On September 2, 2012 Bobby Valentine finally gave up on the Red Sox; we knew that they died much earlier:
“I’m calling it…3:28 PM…EST…July 22nd…
The frustrated surgeon snaps off the gloves and the nurse covers the patient’s head and Red Sox hat with a white sheet.
R.I.P. Boston Red Sox, 2012.”
Just after his diffident, indifferent crew of malcontents was swept by the swashbuckling gang of overachievers in Oakland, Valentine had run out of sunshine; he had been fighting on, long after the crew had replaced the Jolly Roger with his white bed sheet.
The whirling dervish of optimism ran out of spin, wobbled in the visitors’ clubhouse in Oakland that day and fell over like a child’s top, surrendering to the inexorable drag of gravity.
The man with the permanent smile, which now masked a bitterness born of betrayal, recognized that “all the King’s horses and all the King’s men” and not even he, Baba Valentine the Great, could reassemble this rotten egg.
He had to admit that, even when he was the manager, when indifference rules a team:
“What difference does it make?”
The man, who had raced around the spring training complex with the rejuvenated joy of a retired vaudevillian given a full summer run at Carnegie Hall, was now described as “despondent,” “almost whispering,” uttering his words “softly” and “quietly.”
On that day, manager Valentine, standing stolidly at the ship’s ancient wheel, looked back over his shoulder and saw that his crew were not at their posts; they were down below deck, drinking and eating and counting their spoils. He was the victim of a bloodless mutiny; the crew didn’t hang or gore him; they simply ignored him.
The hyper-active, leader of men, who relished the thought of shaping up this incorrigible gang of overindulged underachievers, is now Dead Captain Walking.
In the end, Valentine was not the solution, but became a major part of the problem.
It was this ebullient self-confidence that made him susceptible to his friend Larry Lucchino, an even more excessively confident man, who borders on megalomania. At some point, CEO Lucchino hatched a Master Plan in his fertile imagination: the September Swoon Sox needed a new manager that would “kick ass,” shake them up and bring professional discipline to the team. He decided that his friend Bobby was the perfect man for the task. And Bobby’s over-abundance of self-confidence over-ruled the logic of his Id and allowed him to buy into Lucchino’s disconnected fantasy.
All through the “Strangeness” shit storm, while Valentine’s boss, GM Cherington, gleefully sided with the players, while the relentless media launched feces spheres at his face, while the owner listened to Cardinal “Larry” Richelieu whispering in his ear, the manager was never offered a towel or an umbrella by his pal who sent him into the malicious maelstrom.
Almost 50 years ago, the sage poet wrote this cautionary lyric:
“Everybody said they’d stand behind me
When the game got rough
But the joke was on me
There was nobody even there to call my bluff…”
Bobby Valentine is a very intelligent person, who knows a lot about baseball, who loves attention, who was easily set-up to fail by his friend, Mr. Lucchino.
Valentine did not realize that, after 12 years in a contrasting culture, he had become a modern day Rip Van Winkle who, awakened, tried to use his Old School methods on Modern Millionaires, too many of whom now play for money over pride and self-respect.
Almost certainly Mr. Valentine did not read our post back on April 17th:
“You are a literary man and you have likely read the volume of essays by the died-too-young, brilliant author, David Foster Wallace, entitled Consider The Lobster.
You’re Bobby Valentine and you know that once a lobster squirms through that small hole in the trap, he cannot reverse course; his fate is sealed. As a self-proclaimed gourmet chef, you know how to cook a lobster, proper.
Yet, you chose to dance on the rim of the pot of boiling water with the self-proclaimed self-awareness that one mis-step would mean you were doomed to land “in hot water” and, within fifteen minutes, you had to know that you would be “cooked.”
You’re Bobby Valentine and you must know that the cover has been placed over the pot and that not a single Red Sox fan in New England can hear your voice anymore; the citizens of Red Sox Nation can only hear that familiar desperate scratching sound.
Up “they-yah” and Down East, folks know that, to people “from away,” it sounds like a scream when the lobster hits boiling water. But, Sox fans in New England know, the lobster isn’t screaming; it’s just the sound of air, expanding as it heats, that last gasp of hot air rushing from the heedless lobster’s body.”
Toward the end of the previous season, his predecessor, Tito Francona, went into a fugue state and shifted from a “laissez faire” approach to the most passive form of benign neglect. Mr. Francona might have had his life on fire with personal issues that distracted his attention; in any case, he let the inmates take over the institution [especially the kitchen and media room].
Bobby Valentine’s failure to succeed with the Red Sox was primarily due to his overabundance of self-confidence, which, although supported by a successful career, has gained him the reputation as a “smart alec” with an over-sized ego.
