In his first opportunity to show that he’s learned from his mistakes, all Bobby Valentine proved was that he hasn’t changed.
He’s a great manager and a self-destructive force who will insist on going down his way.
That’s not a good thing.
Last season, when Terry Collins took over the Mets after a 10-year absence from managing in the big leagues, many who knew him and his intense, overbearing ways didn’t think there would be a “new” Terry. At the first sign of trouble, he’d revert to the raving maniac that polarized two talented clubhouses and labeled him as an impossible person to deal with.
Collins is still intense and fiery, but has toned down his act to discipline his clubhouse while not alienating it.
The Red Sox veterans viewed the hiring of Valentine with, at best, trepidation.
Throughout spring training the media tried to stoke the fires of controversy with everything Valentine did. From bunting to his lineup and bullpen decisions to the supposed “rift” between him and GM Ben Cherington, the traps were set for the “old” Bobby V—condescending, abrasive, uncontrollably arrogant, vindictive—to appear.
For the most part he kept himself in check.
But on opening day he reverted to the old Bobby V in one of the worst ways imaginable.
In the past, one issue he constantly had was the way he ran his clubs in a self-interested, paranoid, cold-hearted fashion.
The players didn’t trust him because he didn’t trust them.
The list of players with whom Valentine had public dust-ups included Todd Hundley, Pete Harnisch, Darryl Hamilton, Bobby Bonilla, Goose Gossage and David Wells.
Wells never actually played for Valentine.
Yesterday Valentine contradicted himself, the organizational strategy based on stats and told the players that he didn’t trust them to do their defined jobs.
One argument that stat people constantly use is to adhere to the percentages. That’s evolved into the rote maneuver of never using the “closer” in a tie game on the road unless they have no choice. Valentine had a choice.
Of course it’s ridiculous to cling to an ironclad strategy to be used in the face of reason, experience and situation, but the one thing Valentine did not want to do—on opening day!!!—is to give the veteran players a reason to start bashing him behind his back more than they already are.
By using Mark Melancon in the tie game and then panicking by yanking Melancon after, with one out, the next two Tigers’ hitters in the tenth inning got on base with balls that were conveniently placed and not hit hard, he told the players something they already suspected and were presumably whispering about from the time he was hired: he’s a mircomanager who won’t put the game in our hands.
Contrast that with Charlie Manuel—a manager the players love and run to play for.
Manuel was criticized in recent years because he stuck with Brad Lidge too long as closer when Lidge couldn’t get anyone out; for letting Jimmy Rollins run wild with his outrageous statements; for letting Ryan Howard swing on a 3-0 count in the NLDS last season with his team down a run and Howard in a horrific slump.
But for all of his perceived strategic lapses, the players know what they’re getting from Cholly privately because that’s what they get publicly.
Cholly’s got their backs because his actions are in the front.
He gives his players rope and if they hang themselves and the team with it, so be it.
Can Valentine say that?
Right off the bat, he’s telling Melancon, the entire roster and upper management that he doesn’t think much of a pitcher he’s going to need to do well if the Red Sox are going to contend.
This is not a defense of Melancon, who I think is mediocre, it’s a statement that even if they’d lost with Melancon (which they wound up doing anyway with “closer” Alfredo Aceves), it would’ve been a better conclusion because Valentine wouldn’t have immediately validated the players’ fears about him.
If the players believe the manager is out for himself—trying not to be criticized; always holding his finger over the panic button; nitpicking—they’re going to tune out and quickly look at their own situations superceding team goals.
With most managers it would be judged as one game in a 162 game season. With Valentine it’s a signal that he hasn’t changed; that he’s still going to ignore his mandate; that he’ll shun long-term harmony for one game desperation.
The Red Sox had better start winning games fast or by early May the ticking time bomb that is Valentine in that mercurial clubhouse will be set to detonate.