Commentary

Bobby Valentine a wake-up call

Red Sox players may not like the change, but they brought it on themselves

Updated: November 30, 2011, 9:36 PM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- So, Bobby Valentine is the new manager of the Boston Red Sox.

There are many in the baseball world who believe this is exactly what the Red Sox need, and there are some who aren't too thrilled with the idea. Some of the skeptics are current Red Sox players who know life in the clubhouse will change.

A Red Sox official told at least one player at the beginning of the managerial search that the Sox "weren't going to hire Bobby Valentine or someone like that," a clubhouse source told ESPNBoston.com last week.

The conversation suggests that Valentine, known as a no-nonsense manager in stints with the New York Mets and Texas Rangers over 15 years, was perceived by some as a darkhorse candidate who would not be popular with some players.

"They're going to have a mess on their hands," the source said when asked what would happen if the Red Sox hired Valentine, who at the time was one of several candidates.

Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona won a pair of World Series titles in Boston and was greatly respected by his players for the way he handled situations both on and off the field. In 2011, however, some players took advantage of Francona's managerial style and the Red Sox imploded.

We're not making Valentine out to be the savior in this situation because there's no denying Francona did one hell of a job with all the different personalities he had to deal with during his tenure in Boston.

Valentine will offer a different perspective when it comes to discipline. He'll attempt to have his finger on the pulse of each and every player during a 162-game season, which no doubt will be a daunting task, and he'll need help in that area.

It's unknown if any members of the current staff -- hitting coach Dave Magadan, third-base coach Tim Bogar, bullpen coach Gary Tuck or bench coach DeMarlo Hale -- will remain in place under Valentine, but the new skipper will need to have a solid go-between in order to make his transition a smooth one.

Remember, Valentine hasn't managed in the big leagues since 2002. He's admitted he learned a lot about the game while managing in Japan, but Japan is not the big leagues.

[+] EnlargeBobby Valentine
AP Photo/Bill KostrounBobby Valentine, seen as a no-nonsense manager, figures to have a different approach to discipline than his successor, Terry Francona.

Valentine can't come in with guns blazing, hoping to get the most out of the Red Sox players. His main focus will be to get the most from his players on the field.

"I like it, I'll be honest, but I may be in the minority," said a recent former Red Sox player. "I don't know too many people who know more about baseball than Bobby. I don't know too many people who aren't afraid to step on toes and can do it in a way that is so confounding that you're taken aback by it, but at the same time he can do it with a smile.

"He can say some stuff to you that can really put you in check, and at the same exact time he can smile about it and say it in jest, but you realize he's pretty sincere. He's going to be different than Tito, that's for sure."

Valentine told ESPNNewYork.com's Ian O'Connor that he's "extremely excited" about his opportunity with the Red Sox. He declined comment when asked about reports of players being upset when he emerged as the leading candidate for the job.

While the current Red Sox players may be cynical about Valentine calling the shots, many of his former players believe he's the right man for the job in Boston.

Current Chicago White Sox third-base coach Joe McEwing played three seasons for Valentine in New York. McEwing also spent one season in the Red Sox organization at Triple-A Pawtucket in 2007.

"I think he's going to do outstanding," McEwing said. "He's an outstanding baseball person who puts players in situations to succeed. He's very attentive to detail. He sees everything and observes everything and doesn't miss a thing. He's very detailed with every aspect of the game."

Baseball people cite Valentine's in-game managing decisions as one of his strong suits, and McEwing agrees. Whether it's managing a few innings ahead or dealing with the bullpen, Valentine is on top of things.

"When the game starts, he's pretty good -- unbelievable, actually," McEwing said. "He uses his entire bench and does an outstanding job of keeping guys fresh. I think he's going to do well. He's used to a [big] market and he's used to the media. He takes pressure off the players and puts it on himself, and when you lose three or four games, he'll take the pressure off the players and put it on him so the players can focus on playing."

Oil Can Boyd, the longtime Red Sox pitcher who played for Valentine in Texas in 1991, knows all about the challenges of playing or managing in Boston. Boyd believes Valentine will have no issues with the current Red Sox players.

"I think he's going to keep those guys in line," Boyd said. "He's not going to tolerate what Tito did. I think Tito had too much of a personal relationship with his players, from what I understand. Tito was more of a modern-day manager and he didn't have high restrictions on how his ballplayers basically would act. But at the same time, he got the best out of them and he won two World Series, so you really can't take anything away from Tito as far as his managerial components.

"Bobby Valentine is going to come in there and he's going to be all right. He's from back east and he relates really well to the media and I think he's going to do OK. He was in New York and dealt with a lot of different personalities in baseball."

Ultimately, Red Sox players shouldn't be complaining about the new dugout don. If they perform on the field and act accordingly off of it, it won't matter who is sitting in the corner office.

"Real baseball players don't care too much about who writes the lineup," Boyd said. "When they come to play, they come to play. That's the part of the game no manager can really get out of an individual because that's an individual thing, that's a passion for the game that each and every ballplayer should carry onto the ball field -- a passion to win and a passion to play good baseball and a passion to entertain the fans."

Despite what happened to the Red Sox last season and their historic collapse in September, Boston still has an incredibly talented team. Before the players blame ownership for making Valentine the manager, the vast majority of them should hold themselves accountable for what happened last season and recognize the need to fix it in 2012.

The veteran Red Sox players who forgot what it means to play in Boston need to clean up the mess they made last season and respond in a big way. Those players who aren't as well established in Boston need to produce to earn their keep.

The players better be ready, because Valentine is.

"Having a great baseball team with a chance of winning the ultimate title is what people dream about, and I'm one of those who dream about those things," Valentine told O'Connor.

No doubt Valentine knows the game of baseball. He knows how to handle the big-market media and he knows how to deal with big-money players. In Boston, he has all the makings of a perennial winning club that somehow lost its way.

"All he has to do is get these guys in line just a little bit and basically they'll be in the World Series. It's as simple as that," Boyd said. "That's too talented of a baseball team for anybody not to come in there and get a winning team out of that.

"Bobby's going to have high expectations of the players he has and he should," added Boyd. "He's going to have great talent and there's no reason if these guys put together a 110-percent effort, there's no reason he shouldn't come in and be a successful manager right off the bat."

It will take a collaborative effort by all. But it starts with the players and not the manager.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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