- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- A picture of every man who has managed the Boston Red Sox hangs on the wall in Bobby Valentine's office in the home clubhouse at Fenway Park. They're to the right of the current skipper's desk, which is cluttered with fan mail, scouting reports and his computer. It's Valentine's way of honoring the century of men who came before him.
Some of those men were loved. Some of them were feared. Some were jeered and hated.
Valentine's future legacy in Boston remains unknown at this point, but there are some positive signs now that the team is winning.
Red Sox fans had a strong connection with Valentine's predecessor, Terry Francona, and for good reason. He managed the club to two World Series titles, in 2004 and 2007. That fondness was evident during the 100th anniversary celebration of Fenway Park on April 20, when he received the loudest ovation of all former members of the Red Sox.
Valentine heard his share of boos at the start of the season, but it seems like he's beginning to win over his players and the fans despite the fact that the Red Sox remain in last place in the American League East.
Valentine earned some fan credibility last Friday when he made a comment about the Tampa Bay Rays' Luke Scott, who was hit by a pitch during the game and then started a bench-clearing scrum. Earlier this season, Scott called Fenway a "dump" and Red Sox fans "arrogant, ruthless and vulgar."
"Maybe it was the Ghost of Fenway Past remembering he badmouthed all our fans and our stadium or something, and just directed the ball toward his leg," Valentine said.
That comment, along with a few others from Valentine during the Rays series, did not go over well in the Tampa Bay clubhouse. Those statements did resonate in Boston's, however.
During that scrum, Valentine was right in the middle of it and his coaching staff, including bench coach Tim Bogar and pitching coach Bob McClure, took offense to some negative comments directed toward their boss.
The Red Sox responded with a big win on Saturday after Jarrod Saltalamacchia's walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth. Valentine said a moment like that could help galvanize a team.
With Monday's 7-4 win over the Detroit Tigers, the Sox have now won 12 of their past 17 games and there seems to be a sense of synergy finally forming on and off the field between Valentine and his players.
"I certainly hope so," Valentine said. "We've been together for a little while now and we've been through a lot. It hasn't been an easy go of it, and I think they've seen my colors and they know I'm standing behind them and I'm standing with them. The only thing I want them to do is enjoy it and be as good as they can be. Hopefully, there's a little bonding coming."
Winning usually has that kind of effect on a team.
"I think the best reflection of a manager is the effort on the field and the team's execution," said Red Sox GM Ben Cherington. "We are playing with grit and with a sense of purpose, and Bobby is a big part of that."
When Valentine first agreed to an interview for Boston's managerial position during the offseason, the Red Sox roster was filled with superstars, All-Stars and World Series champions. As the hiring process continued late last fall, a team official told at least one player that Valentine "or someone like him" would not be considered to replace Francona. When it became obvious that Valentine was the front-runner for the position and eventually hired as the club's 45th manager, some players were displeased with the decision by ownership and management.
Most of the Red Sox players had worked with Francona for eight seasons and were comfortable in the laid-back environment that Tito fostered, but when spring training began, it was quickly evident Valentine had a different style.
Some players liked the new atmosphere and others did not. The immediate result? The Red Sox got off to a dismal start.
That's when Red Sox veteran David Ortiz stepped in.
He called a closed-door meeting earlier this month when the team was struggling, and since then the Red Sox have been playing well. Ortiz admitted that one of the reasons he called the meeting was because he wanted each and every player to step up and do his job. At the time, Valentine was taking a lot of heat for the team's struggles and Ortiz took notice.
"I was feeling really bad about Bobby the way things were going, and it was because I can see the frustration on his face," explained Ortiz. "His hands were tied because he was trying to do things to help us out and it wasn't working, but it wasn't his fault. We weren't executing, so at the end of the day the manager gets blamed, but it's not his fault. He might make a move, but we need to execute.
"I saw his frustrations and I felt like [expletive]," added Ortiz. "Part of the reason why is we need to get together and talk about things and chat about things as players, because players make great managers, but you need to play well for that to happen."
The Red Sox have yet to play better than .500 baseball this season. They've had six opportunities and each time that mark has eluded them. It's the deepest the club has gone into a season without surpassing that plateau since 1996. It took that team until Aug. 25.
If Boston had won the series finale against the Rays on Sunday, the Sox would have finally reached it. After the 4-3 loss, Valentine said he really wanted to win that game for obvious reasons.
"I have learned by watching him, he's the kind of guy who has a great spirit and he definitely wants us to be ready to play the game and perform the way it's supposed to be, and I don't think that's too much to ask, because every manager would ask the same thing," said Ortiz.
There have been some on-the-job learning experiences for Valentine this season.
He had to apologize for comments he made about Red Sox infielder Kevin Youkilis. After the incident, he had to smooth things over with other players, including second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
Valentine also had to deal with pitcher Josh Beckett and his decision to play golf on a day off after he was scratched from his scheduled start because of a lat issue.
There have probably been more issues that haven't been made public. And unlike his previous big league managing jobs with the Texas Rangers and New York Mets, Valentine has learned not to put himself above the team. He's definitely changing his persona a bit in Boston and is not the same type of manager he was a decade ago.
"When people look at me from the outside or say something about me, and the last time they saw me in uniform was 11 years ago, for them to think they know me is insulting," he said. "I think you change every day of your life. If you're not changing, you're dying, and I'd hate to think I'm dying.
"I have no idea if I'm different than I once was or the same. I am who I am and I try to be as good as I can be. The one thing I like to say about myself is that I try to adapt to situations. I was a 35-year-old manager. I went from coaching to managing and that was a major adaptation. I went to a big city in New York. I went to a foreign country. I played in foreign countries and learned different languages. I don't like to think I'm what someone defined me as 25 years ago."
Francona is considered one of the greatest managers in Red Sox history. Many feel he was unfairly fired for the team's collapse last September, and the way the players were held accountable for their actions on and off the field was by getting a new manager in Valentine.
"Every manager is different. Every manager has his own mentality, and Bobby's mentality is a winning mentality," Ortiz said. "If you don't agree with it, then you're not ready to win games -- period.
"The thing I like most about Bobby is that he has that spirit -- like when he sees something going the right way on the field, he'll let you know," Ortiz said. "He gets very excited about it and I like that. He's emotional about it. When I do something right on the field and I have my manager pumped up about it, that takes my game to another level. He has done that with me a lot this year and, trust me, I'm more than thankful because of that. He's made me want to go out there and whoop somebody's ass -- big time."
The Red Sox are nearly 50 games into the 2012 season and there's plenty of baseball to be played. The AL East remains a tight race and maybe the Sox have finally hit their stride while reaching a new comfort level with their new manager.
"It's all about getting used to things," Ortiz said.
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.
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