Bobby Valentine isn’t a bad manager, but he is a divisive one. That much is clear. From his questioning of ex-Red Sox Kevin Youkilis’ effort to the recent revelation of his two-month-old ballbusting jab at rookie Will Middlebrooks (“Nice inning, kid.”) after he made two errors in an inning, the guy is just not making many friends inside the Sox clubhouse.
Red Sox owner John Henry was right yesterday that you can’t pin this team’s .500-level play squarely on him, especially when he’s been managing through a MLB-leading rash of injuries (and with 23 on the DL, it’s the most for the club itself since 1971). He said “we all” share blame for not playing well. But where he loses the pulse of Red Sox Nation is when he says the ownership/front office is not going to fire him between now and the end of the year.
Players on this year’s team know Bobby V only has a two-year contract. And given that some players feel he’s just a jerk with a good pro resume, with his experience managing in Japan, the Texas Rangers (who the Sox beat convincingly last night) and the New York Mets, they don’t seem to want to win for him. They want to win despite him (namely Dustin Pedroia, who dearly misses his cribbage partner, Terry Francona).
But it gets worse, with allegations by Boston sportswriters lke veteran Gordon Edes that Bobby V doesn’t communicate well with his coaches, and bullpen coach Gary Tuck in particular. That is rather shocking, since Tuck is one of the most respected coaches still on that team (and the one that recently retired Sox great Jason Varitek credits the most for helping him through his ups and downs during his career, right until the very end of 2011). He also gave confusing explanations as to why Carl Crawford didn’t play recently, forgetting to tell the player himself that coming off the DL, he was given the right to sit him after four playing days in a row (until he all of a sudden did so out of the blue in a recent game against the Yankees).
It’s not all bad, as in-game managing has been mostly good for Valentine (especially his bullpen moves). Getting the most out of Franklin Morales (as a spot-starter and effective reliever) and boldly having Adrian Gonzalez play right field during Interleague play so David Ortiz can play first base on NL fields also worked. But his constant lineup changes are frustrating to watch (and reminds me of Joe Kerrigan, who was perhaps the most disliked manager in recent memoryj, until now).
Yes, some of the lineup changes has to do with injuries, the latest being David Ortiz and Daniel Nava, but not all of them. For example, just give Pedro Ciriaco the starting shortstop job and make Mike Aviles the part-time player, instead of it being the other way around. Aviles may have some pop, but his defense is terrible! Ciriaco, though a rookie, hits for a better average than Aviles, is fast on the bases and so far, can hold his own defensively. The Sox ain’t going anywhere but home in October, so what does Bobby V have to lose (since it won’t be his job now)?
Being a great MLB manager involves more than making the right decisions on the field. It’s also about having great communication levels, respect, and leadership skills. Terry Francona had all of that, and being the best Sox manager in history as a result. Bobby V, on the other hand, doesn’t have half of that, and his team is just treading water at 55-55, way behind the Yankees in the AL East, and behind a handful of teams for the two AL Wild Card spots.
Bobby V may not feel it’s fair to fire him, but he created this negative climate his team is trying to professionally play through. New GM Ben Cherrington, like John Henry, also supports Bobby V staying on the job for the rest of the season, and that’s a mistake that the front office will probably regret come the offseason.
The one-year anniversary of the September Collapse is around the corner. But 11 months later, with a new manager that was supposed to not only win but come in and somehow change the somewhat unruly clubhouse culture that Terry Francona was unfairly scapegoated for letting occur (along with losing the 9-game AL Wild Card lead to eventual champions, Tampa Bay), it seems things are even worse and dysfunctional now than they were then. And there’s no chicken and beer shenanigans to blame this time.