Bobby Valentine will change Sox
Boston's choice for manager is risky, but he'll certainly shake things up
BOSTON -- Bobby V knows chicken. Beer and video games, too.
By one unofficial count, there are 33 menu items featuring chicken at Bobby Valentine's Sports Gallery Café, the restaurant right on Main Street in Stamford, Conn., whose owner is about to become the 45th manager of the Boston Red Sox.
"Award-winning" Buffalo wings. Chicken "Rollie" fingers. Red-hot chicken poppers, spicy chicken nachos, four salads, five sandwiches, four wraps, burritos, quesadillas, two pastas, six pizzas, all featuring chicken.
Seventeen varieties of beer by the bottle. A dozen beers on tap. And there's a bartop video game loaded with dozens of different games.
But unless Valentine springs one day for the postgame spread, you can be sure all that will be off limits to any Red Sox pitcher looking for a midgame snack or entertainment while his teammates are still in the dugout.
The days of anything goes on Yawkey Way are about to end with the hiring of Valentine, the soon-to-be ex-ESPN analyst who is out of the Dean Wormer generation when it comes to putting up with frat-house antics. And even though the portrait of the Sox clubhouse as an out-of-control playground for pampered millionaires has been vastly exaggerated, there is no doubt that the Red Sox are about to encounter a jarring new reality under Valentine, whose world view is considerably less tolerant than that of his predecessor, Terry Francona.
Francona rarely said a bad word about his players, including Manny Ramirez, who caused the manager more pain than all of his knee operations combined.
One of the first things Valentine did when he became manager of the New York Mets was pick a fight with one of his star players, Todd Hundley, questioning his extracurricular activities and lack of sleep. Does that sound like a man who will tolerate in-game runs to Popeye's?
"Discipline is not 30 whacks with a whip these days," Valentine said last week on Yawkey Way during a session with reporters following his formal interview with the Sox. "But I think everyone likes discipline. I think everyone likes structure. Everyone likes to be acknowledged when they do things properly. Discipline and rules and things like that -- it's just about right and wrong."
Francona believed in his players policing themselves, and through most of his tenure with the Red Sox, he had character players he could count on to do so. Mike Lowell, Alex Cora, Curt Schilling, Jason Varitek, Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller. That covenant, by Francona's own admission, was broken this past season, and the results speak for themselves.
Valentine is cut from different cloth. Demonstrative, outspoken, volatile, demanding, he is certain to bring a level of public accountability to a group of players who may have grown too comfortable under Francona.
If the past is prologue, Valentine will not hesitate to call out anybody -- players, general manager, reporters, owners -- who in his estimation have fallen short of his lofty expectations. This will be Bobby V's world, and everybody else will be expected to play by his rules.
Valentine inherits perhaps the most talented team he has ever managed, one that has gone to the playoffs in six of the last nine seasons, winning two World Series. But he also is taking over a team that has fallen far short of expectations in each of the last two seasons, finishing third in the American League East each time, and then had to live with the embarrassment of its finger-lickin', beer-swillin' caricature.
In hiring Valentine to replace Francona, the Sox have taken a sharp turn away from their original blueprint for a new manager, and a startling departure from the way teams run by Larry Lucchino have done business. Lucchino has never been about hiring a star manager. He didn't hire one in Baltimore (Johnny Oates), he didn't in San Diego (Bruce Bochy), and he certainly didn't in Boston, where Grady Little and Francona have been the two managers on his watch.
This is something new, and fraught with risk, especially for a new general manager (Ben Cherington) in danger of being squeezed between a strong-willed boss above him and an irrepressible force of nature supposedly answering to him. But Valentine is at a stage in his career -- and with an obvious goal in front of him -- where he may be willing, and able, to sacrifice some ego for the common good.
Red Sox ownership, clearly, was willing to take that risk, after a search that seemed to last longer than the NBA lockout.
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Valentine's out-front style is still disdained by many, both inside and outside of the game. "What a great offseason for Red Sox. From manager who won them two World Series to an all-time great underachiever,'' tweeted "Current TV" anchor and baseball blogger Keith Olbermann.
But even some of his harshest critics have opined that he is a good fit for the Red Sox, including Steve Phillips, the former Mets GM who fired Valentine after bitter public disputes.
"We all learn and gain perspective as we get some distance between things," Phillips recently told Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com. "And you can't argue his baseball IQ. You can't argue with his communication skills. You can't argue his creativity. He's a good fit for an organization that has veterans but also wants to play young players.
"He's one of the best teachers I've ever come across in the game. He was the most impactful coach in the minor leagues that I ever had any dealings with at all. And he also is very astute at recognizing situations in the game to figure out who best fits that situation on his roster -- that ability to evaluate a player in a way that resolves an issue that could come up in a game. If you want to work a platoon situation, Bobby's good at that. He's got creative ways of handling the pitchers, but it works. And he's battle tested. He's gone through the trenches a little bit himself.''
Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox: One hundred years may not be enough to prepare Fenway Park for what lies ahead.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.