It was this ebullient self-confidence that made him susceptible to his friend Larry Lucchino, an even more excessively confident man, who borders on megalomania. At some point, CEO Lucchino hatched a Master Plan in his fertile imagination: the September Swoon Sox needed a new manager that would “kick ass,” shake them up and bring professional discipline to the team. He decided that his friend Bobby was the perfect man for the task.
Owner John Henry had privately told him that he was the man who would run the Red Sox, so the ubiquitously “empowered” Lucchino was confident that, whoever Cherington dug up as candidates, he would prevail and Valentine would manage the Red Sox in 2012 and 2013.
The only hurdle left before implementation was Bobby, but Larry was sure he could convince his friend to take on the job.
At some time prior to November 3, 2011, he called Bobby and they had a meeting. Larry made his case and, after a minimum of time spent on the obligatory mention of the “downside” of the idea, Bobby bit.
Many other less capable, but less confident men would have demurred, considering:
- After the September Swoon, the clubhouse had become a toxic pile of sullen adolescents, clubhouse snitches, prima donnas, and no leadership. The inmates had been allowed enough time to take over the asylum. It was like handing a new manager a wet bag of garbage.
- The Red Sox Nation is a cauldron of contentiousness, where rabid fans and merciless media are relentless in their criticism of the team.
- With the third largest payroll in MLB, expectations were very high.
- Too many players were on long-term contracts, which tended toward an “I don’t need to listen to you; I can wait you out” attitude.
Despite these fundamental problems and his own awareness that:
He was away from the game for 12 years.
He had a reputation for bad-mouthing his players in the media.
He knew he was being rammed down the GM’s throat.
He knew about his reputation for lobbing Molotov cocktails at sparks.
Bobby took the job.
He took it, because he fell under the spell of hubris.
We will refine the definition to more elegantly describe Mr. Valentine.
With him it is the temptation of his ego to allow him to believe that he can do something that others cannot. Like untying the “Gordian Knot,” or worse, “shaping up” a toxic Red Sox team.
It is the flavor of hubris that craves attention; a voracious and insatiable need to feed the ego with recognition.
The flavor of arrogance here derives less from excessive pride and more from passion.
Take his hubris down a notch and it is courage, determination, and idealism.
On Baseball Tonight he was commenting on stories, but that was not enough: he wanted to be the story.
Because he missed The Show and the limelight; he took on the impossible task.
In classic literature, hubris inexorably resigns the hero to terrible consequences.
It was his heroic, but tragic attempt to overstep normal human limits.
“Between the Idea and the Reality… falls The Shadow.” –T.S. Eliot
After obtaining Valentine’s commitment, Lucchino took Cherington with him to the World Affairs Council Panel discussion in Hartford on November 3rd. Larry asked that Valentine show up early for the panel discussion in which they would participate. He used the staged opportunity to introduce Cherington to Valentine. Ben was in the audience and Larry expected he would be impressed with Valentine. Apparently he was not, since no formal interview was scheduled.
Undeterred, Lucchino ordered Cherington to meet with Valentine a few weeks later [Nov. 21] at the Fenway offices and to schedule a formal interview for Valentine the following day.
Minimizing the significance of the informal interview, Cherington made the media announcement via email, the night before the meeting.
Due to the requirement to interview Valentine and others, Cherington’s first choice, Dale Sveum, was hired by his former boss, GM Theo Epstein, to manage the Cubs on November 18th.
On November 21, Peter Abraham, Globe Staff, observed:
“Valentine emerged as the leading candidate last week after Red Sox ownership met with Dale Sveum and did not make him an offer. Sveum had been Cherington’s choice after the first round of interviews.
Now Valentine is the front-runner in that he apparently comes pre-approved by team president Larry Lucchino. Valentine also has the support of principal owner John Henry, according to sources.” [Valentine emerged as the leading candidate last week after Red Sox ownership met with Dale Sveum and did not make him an offer. Sveum had been Cherington’s choice after the first round of interviews.
Three other candidates, Sandy Alomar Jr., Gene Lamont and Torey Lovullo were alleged to be in contention along with Valentine. But Lucchino knew that this was a farce; these three “candidates” were simply straw men, since he was running the Red Sox, including the hiring of the new manager.
At some point, Cherington figured out that he would not be allowed to make the choice; a decision usually assigned to the General Manager; he realized that Lucchino had neutered him and that, since owner Henry had granted his CEO unlimited power, Ben was now the “Monkey in the Middle” between Lucchino and Valentine.
On November 22nd, exactly 48 years since President Kennedy was assassinated, Valentine went through the motions of the interview and then met with the media.
It was also the 23rd anniversary of the unveiling of the Stealth bomber.
Adding a second insult to Cherington’s GM role, Valentine leaked the decision.
On November 29th USA Today reported:
“Bobby Valentine accepted the Boston Red Sox’s offer Tuesday to become their next manager, according to Tommy Lasorda, special assistant to Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt.
