When John Henry, the Red Sox principal owner, said earlier this week the team would ignore calls for the dismissal of the manager, Bobby Valentine, he was not referring to me. I have not called for Valentine to be fired. I might have questioned why the Red Sox were so foolish to hire him and suggested that they may wind up regretting it, but fire him? No.
On the contrary, I don’t think they should fire him. They should have to endure every day of their two-year contract with him. I have said the two of them deserve each other (thanks for that useful phrase, Billy), and what better way to fulfill their blessed union than keeping them together.
In issuing his statement via e-mail to Red Sox reporters Monday, Henry was apparently reacting – overreacting? – to a column that appeared in the Boston Herald that day under a headline that said:
“Valentine,” John Tomase wrote, “may very well still be a good manager in a vacuum, but he’s the wrong manager for this team, and he has been since Day 1. The Red Sox never had any intention of letting him be himself, because the very concept runs counter to their organizational philosophies of consensus building, dispassionate analysis and keep-it-in house discipline.”
There might have been other suggestions that the Red Sox should terminate Valentine, but I couldn’t find any, and team officials didn’t return calls to say if there had been any. But considering the source of the get-rid-of-Valentine suggestion, it seems to me Henry might have overreacted and jumped the gun on issuing a vote of confidence in Valentine.
As a pro football writer in 2008, Tomase wrote an “exclusive” report that turned out to be pure fiction. He wrote that the New England Patriots had videotaped the St. Louis Rams’ final, walk-through workout for their 2002 Super Bowl meeting. Tomase subsequently admitted the story was not true, and the Herald published his lengthy apology.
Should Henry have reacted so quickly to a point of view that he could have dismissed in a “consider-the-source” manner? Was a statement of support necessary at all? Are Henry and his fellow members of the Red Sox ruling triumvirate feeling anxious about the team’s likely destiny – a finish out of the playoffs for the third successive season, maybe even last place in the American League East?
Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino, after all, the ones who created the $173 million payroll. They are the ones who fired Terry Francona despite two World Series championships. They are the ones who let Theo Epstein run out on his unfinished contract. And they are the ones, spurred by Lucchino, who hired Valentine despite their knowledge of problems he created elsewhere, especially in the clubhouse with players.
Red Sox front-office executives have been accessories to the internal problems in another way. Players, it seems, are free to go up the back stairs from the clubhouse at Fenway Park to the management offices, and Valentine, not familiar with that practice, last week accused an unnamed player of going to management with a complaint about the manager’s treatment of rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks.
The irony in that issue was that Middlebrooks benefited from Valentine’s treatment of veteran third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who was traded to free the position for Middlebrooks.
General manager Ben Cherington told ESPN.com that management encourages players to come to them with any concerns they have.
That is a highly questionable practice and probably exists in few other clubhouses. The general routine is for a player to tell the manager he would like to see the general manager, and the manager passes on the request.
“I’ve talked to players plenty this year,” Cherington told ESPN.com. “It’s no different than any other year. I think, occasionally, it’s appropriate for ownership to talk to the players. They have a lot at stake here and they should do that. I don’t see it as different as any other year and no players are running up the back stairs.”
It’s one thing for a general manager to talk to a player in the clubhouse or on the field. It’s another for a player to visit an owner in his office, especially depending on the topic of their conversation.
“I’ve had conversations with players in the open light of the clubhouse,” Cherington said. “I’ve had conversations on the phone, just like any other year. The content of those conversations will be private, but I will tell you that they’ve been constructive. They’ve been focused on what’s been going on out here and trying to get this better.”
The Red Sox practice, especially where it involves owners, would seem to encourage players to tell tales and register complaints. In Valentine’s case, that sort of thing seems likely to engender problems for him, the Middlebrooks situation, for example.
In his other managing jobs, in Texas and New York, Valentine has ruffled players’ feelings and has created outright animosity. Red Sox executives were aware of his history but ignored it. Now they’re experiencing it first-hand, not that they would talk about it publicly.
In defending Valentine and denying that he was to blame for the team’s 2012 mediocrity, owner Henry cited the team’s many injuries. Other teams, however, have also had injuries.
The Yankees have been without Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda and Pedro Feliciano for most or much of the season, CC Sabathia and David Robertson were on the disabled list, and Joba Chamberlin has only recently returned from a season–long absence.
The Yankees nevertheless were nine games ahead of the Red Sox after Wednesday night’s games while the Red Sox record, 55-57, was two games under .500 and five and a half games behind the wild-card leaders.
It came as no surprise that the Red Sox hierarchy issued a vote of confidence in Valentine. What else to do? Fire him after two-thirds of his first season? Publicly question his treatment of players? Admit they made a mistake and promise they’ll try to do better next time?
One thing they can’t have is a do-over. Well, they can, but it’s called wait ‘til next year.