Bobby Valentine is the new manager of the Boston Red Sox. For a franchise trying to overcome the perception of dysfunction, that might not have been the best decision. Valentine is alternately one of the most revered and hated managers in all of baseball, so his presence in the volatile powder keg of Red Sox Nation is sure to provide a spark. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is matter of wildly varying degrees of perspective.
During his long managerial career, Bobby Valentine has probably made as many enemies as he has won games. And, it hasn’t taken long for some of them to rear their heads. One former adversary, blogger-extraordinaire Murray Chass, recently suggested (with stats to back it up) the Red Sox hired themselves a bona fide loser. Of course, Chass’ post is dripping with personal dislike for Valentine, not to mention disdain for his former employer the New York Times, so his sentiments can be taken with a grain of salt. However, one element of Chass’ hit piece is based on truth: Valentine is a very unpopular figure because of his outspoken, often arrogant manner.
Even though a figure like Valentine in a media market like Boston could become a distraction, likability probably wasn’t item number one on the Red Sox’ wish list. Otherwise, there would have been no need to part company with Terry Francona. However, there is a strong indication of discord within the Red Sox’ organization. If GM Ben Cherington really did prefer Gene Lamont, but was overruled by Larry Lucchino, then the reports of dysfunction within the Red Sox hierarchy might actually be understated. With all the rumors swirling around the Nation, Valentine could turn out to be one of the least controversial figures in Boston over the next few months.
From a Yankee fan’s perspective, the Red Sox’ selection of Valentine has all sorts of interesting possibilities. Although the “rivalry” doesn’t need a jolt, the addition of the controversial Valentine to the mix should help stir the pot even more. After all, when Valentine was managing the Mets, he was able to ratchet up the Subway Series with his off-the-cuff remarks. As long as reporters keep sticking tape recorders in Valentine’s face, he’s sure to light at least one fire during an 18-game season series (perhaps as a nod to his former employers at ESPN, one of those occasions might occur just before a Sunday night game?). Either way, the removal of the warm and cuddly Francona from the equation should shift some of the dislike away from the players and toward the manager.
[Bobby Valentine] alleviates a lot of the pressure of playing in New York. He really takes on that responsibility to let us just go out and play with a freer mind. And he enjoys it. He’s very sincere about it. He’s very much tailor-made for a position like that.” – Mike Piazza, quoted by the New York Times, January 10, 2001
Considering all the controversy swirling around the Red Sox this offseason, a lighting rod may be just what the team needs. That’s why it really doesn’t matter that Valentine rubs so many people the wrong way. All that counts is how he interacts with the 25-men in his clubhouse. Perhaps his personality will wear thin (sooner than later?), and maybe the Red Sox will become the modern day equivalent of the Bronx Zoo, but ultimately, the wisdom behind the decision to hire Valentine will be measured by wins and losses on the field, not front page headlines and controversial sound bites. The latter are just icing on the cake for both fans and detractors alike.