We’re on a TWA to the promised land
Every woman, child and man
Gets a Cadillac and a great big diamond ring
Don’t you know you’re ridin’ with the King
- Riding With The King, John Hiatt
People don’t like change. Just ask my wife upon who I, with regularity, inflict technological change in my house (by the way, my new 1080i AppleTV makes me love my MLB baseball package even more). Hand wringing, buyer’s remorse – at least on her part – and second guessing are the usual change curves that can be counted on. She’s sure it’s shinier and somehow better but the unknown changes to come cause some justifiable skepticism. “Sure the old stuff doesn’t quite do what the platform requires anymore but do we really have to change?” “Ah, yeah.”
Baseball too is a dynamic and ever-changing platform that requires new equipment upgrades and acquisition of new skills to make the engine go. Terry Francona lost control of his equipment in 2011. His volume knob didn’t work. His pitcher quality was fuzzy (no word misuse intended). In the end, the old tools Francona used as a formula for success while bringing two world championships to Boston simply became dull and passé. Players stopped listening and the 7-20 September swoon that ushered in the winter of our discontent was intolerable. 2011 made fans feel like the same old perennial Charlie Brown’s running full tilt toward the football, all the while knowing that Lucy (Tampa Bay/Baltimore/New York – take your pick) was there to snatch it away once we’d committed to the winning field goal.
In a profession like baseball that demands winning, change is inevitable. Francona lost control and both Boston brass and the media demanded change. No one asked the fans. Hey, it’s not our business, only our team.
The changes were swift and sweeping. Some may say that it wasn’t sweeping enough when your two top starters during the 2012 spring training season are beaning batters with the frequency of a cheap ham radio. Of all the changes the most profound by far has been the hiring of Bobby Valentine. If you like cocky, brash, quotable, smart and energetic managers then you’re probably hating Bobby V about now. Francona and Valentine are polar opposites. In any event, the king is dead. Long live the king.
What has to be recognized is that Valentine is bringing a fresh approach. Guys are getting after it. And if they aren’t, Valentine is there to remind them that spring training is about getting ready to win in the regular season, not how many rounds of golf they can fit in before the grind starts on April 5…
I’m not advocating the serial firing habits that characterized the Steinbrenner era but this change was necessary. From 1973 to 1990, King George had 19 different managers (well OK, Billy Martin being hired and fired five times barely counts and unnecessarily inflates the numbers), five team presidents, 15 pitching coaches and 13 general managers. Donald Trump, please sit down.
Reactions to Valentine’s hiring and style are mixed in New England. His demeanor runs counter to the steely pragmatism that runs deep in the Nation. When he opens his mouth old-timers cringe. You can feel it.
What has to be recognized is that Valentine is bringing a fresh approach. Guys are getting after it. And if they aren’t, Valentine is there to remind them that spring training is about getting ready to win in the regular season, not how many rounds of golf they can fit in before the grind starts on April 5, for the Sox in Detroit most certainly against Justin Verlander.
I’m a Valentine fan. He’s a smart baseball man. I think he knows how to talk to and motivate players on an individual basis. Hell, he can even talk to Daisuke Matsuzaka in his own language. If Boston starts quick out of the blocks in 2012 all the boohooing and angst over Tito’s departure will be washed away like so many, well, beer and chicken dinners. Until then, it’s a tense time for the Old Towne Team and their fans.