Red Sox fire Bobby Valentine
BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox thought Bobby Valentine would restore order to a coddled clubhouse that disintegrated during the 2011 pennant race.
Instead, he caused more problems.
The brash and supremely confident manager was fired Thursday, the day after the finale of a season beset with internal sniping and far too many losses. Valentine went 69-93 in his only year in Boston, the ballclub's worst season in almost 50 years.
"I understand this decision," Valentine said. "This year in Boston has been an incredible experience for me, but I am as disappointed in the results as are ownership and the great fans of Red Sox Nation. It was a privilege to be part of the 100 year anniversary of Fenway Park and an honor to be in uniform with such great players and coaches. My best to the organization.
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"I'm sure next year will be a turnaround year."
A baseball savant who won the NL pennant with the New York Mets and won it all in Japan, Valentine was brought in after two-time World Series champion Terry Francona lost control of the clubhouse during an unprecedented September collapse. But the players who took advantage of Francona's hands-off approach bristled under Valentine's abrasive style.
More importantly, they didn't win for him, either.
Under Valentine, the Red Sox started 4-10 and didn't break .500 until after Memorial Day. By August, when the contenders were setting their playoff roster, the Red Sox knew they would not be among them and they traded some of their best players -- and biggest salaries -- to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But that will be too late for Valentine.
"It's certainly not fair to put the lion's share of the responsibility on Bobby," Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said. "He was dealt with a lot of difficult issues and things happened outside of his control. But we are where we are, and the results weren't good and we are looking to move forward.
"As we look forward to building the next team, we felt like to truly have a fresh start and provide some momentum moving forward, and a jolt to our offseason and next year, we needed to make a change in the manager's office and start anew there."
Cherington, who replaced Theo Epstein last offseason, will lead the search for a replacement.
Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell is "at the top" of Boston's managerial wish list, a baseball source told ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes. The Red Sox intend to ask the Blue Jays for permission to speak with Farrell about the job, according to the source.
Farrell is under contract with the Blue Jays, who finished the season 73-89. When it was speculated that the Red Sox were interested in speaking with Farrell about their managerial vacancy last season, the Blue Jays changed their policy and blocked personnel from interviewing for jobs for lateral positions. In the past, the team had allowed such interviews.
"It's a year later than it was last year, and it's doubly important to find someone that we can get behind and who can build some stability, create some stability in that office," Cherington said. "We don't want to be going through these changes this often, and it's important to this franchise and to all of us to find the right person to be a part of restoring the Red Sox to where we should be."
A year after a 7-20 September cost the Red Sox a chance at the postseason, the club went 7-22 in September and October to put a punctuation mark on its worst season since 1965. Boston lost its last eight games, failing even in its role of spoiler as it was swept down the stretch by playoff contenders Tampa Bay, Baltimore and the rival New York Yankees.
That left them in last place -- 26 games out -- for the first time since 1992 and they missed the playoffs for the third year in a row.
"This year's won-loss record reflects a season of agony. It begs for changes," Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said. "We are determined to fix that which is broken and return the Red Sox to the level of success we have experienced over the past decade."
What was supposed to be a season of celebration for Fenway's 100th anniversary was instead the worst under the current management, which bought the team in 2002. And though injuries probably doomed the Red Sox anyway -- they used a franchise-record 56 players -- Valentine's clumsy handling of his players forced him into frequent apologies that undermined his authority in the clubhouse.
Lucchino maintained, however, that Valentine's firing did not represent a misjudgement on the part of Red Sox management.
"Just because it didn't work out this year, given the way circumstances played out and adverse things occurred, it does not mean there was a flaw in the selection process necessarily," Lucchino said. "I do think we would have been feeling more pleased if we selected a manager who would be here for years to come.
"But we made this choice in good faith, and Bobby worked very hard this year under adverse circumstances. It's unfortunate that he will not be here in future years, but he leaves with our respect and admiration and our gratitude."
The Red Sox had the AL's best record on Sept. 1, 2011, and a nine-game lead in the AL wild-card race before missing out on a playoff berth on the final day of the season. Francona, who led the Red Sox to World Series titles in 2004 and again in 2007, was let go after admitting that he had lost his touch in the clubhouse.
To replace him, the Red Sox picked Valentine, who took the New York Mets to the 2000 World Series and won a championship in Japan but hadn't managed in the majors in 10 years. The move was an intentional and abrupt attempt to change a culture that enabled pitchers to drink beer and eat fried chicken in the clubhouse during games on their off-nights.
On that, Valentine delivered immediately: He banned beer from the clubhouse, and didn't hesitate to criticize his own players publicly -- something Francona, now an ESPN analyst, took pains to avoid. But players resented the new accountability.
Kevin Youkilis lashed back after Valentine said he wasn't as "into the game" as before and Dustin Pedroia came to his teammate's defense, saying, "That's not the way we go about our stuff around here."
"He'll figure that out. The whole team is behind Youk. We have each other's backs here," Pedroia said. "Maybe that works in Japan."
Valentine criticized Beckett for playing golf two days before he was scratched with shoulder stiffness. An unknown player ratted him out after he said, "Nice inning, kid," to Will Middlebrooks in what Valentine said actually was an attempt to cheer the rookie up after he committed two errors.
In July, ownership met with players to discuss Valentine but denied reports that players called for him to be fired. Two weeks later, Henry emailed reporters to say Valentine was not to blame for the team's record and said he would finish out the year; Pedroia agreed, saying, "It's on the players."
Valentine was working as an analyst for ESPN when the Red Sox called, and he took the job for the chance to work with a star-laden roster and a payroll that virtually guaranteed that the Red Sox would be competitive.
ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said Thursday that the network is happy with its current crew of baseball analysts.
Even before the season began, injuries began tearing the Red Sox roster apart.
Crawford missed much of the season, joining pitchers John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka on the disabled list before opening day. Potential closers Andrew Bailey and Bobby Jenks had offseason surgery; Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz, Clay Buchholz, Pedroia, Beckett and Youkilis also spent time on the DL.
In August, management gave up on 2012 and unloaded several of the team's most burdensome salaries on the Dodgers. Los Angeles also missed the playoffs.
Although Cherington openly conceded the season, Valentine refused to do so. Asked during his weekly radio show if he had "checked out," Valentine jokingly said he should punch the host in the nose. (He showed up for their next interview with boxing gloves.)
In mid-September, with Boston's Triple-A team in the playoffs and reinforcements scarce, Valentine called the Red Sox "the weakest roster we've ever had in September in the history of baseball."
Again, he was forced to backtrack.
(But, again, he was probably right.)
Ultimately, Valentine will be judged on his record. And it was dreadful. He is the first manager to last exactly one season with the Red Sox since Bucky Harris in 1934, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"I don't know how it could be more challenging than this season," said Valentine, who spoke to his players after Wednesday night's season-ending loss to the Yankees.
"As I told them, they're not defined as people by their record or the season. They're defined by who they are, not what they are. They were part of a really lousy season, but they gave a hell of an effort every day."
The Red Sox finished the season to forget by losing 12 of 13. They won 21 fewer games this season than in 2011, their largest dropoff in a non-strike-shortened season since going from 104 wins in 1946 to 83 wins the following year, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.