives on belittling players – those whom he views as inferior to his idealized version of himself as a player? The Red Sox braintrust certainly thinks so, and they ought to sincerely hope so, because after running both Francona and Theo Epstein out of town, their good names and reputations are riding on it.
Given all of this, it’s certainly not too late for Bobby V to quiet the gathering mob, but he’s going to have to win soon, and his best chance to do that is with veterans like Pedroia, Youkilis and David Ortiz fully on board. Fortunately for Valentine he has inherited a much better team than he did with the Rangers or Mets, so it would behoove him to update his operating manual, especially as it pertains to dealing with players. The Sox are a proud, seasoned bunch, and what would work on a last-place finisher will certainly not play in Fenway. In fairness, it’s in the players’ best interests to give Bobby a chance too, even though after a scant ten games – and Valentine’s first misfire – it’s pretty clear they’re desperately missing the other guy.