Who's managing Bobby V?
Red Sox skipper's longtime friend Zack Minasian is also his right-hand man
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy?
In a pinch, Zack Minasian could probably pull off the first three. He's been thinking on his feet since the age of 14, when Tommy Lasorda hauled him off to Ogden, Utah, to be his clubhouse guy, traveling secretary and even emergency trainer -- the role assigned to Minasian one night when one of Lasorda's players was knocked cold and they ran out together to attend to him.
"Tommy looked at me and said, 'Do something,'" Minasian said. "I said, 'Do something? What the [expletive] am I supposed to do? I'm 14. I don't know what to do for him.'"
But spy? Minasian wants no part of that one. His official title with the Red Sox is "administrative assistant to the field manager," which means he'll be at the beck and call of the man he considers his best friend in the world, Bobby Valentine. That friendship was forged in Ogden when Minasian, an L.A. kid who had grown up among celebrities because his father, Eddie, worked at a swanky hotel (how many kids jump in the same pool with the Rolling Stones?), developed an instant bond with the slightly older Valentine, a hotshot phenom from the other side of the country.
The job? If it has a precedent in baseball, no one here knows about it, and it certainly is a new one for the Red Sox, which is why Minasian is sensitive to the suggestion that Valentine will use him to keep tabs on his clubhouse.
"I don't want to spend too much time in the clubhouse," Minasian said. "I don't want to spend too much time around the players. They don't know me. I don't want them uncomfortable -- 'Hey, there's a Bobby Valentine plant or spy.' I would hope that they over time will learn what I'm about.
"I'm not here to spy. I've been in this game too long, and respect all the rules of thumb involved with this game, to inform on players."
But anything else Valentine might need, Minasian will be first responder. Like the team party held Sunday inside the seafood restaurant at the Bass Pro store here. The party was Valentine's idea and Minasian was the one who planned it, though Valentine was calling him with suggestions a half-hour before the event.
It was Valentine's idea to put a form at each place where a player was sitting, and ask him to write down his favorite inspirational saying. Each then folded up his answer, tucked it inside the plastic Easter eggs Minasian had provided, and the eggs were gathered and placed in buckets at each table. The players were then instructed to select an egg and read the saying inside their egg.
"It may sound hokey and corny, but it's not hokey and corny," Minasian said. "It's called team building, and when you have the guys all together laughing and the wives all talking, it's a good night."
'I'm a loyal guy'
Minasian and Valentine have been friends going on 45 years, since Valentine reported to Ogden in 1968 as an 18-year-old and met the clubhouse kid who had almost as much swagger as he did.
"I'm a loyal guy," Valentine says.
So is Minasian, who was still in high school in Burbank, Calif., standing on the auditorium stage during an assembly when he spotted Valentine in the wings, gesturing to him to come over.
I've just been called up to Spokane, said Valentine, who had been at Dodger Stadium the night before when general manager Al Campanis broke the news to him, telling him he'd be going to the team's Triple-A club in Washington state instead of the team's Class A affiliate in Bakersfield. I need you, Valentine said to Minasian, to drive up with me.
"I call my dad," Minasian says. "'Dad, you gotta call the school and get me out.' He did, we jumped in the car and off we went."
On the way, they stopped in Woodland, Calif., Dustin Pedroia's hometown, where Valentine had played in the Babe Ruth World Series. "I played on the same field as Dustin did," Valentine said. "In 1964. But don't tell him it was '64. I'll never hear the end of it."
Now mind you, Valentine had been to Woodland just once, but he navigated the streets of the town like he'd grown up there, finally stopping outside a house where the woman inside took one look out the window and dashed outside to embrace him. "Ma Barton," Valentine said, referring to the woman who had served as his host during the tournament.
"That's how his mind works," Minasian marveled. "He'd only been there once, but he remembered exactly how to get there."
The rest of the trip was easy -- except for the snow in Oregon and the fact that Valentine was stopped by the cops three times for violations, winding up in jail the last time. Something about speeding in a rental car with an out-of-state license, although Minasian managed to talk their way out of that one with the night clerk.
"We started hanging out together when he played in L.A.," Minasian said. "We lived together in Arcadia, we lived in Pacific Palisades, and when he was traded to the Angels, we lived in Irvine. Each time we were roommates.
"We've been through good times and bad times. I was there when he broke his leg. I was there when he got beaned in the face in Hawaii, almost a Conigliaro-type thing. It was real bad. He had a hole in his face. This world-renowned surgeon just happened to be at the game and fixed him up. Years later, Bobby tried to find the doctor and ended up running into his son.
"I've been with him through his divorces, I've stood up at his weddings. His first divorce, we got him through that. The broken leg, he ended up suing the doctor for malpractice, but lost that case. I was with him when he was rehabbing the leg, trying to get back to playing, which he could never do. That was a tough period. We would ride bikes for 20 miles from Irvine to the beach, trying to rehab the leg, but it just never came around. They didn't set it right."
