Bobby Valentine and Causes of Failure

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The one thing we can take from Bobby Valentine’s interview with Bob Costas from Tuesday on Costas Tonight is that Valentine was set up for failure, so no one should be surprised that he failed.

No one.

From day 1 it was known that the new GM Ben Cherington didn’t want Valentine. It was known that the reputation Valentine carted around with him wasn’t going to let the players give him a chance. It was known that the Red Sox, having collapsed in September of 2011 amid a lack of discipline, disinterest, and lack of cohesion, were on the downslide. How this was going to end was relatively predictable in that it wasn’t going to succeed, but I doubt anyone could have envisioned the Red Sox cleaning out the house of Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez—not because they wanted to keep them, but because no one was expected to take them.

Let’s look at the Bobby V statements and implications (paraphrased) and judge them on their merits.

He yelled at Mike Aviles in spring training.

In retrospect, it was called an “ugly” scene, but it sounds like Valentine was speaking loudly and telling the players how he wanted an infield drill handled—directed at Aviles, but for all of them to hear—and the players, accustomed to Terry Francona’s laissez faire attitude and already waiting for something to attack Valentine about, seized on it as a “here we go,” moment.

And if he did yell at Aviles, so what? Is the manager not allowed to yell at the players anymore without having other players come into his office to whine about it? The purpose of bringing in a more disciplined manager is so he can instill discipline that was missing; discipline that was a proximate cause of the downfall of the club in 2011.

Cause of failure: Valentine tried to discipline the players as a manager and they refused to be disciplined.

The coaches undermined Valentine.

I find it at best bizarre and at worst despicable that the Red Sox are allowing new manager John Farrell to have significant say-so in the constitution of his coaching staff and didn’t let Valentine pick the people on his staff.

In the Costas interview, Valentine said the coaches have to speak the manager’s language, but if the coaches—specifically bench coach Tim Bogar and pitching coach Bob McClure—barely knew Valentine and didn’t speak to him (or he to them), then how was it supposed to be functional?

The contentiousness between the manager and his coaches permeated the clubhouse. McClure didn’t want to make the pitching changes as Valentine prefers his pitching coaches to do and from the start, that was a bad sign of what was to come. Bogar sounds as if he was rolling his eyes and shaking his head behind Valentine’s back from the beginning.

Valentine has something Farrell doesn’t: managerial success in the big leagues. So why is Farrell receiving the courtesy that Valentine didn’t unless Cherington was waiting out the inevitable disaster of Valentine’s tenure knowing his contrariness in the hiring would make him essentially bulletproof if events transpired as they did in the worst case scenario?

Farrell’s qualifications as Red Sox manager are basically that he was the Red Sox pitching coach during their glory years, knows how things are done, isn’t Valentine, and the players like him. If a club was looking at the work Farrell did with the Blue Jays as manager as an individual entity, they would look elsewhere before hiring him and they certainly wouldn’t give up a useful player like Aviles to get him.

Cause of failure: They hired Valentine and handcuffed him.

Management was spying and suffocating.

In the Costas interview, Valentine said that he never received a series of binders (possibly a veiled shot at Joe Girardi) or stat sheets telling him what to do, but that there was one of Cherington’s assistants in the manager’s office before and after every game.

Not even in Moneyball, amid the ridiculous characterization of then-Athletics’ manager Art Howe as a hapless buffoon, was it written that a front office person was in Howe’s office to that degree. One of the issues Valentine had with Mets’ GM Steve Phillips during his tenure in New York was that Phillips was constantly huddling with leaders in the clubhouse like Al Leiter after games; he was also said to stalk around with a grumpy look on his face in what appeared to be an act of an upset GM following a loss.

After the lack of involvement in Valentine picking his coaches; the Aviles incident; the uproar over Valentine’s mostly innocuous comments about Youkilis early in the season; and the front office spying, Valentine should have gone to Larry Lucchino and asked if they wanted him to manage the team or not. The claustrophobic situation of a front office person loitering so constantly in the manager’s office exponentially adds to the stress of a long season. No one—especially someone with Valentine’s experience—needs to have this level of scrutiny from the people he’s working with.

Cause of failure: The factional disputes permeated the running of the club and that segments wanted and expedited Valentine’s downfall.

David Ortiz quit.

Only Ortiz knows if this is true. Valentine would probably have been better off not saying that Ortiz quit because if there’s a chance for him to manage again—and there is—he doesn’t need another, “Well, why’d you say this?” soundbite hanging over his head.

There’s an indignant reaction if it’s implied that the players went through the motions or decided to use an injury to spend time on the disabled list rather than play when they could have. Ortiz had had a brilliant season until he got injured and, with the season spiraling down the toilet and the looming probability of this being his final chance to get paid as a free agent, Ortiz might very well have chosen to shut it down.

What’s ironic about it is that Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia seemed to be two of the few veterans who gave Valentine a chance when the manager was hired, but in true Bobby V fashion, he’s detonating the bridge.

