Bobby V an intelligent manager, but wrong fit for Sox
NEW YORK -- The issue is not whether Bobby Valentine can manage. Even people who actively dislike Valentine will admit that he is an intelligent baseball man. He is an intelligent man, period.
The issue of Valentine's performance with the 2012 Boston Red Sox is much more one of fit, of suitability or lack thereof. This does not appear to be a case of the right man, in the right job, at the right time.
An argument could be constructed that most of the Red Sox's problems this season have been a result of injuries early in the season and disappointing performances by at least two key starting pitchers. Neither one of those explanations is invalid, but both of them together don't explain everything.
The Red Sox's season has not risen above the level of disappointing. On Friday night, the Yankees defeated them, 6-4, at Yankee Stadium. Boston is 3-7 against New York this season, but that is far from the worst of it. This defeat put the Sox 13 1/2 games behind their rivals in the American League East.
When the Red Sox hired Valentine, it appeared that they were consciously moving to the other end of the managerial personality spectrum from Terry Francona, the previous manager. Francona was the consummate organization man/good soldier. He was always publicly in tune with the front office. He always protected his players.
Francona helped to win two World Series with that managerial approach. But his last month in office was the epic September swoon, in which some of those players Francona had protected took advantage of his tolerance. Stories of clubhouse beer swilling and fast-food chicken eating by off-duty starting pitchers symbolized an image of inmates running the asylum.
With Valentine, the Red Sox would get a manager as a focal point. Valentine would say what he thought. No punches would be pulled. It would be a new day with a new skipper at Fenway Park.
But then when the Red Sox got a taste of that Valentine in the Kevin Youkilis episode, they apparently didn't like it. Valentine's early-season comments regarding Youkilis and a possible decline in intensity would have, in many other markets, been viewed as nothing more than fair managerial comment. It would have been a two-day story, tops. In Boston, though, these comments were apparently viewed as unthinkable.
As a man who is not set up to dodge the spotlight, Valentine can be a polarizing personality. But that is not a new development. On a team largely made up of established veterans, with established patterns of behavior, any manager was going to have a problem attempting to change the culture. Perhaps a more self-effacing manager might have been able to travel this road with fewer crises.
There have been many questions about why there is so much "drama" surrounding the Red Sox, as though the Boston club has a patent on that quality. It was instructive when Yankees manager Joe Girardi was asked on Friday how he managed to avoid the off-the-field drama.
"I've just been myself, I guess," Girardi said. "That's what I've tried to do. I haven't purposefully said, 'I'm going to try and avoid drama.' "
Girardi also said that building relationships with his players had been important, but his first answer was completely correct. He avoided drama by being himself.
When the Red Sox hired Bobby V., they hired an astute, diligent baseball man who would be driven to succeed. But they also purchased some drama.
A series of questions about this season's difficulties greeted Valentine at Yankee Stadium on Friday. His answers were generally terse and noncommittal. Here, and again postgame, he was more than anything else, subdued.
He reached a more animated level only when he was asked to react to comments by Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino in a radio interview. The questioner suggested that Lucchino had "put the blame partly on the media."
"It's always the media's fault," Valentine said with a smile. "'Partly?' What, are you kiddin'?"
More seriously, he said: "The blame for what? The whole season? No, the media had nothing to do with the season."
At least Valentine has retained his sense of humor. On the subject of blame -- and it is in surplus supply with the current Red Sox -- Valentine is not the primary reason that the Sox are currently 13 1/2 games behind the Yankees. Then again, he hasn't been able to salvage this situation, either.
The Red Sox made a major shift in managerial types when they went from Francona to Valentine. And then they seemed uncomfortable with what they had in Valentine. In baseball, as in life, you can't have it both ways. This isn't working out particularly well for anybody.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.