There were plenty of good times, too. "Whatever Bobby set his mind to do, he did," Minasian said. "He entered a pancake-eating contest and won." (Valentine: "It's all documented, in the L.A. Times. One hundred-and-twenty-two pancakes.")
What was it about Minasian that made Valentine connect?
"He's always there whenever I needed him -- for friendship or anything else," Valentine said. "He's the man. He connects with everybody he comes in contact with."
The Lasorda connection
There's an aspect of their friendship that is almost eerie. Eddie Minasian worked at the Ambassador Hotel in L.A., where he ran the Cocoanut Grove nightclub and met many of the Dodgers' players and executives, not to mention the Stones. The Ambassador Hotel is the place where Bobby Kennedy was assassinated; Minasian, who was the hotel's catering director at the time, was at the senator's right shoulder when he was shot. Zack Minasian, whose parents were divorced, was living with his dad at the time and spent anxious hours watching TV, fearful his father had been shot as well amidst the horrifying chaos, before his dad called him from a police station to assure him he was OK.
Eddie Minasian was extremely close to Lasorda, who became Zack Minasian's gateway into baseball. Lasorda was Valentine's first manager in pro baseball and treated him like an adopted son. When he became manager of the Dodgers, he wore No. 2 in Valentine's honor.
"Tommy has often said," Zack Manasian said, "that the hardest thing he ever had to do was tell Bobby he couldn't play anymore."
Valentine adored Lasorda, and in temperament and style has often been compared to the ebullient Lasorda. And now here was Zack Manasian, best friends with Valentine. (One more bit of eeriness: Lasorda worships Sinatra. Eddie Minasian and Sinatra had the same birthday. But enough of that.)
The time came, of course, when Valentine and Minasian went their separate ways. Valentine hung on for nearly a decade, playing with the Padres, Mets and Mariners before retiring as a player in 1979 and turning to coaching. Minasian went to Chicago, met his future wife, Linda, and had four boys while working in sales, mostly for a sporting goods store. He was there 13 years.
But they reunited in Texas, where Valentine became manager of the Rangers and GM Tom Grieve offered Minasian a job as visiting clubhouse man. Valentine had already asked Minasian to come to Texas to run the restaurant he was opening, but Minasian opted to go back to baseball.
He worked 23 years for the Rangers, the last 15 on the home side. He ran it like his personal duchy, and pity the reporter who walked into an area that was off-limits, however innocently. But it didn't end well in Texas, where the current front office and Minasian didn't see eye to eye, and in 2009 he was let go. He loved his time in Texas, he says, though it rankles him that his departure came without a thank you.
Minasian was planning to run his own food-service truck -- "I bought a 1975 Stepvan on eBay, took it to Indiana to have it totally redone, installed a 16-foot kitchen in the back. We had a menu, a name, and I was going to be my own boss."
But then, last fall, came a call from Valentine. I might be getting the Red Sox job, he said. Care to join me?
Shipping up to Boston
The Sox borrowed a page from the Patriots to find a job that fit. Patriots coach Bill Belichick has long had a personal assistant, Berj Najarian, who acts as Belichick's first line of defense. More than one reporter has gotten a message from Najarian, saying, "The Big Man wants to see you."
It was decided that Minasian would be Valentine's liaison to the outside world, managing his calendar, scheduling his public appearances, endorsement bookings, restaurant reservations on the road (Minasian can tell you the names of all the best Italian places in the country), and whatever else might come up, which is plenty. Valentine has had more visitors in camp this spring than his predecessor, Terry Francona, had in eight years. Seemingly half of his hometown of Stamford, Conn., has been through. The president of Goldman Sachs. Tuesday, the author of the book Valentine is reading showed up.
Minasian is juggling it all. Fuel for the critics inclined to mock Valentine for having something no other manager has?
"Probably," Minasian said. "Maybe even some of the players are saying that. You never know what guys are saying.
"But what makes me feel comfortable is that Ben Cherington and Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner and John Henry and Brian O'Halloran feel comfortable there's a value to this position. They're paying me. I want them to pay me because I'm worth it, not because I'm Bob Valentine's friend. I want him to win, and that's why I'm here."
Those four boys Zack and Linda Minasian had? Two of them, Perry and Zack, are big league pro scouting directors -- Perry for the Brewers, Zack for the Blue Jays. A third, Calvin, is the minor league equipment coordinator for the Nationals, while the oldest, Rudy, is an attorney in Chicago. Their time spent in the Rangers' clubhouse with dad was obviously not wasted.
But now, it's back to Bobby, and Boston.
"He's an amazing guy," Minasian said. "Some say he's loud, 'Mr. Top Step.' But all the negatives have been written about him by people who don't know him, haven't spent time with him. You spend time with him, you realize what a gifted guy he is and how much he has to offer."
But first, you have to go through Zack.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.