Over the winter, the Los Angeles Angels signed Albert Pujols to the second largest contract in Major League history. The largest contract ever for a player who was changing teams andor didnt have purple lips.
As you know, this was a huge story. With apologies to Ryan Brauns urine, it was the biggest story of the entire offseason. A game-changing transaction that altered the face of the league, and made for one really awkward statue in downtown St. Louis.
So, when it came time for this years MLB Preview over at ESPN.com, it was only natural for Pujols to be featured on the front page.
In the spotlightFront and centerRight next to Bobby Valentine.
Yeah, thats right. If you didnt click on the original link, please check it out, because I swear it's worth it. The sight of Bobby Valentine a manager with a barely-.500 career winning percentage, no rings and no division titles, whos been away from the game so long that all but three players (Bruce Chen, Ty Wiggington and Marco Scutaro) from his last major league team are now retired sharing center stage with a nine-time all-star, three-time MVP, two-time World Series champ and no-doubt-about-it first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Albert and Bobby, just two peas in a pod.
Albert and Bobby, absolutely ridiculous.
But hey, that's just Bobby Valentine.
Love him or hate him, he's come as advertised. In six weeks, he's become the story. He's become a lightening rod. He's become the star in Boston's most polarizing sports saga since the Celtics traded Kendrick Perkins.
And it's only Spring Training.
I'm still not sure if Valentine's entirely to blame for the absurdity of his existence. Clearly, there are times when he's speaking with the sole purpose of making headlines. In those moments, he's like baseball's answer to Jenna Maroney. So calculated, but at the same time so unbelievably transparent. (For instance.)
At other times, it doesn't matter what he says. He's like Wes Welker at the Patriots Super Bowl send off:
When Bobby V. speaks, people will yell.
But regardless of how he ends up in the spotlight, Valentine is always there, and will be until his final day on the job. Whether or not it's fair, six weeks into this season, the stage has been set for Valentine's tenure as Red Sox manager. If they win, he'll be a star. If they lose, it will be a mess. And with one week before that tenure really kicks into gear, the jury's still very much out on where this thing is headed.
Right now, there are three camps:
1. Those who think Valentine is exactly what the Red Sox need. An old school baseball mind, who won't take crap and will treat the players how they should be treated.
2. Those who have already chalked this up as a disaster. Who find Valentine's schtick to be offensive and self-serving and are convinced that his personality will drive a stake through the clubhouse and submarine the Sox season. These people want Valentine to fail, so that the Sox can move on to a real manager.
3. Those who aren't sure. Who find Valentine's schtick entertaining. Who still marvel at the absurdity of his character, and hope that he succeeds, if only to see that ridiculousness reach greater heights. (And also, because he's the manager of the Red Sox). This group has heard the critics, and has been warned about what can happen under Valentine's reign, but they haven't seen it for themselves, and remain cautiously optimistic, if not ridiculously eager to watch it all play out.
Not sure which camp you fall into?
Consider this story. For my money, the No. 1 Bobby V. story on the market. It comes courtesy of Larry Granillo, author of the Wezen-Ball blog on Baseball Prospectus. My favorite story about Bobby Valentine may well be a new one told this weekend by Ken Levine (Rich says: No relation). Levine is an ex-broadcaster for the Orioles, Mariners, and Padres, having partnered with the likes of Jon Miller and Dave Niehaus in his time in the booth. He is also a very accomplished television and film writer. His movie credits include the film Volunteeres, and he has worked in a major way on some of television's biggest shows, including MASH, Cheers, and Frasier. Levine also wrote the famous Simpsons episode "Dancin' Homer".On his excellent blog this weekend, Levine was giving hints to would-be writers on how not to pitch a story to writers and executives. Mid-way through the post, this story about Bobby Valentine pops up:When I was announcing for the Orioles I once got thrown out of Bobby Valentines office for asking tough questions. He was then the manager of the Texas Rangers. Fifteen minutes later I was summoned back, obviously to receive an apology. No. He had heard I was a writer and pitched me a movie. Try not to be an asshole first.
