Commentary

Disaster relief?

One epic collapse and two months later, Bobby Valentine is on board in Boston's dugout

Updated: December 2, 2011, 11:13 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- It took the Patriots 24 days to hire Bill Belichick after firing Pete Carroll, the Celtics three days to hire Doc Rivers after letting go of interim coach Frank Carroll, the Bruins six days to replace Dave Lewis with Claude Julien.

On Thursday afternoon, 62 days after Terry Francona wheeled his SUV out of the players' parking lot onto Ipswich Street for the final time as Red Sox manager, the center-field scoreboard at Fenway Park was lit up with this message: "THE BOSTON RED SOX WELCOME BOBBY VALENTINE AS THEIR NEW MANAGER."

"It was not a tidy, orderly, linear process -- it never is," said Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, who was speaking not only of the tortuous route the Sox took to Valentine but the hiring of Francona eight years ago, too.

[+] EnlargeBobby Valentine
Justin Neohoff/US PresswireBobby Valentine said all the right things Thursday during his introduction as Red Sox manager.

Both, Lucchino noted, were spawned by disasters -- the American League Championship Series Game 7 loss blamed on Grady Little in 2003, the 7-20 September this go-round. And both ended with announcements of the new hires in the first days of December.

But what in the end will be more important to the Red Sox and their fans is not how they got here but whether this declaration by Lucchino will prove true about 61-year-old Robert John Valentine of Stamford, Conn.:

"The point is not how fast or slow we did it but did we find the right guy. I think we found the right guy at the right time for the right team."

Valentine, visibly exhaling as he sat down at the podium he shared with no one else but Ben Cherington -- the Red Sox using a visual cue to reinforce their message that the new general manager was the man who decided on Bobby V -- said he didn't allow himself to believe that the Red Sox would choose him until receiving an e-mail from Cherington while he was in Japan earlier this week.

Valentine consulted his cellphone for reporters, then gave the time and date he received that message: "It was 8:37 a.m. on Nov. 29." That was the time here, not in Japan. "It was dark there," he said. "Nighttime."

Now comes the dawning of a new chapter, Valentine said in his news conference, one that made him sound bedazzled by the possibilities.

"It's the beginning of a life that I think is going to extend beyond anything else that I thought of doing," said the now former ESPN baseball analyst who almost certainly will have to surrender his other job, as Stamford's public safety director.

"The talent level and the players that we have in this organization, I think, is a gift to anyone. And I'm the receiver of that gift."

Cherington listed all the qualities that made Valentine the right choice -- "enormous baseball intellect, creative, open-minded, clearly passionate, badly wants to win. We believe he is the right person for 2012 and beyond."

Makes one wonder why, if Valentine was all of those things, he didn't make Cherington's original list of candidates. He was, however, on Lucchino's.

"From the outset, as Ben said, we wanted a battle-tested manager with significant experience," Lucchino said.

Except, of course, that Cherington had said nothing of the sort. He had downplayed big league experience as a factor, and the composition of his original list underscored that. Of the five candidates originally brought in for interviews -- Pete Mackanin, Torey Lovullo, Sandy Alomar Jr., Dale Sveum and Gene Lamont -- only Lamont had managed in the big leagues in a full-time capacity. Mackanin and Sveum had each served as interim managers, Sveum for only a dozen games.

[+] EnlargeBen Cherington
AP Photo/Charles KrupaBen Cherington claims hiring Bobby V was his call, but the undeniable truth is that they'd better work well together or both might not last in Boston.

But when the Red Sox did not move on Sveum, making no offer before he was hired by the Chicago Cubs, the Sox search changed focus. Lucchino insisted Cherington did not have to be dragged kicking and screaming to consider Valentine. All part of the collaborative way the Red Sox do things, he said, though Lucchino acknowledged that from the beginning, he was the one who was looking for battle-tested and experienced.

As for Sox majority owner John W. Henry?

"I thought at least I went into it with a very open mind," Henry said. "It could be a first-time manager. I knew that was less of a probability than an experienced manager, but we really wanted to look at who was available.

"I didn't feel we had to hire an experienced manager. However, it's definitely a plus. It was going to depend on who we met and how his interviews went. Again, we started with an open mind."

Could Cherington have said no? "He was the one who recommended him," Lucchino shot back.

And the Sox CEO was offering no apology for the role ownership took in the process.

"That's the way we do things around here," he said. "If there's any issue ownership should be actively involved in, it certainly would be the selection of general manager and the field manager."

Cherington is the one who will have to work with Valentine on a daily basis, and it would be inviting an unholy mess if Valentine decided he could bypass the GM and go over his head to Lucchino when major decisions need to be made. Henry insisted that won't happen.

"Ben and Bobby work well together," Henry said. "Absolutely. There's no way Ben would have recommended him if he didn't feel comfortable. Absolutely."

On Thursday, Valentine certainly was hitting all the right notes, expressing his eagerness to embrace the information and input he can expect to receive from Cherington and his baseball operations crew.

He also addressed the reputation that has followed him, both good and bad.

"I'm not the genius that I've heard people refer to me as," he said. "I'm not the polarizing guy that people refer to me as. I'm not the monster that breathes fire that some people have referred to me as. I'm a guy.

"I'm a regular human being with regular feelings and regular attributes that make me what I am. I think some of them, as I've been told by people who know me, are OK. I don't know if I'm polarizing or any of those other things. It's just what I am."

What Valentine is now is the 45th manager of the Red Sox. The Sox gave him a two-year contract, with two additional option years. He said he would have signed a one-year deal.

"Speaking for myself," Lucchino said, "I was always optimistic Bobby would be someone who would fit in here. He was the right guy at the right time under the right circumstances with the right team in the right place.

"And so, this may not be a news flash, but there was and is no perfect managerial candidate."

The new man -- wearing a No. 25 jersey he chose, he said, to honor Tony Conigliaro (hope Mike Lowell and Troy O'Leary aren't offended) -- said he expects an immersion course in all things Red Sox next week in Dallas, during the winter meetings.

"Now I've got 80 days before first day of spring training," he said. "I'm going to try to do too much and hopefully do enough."

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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