Valentine was a managed disaster for Red Sox

Valentine was a managed disaster for Red Sox
October 4, 2012, 1:25 pm
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NEW YORK -- Last fall, on the heels of the worst collapse in baseball history, in the aftermath of a scandal that revealed some of their players to be beer-swilling, chicken-eating slackers, the last thing the Red Sox needed was more drama.

So, naturally, they hired a manage who thrived on it.

In retrospect, you could almost understand the logic. In turning the club over to Bobby Valentine, Red Sox ownership probably thought he was the perfect tonic to shake the players out of their complacency and command their focus.

What they failed to take into account, however, was that, often, for every problem Valentine solves, he creates two new ones.

And so it was that Valentine, who will be relieved of his duties either Thursday or Friday, leaves the Sox somehow in worse shape than he found them 10 months ago.

Unlike the 2011 club, which sported the best record in the league until the final fateful month, the 2012 edition never reached such rarefied heights.

They were bad in the beginning, achieved mediocrity in the second month, and then began a long, spiraling descent shortly after the midway point of the season. In the final month they were, plain and simply, an embarrassment, winning only seven times after Sept. 1 and finishing on an eight-game losing streak.

By then, of course, Valentine wasn't the main issue. A succession of injuries -- and a late-August trade which brought payroll relief, future financial flexibility and a fumigated clubhouse -- left the roster in tatters. Often in September, Valentine was given no choice but to field a lineup of journeymen, role players and not-ready-for-prime-time prospects, surrounded only by a legitimate everyday major-leaguer or three.

But the die was cast before that. It was clear Valentine not only wasn't part of the solution -- he was part of the problem.

"He lost a lot of guys in spring training,'' remarked a baseball source with knowledge of the situation, "and it was tough to get them back after that.''

Valentine, sources said, alienated veteran players in the early days at Fort Myers when he needlessly embarrassed Mike Aviles during infield drills. And it went beyond a single incident. He lacked preparation at times, failed to communicate his ideas for fundamental instruction, and seemed to make little effort to build relationships with players.

When, seemingly out of nowhere, Valentine questioned Kevin Youkilis's commitment two weeks into the season, he further put off many of the established players.

Youkilis was never the most popular veteran in the clubhouse, but several players were mystified by Valentine's unprovoked rebuke.

It didn't help Valentine that his predecessor, Terry Francona, made it a point to criticize or discipline players in private. Francona limited his message to the one person for whom it was intended; Valentine preferred to surprise his targets with a very public airing of his grievence.

(It further galled players that Valentine, when questioned about his habit for delivering zingers through the media, often responded with a mystified "What? What'd I say?'' defense).

And Valentine could be cruel. In a radio interview, he made mention (before correcting himself) of then-pitching coach Bob McClure's "vacation'' from the team, knowing full well that McClure's absence was so that he could attend to his gravely ill infant.

The manager's penchant for "divide-and-conquer'' extended to his coaching staff, routinely ignoring bullpen coach and catching instructor Gary Tuck and bench coach Tim Bogar. In his role, Bogar was supposed to provide in-game input on strategy and act as the manager's liason in the clubhouse. But often, his only communication with Valentine was via text or e-mail.

Weeks after McClure was fired, Valentine told others that reliever Alfredo Aceves's hostile behavior in late August and into September was somehow McClure's fault.

Not that Valentine was without his strong points. He proved that he was still a strong talent evaluator by plucking Franklin Morales from the bullpen and putting him into the rotation; arguing against the conversion of Daniel Bard from reliever to starter, and being an early advocate for Pedro Ciriaco.

He deserves credit, too, for patching together the bullpen after closer Andrew Bailey was lost for the first 4 12 months by a freak thumb injury. The team's relief pitching was wretched in the first two weeks, but Valentine soon got it under control, matching pitcher to role.

But each week or so seemed to bring -- or threaten to bring -- more moves reeking of passive-aggressiveness or self-destruction. Like his observation of the team's late-season roster as the "weakest roster we've ever had in September in the history of baseball,'' which infuriated members of the front office.

Valentine's hiring was a gamble last December. Yes, there was the chance he could inject his energy and foster discipline; there was also a far greater chance the team would implode on his watch.

The Red Sox didn't beat the odds. They got the Valentine they feared, rather than the one for whom they had slim hope.

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