“I’m glad he accepted the job,” Lasorda told USA TODAY. “He’s good for baseball and he’ll get them right back where they should be. Let me put it this way: They won’t be drinking beer and eating chicken in that clubhouse again, I guarantee you that.”
Valentine telephoned Lasorda to inform him he accepted the job. Valentine was on a charity event in Japan, where he managed for seven years. The Red Sox have declined comment, but Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said Monday that he hoped to have a manager by Friday.”
Embarrassed by Valentine, Cherington announced, the next evening, that Bobby Valentine would be introduced as manager Thursday, when Cherington’s Press Release said “the team will host a news conference at 5:30 p.m. at Fenway Park to announce Valentine’s hire.”
Thus did the venerable franchise come full circle from the 1967 “Impossible Dream” to the 2012 “Impossible Team?”
“Bobby Valentine, more than most people, knows how to smile while clenching his teeth. He understands it looks better to smile, but he has never been good at concealing his true feelings.”–TYLER KEPNER, NYT, July 28, 2012.
Set up to be the “New Sheriff in Town,” believing the Lucchino had “empowered” him with full managerial authority, Valentine cleaned up the chicken and beer that was still rotting in the clubhouse from last September and confidently proclaimed a ban.
Shortly, Valentine said Youkilis wasn’t “as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past.” [SOURCE: Steven Buckley, Boston Herald]
Still smarting from previous slights and indignities perpetrated by Lucchino and Valentine Cherington responded (via CBS Boston) by backing up the player, undercutting the authority of the manager:
“First of all, the way he expressed that was not the best way to express that. He said the same thing to Kevin and apologized. I think we’ll all learn from it and be able to handle it differently.”
Where was his CEO pal, Larry, when Valentine was chided by GM Cherington?
Then Pedroia inserted himself into the controversy, sticking up for his team mate:
”I don’t really understand what Bobby’s trying to do. But that’s really not the way we go about our stuff here. I’m sure he’ll figure that out soon. We’ve got Youk’s back. He’s played his [butt] off for us for a long time …”
In his weekly show, WHDH-TV’s Sports Extra, Valentine tried to spin Pedroia’s statement:
“That’s one of those things. I really appreciate players when they stick together. That’s exactly what he should be doing.”
But the damage had already been done and the “Us vs. Him” game was on and Bobby was just beginning to realize that the players were “serious sunburn” sensitive to his reputation for calling out his Mets’ players in the media and ready to react to the slightest touch.
This was followed by Valentine revealing a weeks old incident, that a coach had reported to management; Jacoby Ellsbury had made two errors in one inning and, when he returned to the dugout, Bobby, using Old School sarcasm said something like “Nice inning, kid…”
Valentine received the approbation of management via his boss, GM Cherington; no one came to the manager’s defense in the matter.
Although Valentine believed he had the full support of Lucchino, his pal who was running the Red Sox, he knew the media “story line”– he was in a battle with his General Manager and his players.
“Between the Idea and the Reality… falls The Shadow.” –T.S. Eliot
Valentine’s Spring of optimism season, skipped summer and turned to a dark Winter; Valentine would spend the rest of the season in the shadows; his only option was to clench his teeth put on that famous shiny smile, enthusiastically feign optimism, play out the string of the 2012 season, and privately plan his return to Sports broadcasting.
Thus, despite the plain Reality – his team at .500 (55-56), 9 games behind the Yankees; 4½ games out of the second wild-card spot, behind four teams, he grins hard and says, two days ago [August 8th] in an interview on Boston sports radio station WEEI:
“I think we’re a playoff team and I think we’re going to be there before the season is over,”
When the host suggested that the Red Sox would probably need 89 wins to clinch the second wild-card spot, which would require them to win 2 out of 3 of their remaining 51 games, a 34-17 record, Valentine replied”
“Yeah, of course…Of course, we can do better than that. I don’t think that’s so optimistic, I think it’s realistic if we stay healthy. Right now we have some concerns in the bullpen. If that stabilizes I think there’s big runs ahead.”
It turned out that there were no runs in the Sox, but there were some gaping holes and, in the end, the one thing that is true about Bobby Valentine and the 2012 Red Sox team is that—despite the pairing mandated by CEO Lucchino–they were a very “bad fit.”
Possibly someday, Bobby Valentine will be joyfully preparing a gourmet Japanese dinner for two in his kitchen in Connecticut, while a lobster taps its farewell death dance, and Bobby sings along with the Dylan song on the oldies’ station:
‘Everybody said they’d stand behind me
When the game got rough
But the joke was on me
There was nobody even there to call my bluff…”
And, his wife enters the kitchen and Bobby says:
“It will be ready in about five minutes…You know, I still can’t figure out how I let Larry talk me into taking that job…”