BOSTON -- Bobby Valentine could have spared himself a whole lot of grief had he refused the bait and responded with the brash rejoinder of a 19-year-old instead of the wounded pride of a 62-year-old.
WEEI sports radio host Glenn Ordway, whose station has a contractual relationship with the Red Sox manager that requires him to make a weekly appearance, cut to the chase Wednesday and asked, "Maybe you've kind of checked out. Have you checked out?" Valentine could have seized the offensive by channeling young Bryce Harper and saying, "That's a clown question, bro."
Instead, Valentine went into a boxer's crouch 2,500 miles away, allowed the body blow to connect, then spat out a response that revealed the depth to which his emotions have been rubbed raw by this most woebegone of summers.
"What an embarrassing thing to say," Valentine said, his voice cold with fury. "If I were there, I'd punch you right in the mouth."
The next two syllables? "Ha, ha," which sounded more like a slap than a laugh. "How's that sound?" he continued. "Is that like I checked out?"
For Ordway, it was radio gold.
For Valentine, it was an understandable display of pique, framed by a regrettable choice of words, and it did not end there, as he elected to turn a question about his "late" arrival at Oakland for a game last Friday into an unholy attack on his integrity.
He could have calmly explained to Ordway and co-host Michael Holley that his tardiness was due to his son's delayed flight, and heavier-than-expected traffic from the airport to the ballpark, which is precisely how it was reported at the time by those reporters who were with the team.
Instead, you had this: "For someone to say that I was late is an absolute disgrace to their integrity," he said, "if they have any."
Yes, there were raised eyebrows, especially with the Red Sox in the midst of a freefall that reached its most absurd level yet later that night, when the Sox fell 20-2 to the Oakland Athletics. And when Valentine tossed out a "who cares?" to a question about his lineup the next day, the foundation was laid for Valentine to take what he undoubtedly considered friendly fire from Ordway, who opted for the cudgel when a stiletto might have been just as effective.
What was odd is that Valentine acted as if Ordway asking him about his alleged tardiness was the first he'd heard on the subject, as if he had spent the past few days in a media-free vacuum. For anyone who knows Valentine, that is straining credulity. And pulling Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon into the discussion, by saying -- inaccurately -- that Maddon routinely shows up three hours before a game, only inflated the "thou doth protest too much" feel to Valentine's argument.
Maddon, assuming he is the author of his own tweets, devilishly tweaked Valentine for involving him with this 140-character missive: "Apologies to the writers for being late to today's pregame session. My pedicure appointment ran a little late."
To some, the combative nature of the radio interview garnered Valentine sympathy, embattled Bobby valiantly trying to salvage his dignity while the vultures picked at the carcass of this lost season. When ESPNBoston's Joe McDonald cornered Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino in Pawtucket on Wednesday night, Lucchino did not censure his manager for his ill-tempered responses.
"I don't have any comment," Lucchino said. "I did not hear them. I heard about them. I don't have any further comment on it. Talk shows are talk shows."
But on a day in which an exhausted Valentine appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, his hands cupping his face in abject misery, accompanied by the headline, "How the Red Sox Lost Their Way," it was another reminder of how Valentine has become the symbol of all that has gone wrong on Yawkey Way in 2012, shouldering even those sins not of his own commission.
"I think Bobby has done a hell of a job given what he has faced," Red Sox owner John W. Henry wrote SI senior writer Tom Verducci in an email. "He has always been a lightning rod and has never avoided confrontation.
"Our players were used to what is commonly called a 'players' manager. Bobby just isn't that. He's more of an old-school manager with players while being a new-school manager with his approach to tactics and everything else. He's brilliant but not someone who's going to be liked by everyone. Popularity is overrated, but he's had a tough go this year."
There is an element of hollowness in Henry's words. Ordinarily, "hell of a job" would translate into a commitment to Valentine to return for the second year of his two-year contract. That commitment has not been forthcoming. Henry and fellow owners Lucchino and Tom Werner all have stated that review will come at the end of the season. They could yet shock their constituency and invite Valentine back, but few expect them to do so -- least of all, it now appears, Valentine himself.
A manager with a future doesn't need to punch anyone in the mouth.