Players think about themselves more often than is realized. It’s easier in baseball than it is in other team sports because in football, basketball, and hockey, no individual can function without the group. In baseball, it’s an individual sport in a team concept. It’s not farfetched that Ortiz just sat out the rest of the season when, if the Red Sox were contending, he would’ve played. Ortiz, Valentine, the Red Sox, and their medical staff know what really happened here. True or not, Valentine shouldn’t have said this.

Cause of failure: Reality that’s generally swept under the rug.

The Valentine hire was a disaster in large part because the Red Sox made it a disaster. That’s not an exoneration of Valentine because a he deserves a large share of the blame, but it wasn’t going to work. It was never going to work. And the small chance it did have of working would’ve included making the drastic trades they made in-season before the season; letting Valentine have a voice in the constitution of his coaching staff; and allowing him to do the job he was hired to do.

None of that happened and these are the results we see. Let’s wait and watch if Farrell does any better, because if he doesn’t then Cherington will learn what it’s like to live in the shoes Valentine did for a miserable year of his life. These things have a habit of solving themselves.

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Being Bobby Valentine

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As I’m sure you’re aware, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine had a newsworthy interview on The Big Show with Glenn Ordway and Michael Holley on radio station WEEI. You can listen to it here.

This concisely sums up Valentine’s tenure as Red Sox manager. Valentine came on the line and asked whom he was talking to. The reply—I believe from Glenn—came in a derisive tone referencing Valentine’s weekly appearance on ESPN New York with Michael Kay as if the very idea of appearing on a New York based radio show with an unabashed Yankee-lover like Kay was a transgression in and of itself and an insult to the people of Boston.

Valentine was asked if he’d checked out on the season and Valentine replied by saying that if he was in the room, he’d punch Glenn in the mouth. Then he laughed loudly and somewhat ludicrously. It was over-the-top. He was kidding with an implied, “Wanna see how serious I am? I’ll punch you!” It wasn’t funny, but that was the intent. He wasn’t going to punch anyone.

At the mentioning of Valentine showing up late for a game against the Athletics in Oakland, Valentine got truly and legitimately angry—understandably. He wasn’t late. He got to the park at around 4 PM. The game was due to start at 7:05 PM. The reason he was late? His 29-year-old son hadn’t seen him manage all season long and was coming in to the Bay Area for a visit. The flight was late due to the fog in San Francisco and Valentine got stuck in traffic. That’s why he was at the park “late” when he really wasn’t late. But the intimation was that Valentine showed up late because he doesn’t care; because he wants out as Red Sox manager. Valentine then demanded to know who said that he was late. The hosts looked it up and found that Nick Cafardo and Sean McAdam, among other unnamed people, had reported it. Repeatedly Valentine referenced Rays’ manager Joe Maddon’s preferred time of arrival as 4:00 for every night game. Valentine said he’d talk to Cafardo when he saw him. I doubt he’s going to punch him in the mouth.

When asked about his meeting with Red Sox owner John Henry and GM Ben Cherington when both flew to Seattle to see Valentine (stoking speculation that the manager was about to be fired), Valentine tried to make a joke out of it saying that there was no brown sugar for his oatmeal and Henry’s ham was overcooked. It was cringeworthy in a way similar to Valentine’s famous “stoned” dance while he was managing the Mets and imitated a hitter trying to bat while high. But he was kidding. Was there a bit of sniping under the joke? Possibly. But this is Valentine we’re talking about. Everything he says drips with condescension. Some of it is unintentional. (I think.)

When asked a question from a fan as to whether he regretted coming back. He said no, but admitted that this season has been miserable. What was he supposed to say? That he’s had a ball with the team underperforming, the players trying to get him fired, the press baiting him, and having his reputation destroyed in large part because of a mess that was present and unfixable when he arrived?

At least he was honest. The season has been miserable. Had he said anything different, he’d have sounded like a delusional fool.

After that, he brought up the accusation of having been late again. That really bothered him.

Was this as big a deal as it’s being made out to be? No. This is a microcosm of what’s gone wrong with Valentine and the Red Sox from day 1. He wasn’t the choice of the GM; he was taking over a dreadful situation that no manager would’ve been able to navigate successfully; the media was waiting for him to trip up and trying to trip him up; it took him time to get back into the swing of big league managing after not having done it for 10 years and not having been in the American League for 20; and he’s Bobby Valentine. Being Bobby Valentine invites madness in and of itself.

As a polarizing figure, the only way for Valentine to succeed in 2012 was if the Red Sox were 100% healthy; if the players who were responsible for the 2011 collapse took responsibility for what went wrong; and if they got off to a good start to wash away the bad taste permeating the organization inside and out since last season.

None of that happened. It got worse and worse and it’s come to this. Valentine didn’t threaten anyone, nor was the interview something to treat as a headline story. It was awkward. That’s all.

But that doesn’t really matter, does it? At first when Valentine took over the Red Sox, they were a disaster. Now they’re still a disaster, but it’s a lawless land where the story isn’t the club, but the endless stream of controversies. Until the manager is gone, it’s not going to stop. The managerial death watch is on and there won’t be a reprieve. He’s not innocent, but he’s not exactly guilty either.

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