McAdam: Valentine brings bright lights with him to Fenway

McAdam: Valentine brings bright lights with him to Fenway
December 2, 2011, 4:12 am
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BOSTON -- About an hour after he had been formally introduced as the new manager of the Red Sox, Bobby Valentine was surrounded by reporters on the State Street Pavillion at Fenway Park, taking questions and parrying answers.

One reporter noted that this job represents the first time that Valentine had become manager of a quality team. Valentine, as he often does, did the reporter one better, noting that it's also the first time that he's not taken over in the middle of the season.

"This is going to be different," said Valentine.

Is it ever.

Valentine is the 45th manager in the Red Sox history, but the first rock star manager the franchise has ever had.

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The press conference featured reporters from five different New York-area newspapers -- and not just because Valentine's last job in Major League Baseball was as manager of the Mets.

Valentine's introduction was carried live not only by CSNNE and NESN but several of the network affiliates in town.

There were so many cameras and microphones and notebooks in the room that it was difficult to maneuver. Many would have been there if Gene Lamont had been the one being introduced Thursday afternoon, but Valentine's presence made it An Event.

He salivated over the prospect of taking part in the Red Sox-Yankee rivalry. He teared up and let out a sigh as he tried on the uniform for the first time. He smiled, joked and thanked all the right people.

He was "humbled, honored and pretty damn excited," he said.

Never, it seems safe to say, have the Red Sox had a manager like this, who arrives with a built-in star quality.

They've done scrappy first-timers (Dick Williams). They've done loyal organizational men (Eddie Kasko) and they've done grizzled retreads (Ralph Houk, John McNamara). They've done local natives (Joe Morgan) and good ol' sons of the South (Butch Hobson).

They've done old-school lifers (Jimy Williams) and cornpone (Grady Little). They hired someone who had four losing seasons and watched him win two World Series (Terry Francona).

But they've never done this before -- an honest-to-goodness, larger-than-life, scenery-chewing, ready-for-my-closeup manager.

It's not just his TV experience that prepared him for this, the role of a lifetime. Though Valentine was a natural on TV, it was a mere professional layover for him, something to keep him occupied and around the game while waiting for the right opportunity to present itself.

Enter the Red Sox.

For all his polish and savvy and comfort in front of the camera, Valentine is actually a throwback to a time when baseball managers had personalities. He would have fit right in in the 1970s with Billy Martin, Earl Weaver and, of course, his baseball godfather, Tommy Lasorda.

Lately, it's as if the personalities have been scrubbed clean from the game. Too many managers speak Cliche as a second language and measure every response about their starting rotation as though it was a matter of national security.

Valentine doesn't do dull or predictable. He has boundless energy, an unquenchable appetite for baseball and a genuine love of the game. He even married into baseball bloodlines (his wife is the daughter of Ralph Branca).

His postgame press conferences will become appointment viewing and there may be nights that Pam Ganley, the team's media relations director, will have to yank Valentine off the podium with a cane, Vaudeville-style -- not because he's bombing but because he can'twon't stop talking.

Sports is big business, a battle for the entertainment dollar with plenty of competition elsewhere. Don't think for a minute that the Red Sox didn't take that into consideration when they settled on Valentine. They not only have a skipper of the local nine, as Morgan quaintly put it two decades ago, they have a honest-too-goodness personality.

Ultimately, of course, Valentine wasn't brought in to entertain or make the post-game show compelling. He was brought in to win. If he doesn't, or fails to get the reins on the clubhouse, it could get ugly.

Like every other Red Sox manager in the last 30 years, the expectations will be huge and the honeymoon brief.

But it will be an interesting ride along the way. Bobby Valentine may be a lot of things, but "dull" isn't one of them.