Embattled Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine isn’t solely responsible for the team’s lackluster performance on the field, nor is he the lone reason why there is so much dysfunction surrounding a franchise that was noted for its stability for years under Terry Francona, until last September’s monumental collapse.
Yet his poor communication skills and his occasional tactless rants to the media have contributed to his rocky first season with the team.
Though he cannot help that expected top of the rotation starters Jon Lester and Josh Beckett have resembled journeyman veterans clinging to roster spots – and even if it is not his fault that the club has seen 23 players land on the DL, and core players like Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia underperform – Valentine has played a pivotal role in fueling the tension and negativity that have enveloped the Red Sox like a thick fog.
At 54-55 entering Monday’s three-game series opener at Fenway Park against Texas, the Red Sox are 4.5 games out in the wild card race, and a playoff spot is obviously mathematically possible.
Because of the seemingly never-ending drama between Valentine and his players, Valentine and his coaches and Valentine and the media, the possibility of a playoff spot does not have the same relevance that it typically does in baseball-crazed Boston.
Even for the devout Red Sox fans, of which there are many, this has been a difficult team to like. Josh Beckett and his apathy in the midst of a forgettable performance is one reason. David Ortiz didn’t help matters when he once again complained about his lack of a multi-year deal.
Mostly, though, all the unwanted angst has been centered around Valentine, who was widely disliked by his players when he was the skipper for eight seasons in Texas (581-605) and seven seasons with the New York Mets (536-467). Valentine also managed in Japan.
What the Red Sox ownership group of John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino appeared to want after the players reportedly tuned out Francona late last season was a hard-nosed manager who could instill discipline and restore order this year.
Instead, the team has been engulfed in chaos since the early stages of the season, when Valentine questioned Kevin Youkilis‘ desire to play, drawing a response from Pedroia that “I really don’t know what Bobby is trying to do. That’s not the way we go about our stuff around here. He’ll figure that out. The whole team is behind Youk. We have each other’s backs here.”
Hampered with injuries and struggling at the plate, Youkilis was traded earlier this year to the White Sox because 23-year-old rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks emerged. Middlebrooks was the team’s top overall prospect going into the season and is regarded as a long-term solution at the hot corner.
Recently, Valentine drew criticism when he told WEEI that, during a game when Middlebrooks made a couple defensive blunders, he uttered, “Nice inning, Will” when the rookie walked into the dugout. Apparently, someone in the dugout relayed what happened to the front office, and Valentine was reportedly admonished.
Media reports have also indicated tension between Valentine and coaches who were retained after Francona was let go. Bullpen coach Gary Tuck, bench coach Tim Bogar and hitting coach Dave Magadan served under Francona. Pitching coach Bob McClure was in place before Valentine was named manager.
With a firestorm escalating since the Red Sox continue to hover around .500, fans and media pundits alike are calling for Valentine’s dismissal, even before he completes his initial season in Boston.
John Henry Backs Valentine
WEEI.com baseball writer Rob Bradford published this e-mail that the media outlet received from Henry on Monday:
“I’ve gotten questions about Bobby and about ownership from you so I’ll say the following on the record.
“To blame Bobby Valentine for the Red Sox being .500 at this point in the season is simply wrong. 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.
“In baseball, managers often get too much credit and too much blame for what happens on the field. That seems to be a constant. There is often the thought in organizations, ‘This isn’t working so the manager needs to go.’ But an organization is much more than the field manager. We all share responsibility for the success and failure of the Boston Red Sox. We are not making a change in manager.
“There has been no lack of effort from our players and we have had a number of them playing hurt. I watch every game and the effort our players put in right after night is very clear to see.
“In regard to the notion that we have somehow not empowered Bobby, you should ask him directly about that. We have been nothing but supportive of him inside and outside the clubhouse. Stories that imply otherwise are due to speculation that is not warranted at all by the facts.
“And the notion that we are not present and attending games is misleading to the public. Tom, Larry and I seldom miss a telecast when on the road if we aren’t there. This is a 365-a-day-ayear sport for us — as it is for Ben and for Bobby. Even when we are away we discuss issues daily. Just because we aren’t answering all the media questions doesn’t mean we aren’t on the job. We are.
“Our commitment to winning is unabated. That is our focus. We continue to have the 2nd highest payroll among the 30 clubs. We have been at this for more than 10 years in Boston, and winning is just as much our focus today as it was when we took over.”
Cherington Follows Henry’s Lead
Today, Cherington echoed the organization’s support for Valentine, even though the first-year general manager favored Dale Sveum (who took the Cubs managerial job) but was overruled by the ownership group.
“Bobby’s our manager and we’re not considering anyone else,” Cherington told WEEI during a pre-game press conference. “He’s as committed to managing the team as he ever has been, and we’re committed to him and trying to do everything we can to support him and make this work.
“Ultimately, again, when the performance isn’t what you want — which is not, we acknowledge that — I’ve said this before, winning and losing always has more to do with players than anything else. I don’t question the effort of the players. I think our players have fought and battled, worked hard, played hard, fought out of tough things.
It’s not a question of effort. At some level, the players on the team, it’s a reflection of me, it’s a reflection of the front office.
So, if players win or lose more than anything else, then I need to be accountable for that. We need to be better day to day and put ourselves in the best position to win tonight, tomorrow, the next day, and we’ll continue to work on those things behind closed doors. We expect what follows to improve. It needs to.”
Cherington would not say whether Valentine would last the season as Boston’s manager.
“I’m not going to comment on that. He’s our manager. I’m not getting into timelines. I’m not going to get into a timeline for myself either,” Cherington said. “We’re just doing the job right now, doing the job the best we can, and we’re focused on making it better and I support Bobby.”
The Red Sox have internal options if they dismiss Valentine. Bogar is considered in baseball circles as a future Major League manager, and players might respond to him if Valentine is shown the door. Until he is fired or steps down, Valentine is assured of one thing. He will be the central character in a reality show that seems to have new storylines every week.