Print and Go Back ESPN.com: BlogsColumns [Print without images]

Friday, December 2, 2011
Updated: December 4, 3:19 PM ET
Finally, it's time to talk baseball

By Jackie MacMullan
ESPNBoston.com

This is where the Boston Red Sox finally move forward.

In the wake of the worst -- and most absurdly melodramatic -- collapse in the franchise's history, that is no small step.

Bobby Valentine is Boston's new manager and it doesn't matter why his hiring dragged on longer than a Tolstoy tome, whose toes he trampled on to arrive at the band box and which member of the "collaborative" Red Sox front office actually squeezed the trigger.

With the winter meetings fast approaching, the Sox are long overdue to turn their attention to their starting pitching, David Ortiz, candidates for right field and a comprehensive strategy for young Daniel Bard, the talented work-in-progress pitcher who has been projected as a reliever, a closer and a starter. Asked how he saw Bard fitting into his lineup, Valentine answered, "I don't know."

Ben Cherington
Whether Bobby V was Ben Cherington's first choice doesn't really matter anymore.

That will probably be the last time the new Sox manager declines to espouse his sentiments on a baseball topic. This much we can discern: Bobby V is short on neither opinions or ideas. The cavalcade of baseball pundits who have weighed in on the mercurial former ESPN analyst have agreed Valentine is clever, innovative, proactive and forceful. The wheels, they assure us, are constantly turning.

His baseball acumen was appealing, naturally, but his big personality (and the healthy ego that accompanies it) also seemed alluring to ownership.

Desperate times called for desperate measures, and neither Dale Sveum nor Gene Lamont matched the urgency the embattled Sox triumvirate was clearly feeling. We're talking John, Larry and Tom here. Notably absent is general manager Ben Cherington, who insisted again Thursday that the notion Valentine wasn't his call "just isn't true."

That is a matter of semantics. I found it amusing that Cherington's protestations came on the same day Celtics boss Danny Ainge held his own press conference across town and went out of his way to declare he wasn't trying to trade Rajon Rondo. "We love Rondo," Danny insisted.

I'm sure he does, but he loves Chris Paul more. We haven't forgotten draft night in 2005 when Ainge tried to maneuver a deal that would have traded a then-disgruntled Paul Pierce for the rights to Paul. In fact, the Celtics went so far as to create two ads for the Globe the following morning: one hawking Celtics tickets with Pierce featured and another trumpeting a new beginning without the captain's picture.

The pursuit of Paul (with Rondo as the bait) was more than rumors. Multiple NBA sources confirmed to me that Boston actively investigated involving a third team to pry the New Orleans point guard free.

So Cherington can tell us all day long he loves Bobby Valentine, but he loved Dale Sveum more. There's no crime in that.

There's no question the young GM's credibility absorbed a hit during this process, but the harm is hardly irreparable. Cherington is a keen evaluator and a tireless worker. His bosses put him in an awkward, embarrassing spot, but as he grows on the job, his clout -- and his voice -- should increase. If it doesn't, he will have to make some hard decisions of his own.

I know, I know, somewhere Theo Epstein is chuckling, but really now -- do you honestly think he let Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer choose Sveum as Chicago's manager all by himself? You know better. The pick was ... wait for it ... "collaborative."

There have been rumblings that Sox players were unhappy about the choice of Valentine. That, too, is irrelevant going forward.

In fact, if you ask me, that might be the most ringing endorsement of all for the new guy.

The 2011 Boston Red Sox were too comfortable, too entitled and too arrogant (not to mention clearly too well fed and well imbibed). They are in no position to weigh in (pun intended) on their new skipper. Had they behaved like professionals and shown Terry Francona the proper respect he so richly deserved, there wouldn't have been a need to search for a new manager.

But that, too, is now in the past. As much as we love to wax poetically about Francona (who was positively hilarious Thursday afternoon in a chat on WEEI in which he revealed that after one game in which he was ejected in the fifth inning, he grabbed a piece of chicken and devoured it in his office), it's imperative to put the former manager in the rearview mirror.

Like Francona before him, Valentine will inherit a team that is teeming with talent. No doubt the new manager will engage us with his honest and, at times, abrasive take on Bobby's World. Who wouldn't want to talk to someone who has roomed with both Tony Conigliaro AND Bill Buckner? Valentine is a fascinating personality. If he overshadows his players at times, well, too bad.

His critics claim there is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that ultimately this relationship will crash and burn in a spectacular, fiery manner. How long will it take? Two, maybe three seasons? Again, it won't matter if Valentine delivers a championship. He can collect his hardware, cement his legacy, then exit stage right, with John Farrell or Joe Maddon waiting in the wings.

I believe Valentine when he says this is a chance of a lifetime. He's been out of the game more than enough time to take stock of both his successes and his failures to say, "This is what I'd do differently." Maybe he's mellowed. Hopefully he's learned.

Either way, the ride promises to be both volatile and entertaining, with guaranteed bumps and potholes at each turn. Bobby Valentine will offend you, me, his players and probably the very people who just hired him.

But if he helps the Red Sox win baseball games, no one will really care.

Jackie MacMullan is a columnist for ESPNBoston.com.