OK, so you just had one of three reactions:
1. You gave it a little chuckle, and shrugged your shoulders. You don't think it's a big deal.
That puts you in the first camp. You're on board with Bobby V.
2. This story made you mad. You read it, shook your head and thought: "The nerve of this idiot! He treats so someone so disrespectfully (just for doing his job!) but then pretends like nothing happened (without even apologizing!) just so he can pitch a stupid movie!"
That puts you in the second camp.
3. You're still laughing. The idea of Bobby V calling this guy back into his office to pitch an awful movie is the funniest thing you've heard or read all day. You're not mad, just amazed that this person this caricature of a human being actually exists.
And even more, is now the manager of the Boston Red Sox.
You're still not sure what to make of this. But you're excited to see where it goes.
And that's where I am now with Bobby Valentine.
I know there are potential issues, and numerous ways this ride can spin out of control, but for now, I'm not that concerned.
First of all, I don't mind him criticizing players. I think that's been blown completely out of proportion. For instance, take a look at this quote:
I was really frustrated with our execution and we have to fix that. Because weve been playing too well for this to go back down this road again And everybody, it drains energy. Not being a professional drains energy. Being a professional is knowing every set you run, knowing your rotations, because its draining for the pros who know, who do the work."
OK, now Bobby Valentine didn't say that. That was Doc Rivers, considered the playeriest of player's coaches in Boston, after a game last month in Toronto. He says something like that, and no one bats an eye lash. But can you imagine if Valentine made this statement after a game? Holy crap. It's all we'd hear about for three days. Is he more critical than Terry Francona? Yes, but a kindergarten teacher is more critical than Terry Francona. It's not what the media, fans or players are used to, but it's not a huge deal.
On the building rift between him and Cherington: So Valentine wanted to start Jose Iglesias? Can you blame him? Imagine you're a major league manager. Now imagine you come into your first camp and see two shortstops: 1. A journeyman who's never played a full season at the position. 2. a 22-year-old dynamo, who lacks a little with the bat, but who they say might be the greatest defensive shortstop since Rey Ordoez. And let's just say that you also used to manage Ordoez.
Who would you rather see win the starting job?
There's no question. But Valentine clearly had an open mind. He realized that Iglesias wasn't ready, he said as much to the media, and he sent him down. We'll see what happens going forward, but for now, I don't see how this isn't a victory for the ValentineCherington relationship.
And if Bard is eventually sent back to the bullpen, as Valentine wants and as he very likely will, then that shows they can work both ways. Two major issues will have been resolved in pretty legitimate manner. What's the problem?
To those who say, the players already hate Valentine, that his act is already wearing thin, I'll respond: OK, so all the players finally agree on something? That's great. Maybe this can bring them together. Give them something new (something post collapse) to rally around.
I'd also look at Josh Beckett's 0.95 spring ERA and Jon Lester's 10 strike out performance on Monday and say: Keep hating him! Whatever's going on, it's clearly not effecting the two most important pitchers andor players in that clubhouse. Why does every one have to like each other? They're playing good baseball. Does anything else matter?
Finally to those who think that Bobby V. only cares about himself, that hes only interested in whats best for Bobby Valentine.
Tell me something: At this point, what could possibly be better for Bobby Valentine than winning a World Series?
You really think that's not his first priority?
I believe it is. That he's focused on a ring. And that he can get the Red Sox there.
I also know that winning the World Series is an unbelievably difficult task, especially with the competition in the American League. And that if the Sox don't win it will fall on Valentine's head. His personality leave very little room for error, and if things don't work out, even if it's not Valentine's fault, it will be Valentine's fault. Everyone has to see that as a serious possibility. And that will start playing out next week.
In the mean time, I'll take solace in that fact that there's some excitement and positive energy surrounding the Sox. That the negativity and boredom that's haunted the team over the last few seasons has been swept away in favor of everything Bobby V. Will he succeed? Will he fail? Time will tell, but he's made the Red Sox interesting again. He's washed away the stench of fried chicken and beer and helped everyone turn the page.
Even if it's just to a hilarious illustration of him and Albert Pujols.