No Love Lost: Why Boston Needs to Fire Valentine
In December 2011, when the Boston Red Sox hired the replacement for the manager that had guided them to their first two World Series Championships in 86 years, Terry Francona, they chose a man who had not managed in the Show for ten years. After 117 games this year, the Red Sox are beginning to learn why nobody in Major League Baseball was willing to hire Bobby Valentine in the last decade.
Valentine’s first big impact was to publicly question the dedication of popular slugger Kevin Youkilis earlier this season, spawning a very public conflict between the two. As a result, Youk was benched in favour of rookie Will Middlebrooks, and it was no coincidence that Youkilis was later railroaded out of town in a disastrous June 24 trade. Youkilis and his career .874 OPS were sent to the White Sox for Zach Stewart and Brent Lillibridge, neither of whom is currently on the Boston roster. Stewart and his career 5.92 ERA have been in Triple-A Pawtucket since the trade, and Lillibridge was traded for a minor league pitcher after just ten games in Beantown. Youkilis has posted a very solid .856 OPS in Chicago, and his production has been desperately missed by Boston with Middlebrooks making two trips to the disabled list in the past two months. When Youk made his first return to Boston on July 16, Valentine publicly blamed him for allowing their feud to fester.
Valentine has made other glaring mistakes. After receiving direct orders from the Boston medical staff not to play Carl Crawford more than four games in a row, Valentine promptly started Crawford in 6 straight games when he returned after missing the first 89 games this year due to injury. Valentine admitted that he knowingly violated the orders of his medical staff in doing so. Crawford has also revealed that he will require Tommy John surgery to repair his left elbow, yet Valentine continues to start Crawford despite Boston being well out of the playoff race. Crawford has not received a day off for 16 consecutive games.
On April 25, Valentine initially filled out the wrong lineup card because he used his cellphone to research Twins pitcher Liam Hendriks and failed to discover that Hendriks was right-handed. Earlier this year, Valentine admitted to making a biting, sarcastic comment to Middlebrooks after the rookie had a particularly difficult inning on defense. And Jon Lester has somehow been allowed to throw more than 116 pitches on six separate occasions this year. This is the kind of incompetence which hasn’t been seen since Cubs manager Dusty Baker was destroying the arms of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood over a decade ago.
The most recent media reports indicate that a large number of Boston players met privately with Red Sox owner John Henry at the end of July to complain about Valentine. The reports allege that veterans Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia and 15 other players claimed that they could not or would not play for Valentine.
In Valentine’s defence, he hasn’t been given all the tools he needs to compete in the A.L. East. With the pre-season injury to closer Andrew Bailey, Boston has been operating without any semblance of a true finisher in the bullpen all year. Star outfielders Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury have missed significant time with injury. Josh Beckett and Daniel Bard have been absolute disasters in the starting rotation. And the high pressure environment that is Boston baseball never helps when a struggling club is trying to regain its confidence and identity.
But when your club has the third highest payroll in all of baseball ($173 million), you should be able to deal with the adversity which inevitably occurs during the course of a six month regular season. Good teams find ways to win in difficult circumstances; unfortunately, Valentine isn’t winning and is helping to create the difficult circumstances. The mistakes Valentine has made this year are ones which may be expected of a rookie manager, not a man who has managed for thirteen seasons in MLB.
Terry Francona was fired because he became too much of a player’s manager in 2011 and allowed the players under his watch to become too complacent and distracted. Bobby Valentine was hired to restore order and discipline in the Red Sox clubhouse, but he has been too abrasive to allow the players to become comfortable in their roles. Valentine has proven that he can’t handle the players, doesn’t listen to his medical staff, and lacks the tact and diplomacy required of a manager in Boston.
The Red Sox needed a culture change this season, but Valentine clearly does not have the respect he needs from his players to lead this team to a winning record, let alone playoff glory. Regardless of whether the players are right or wrong in their rejection of Valentine, when a manager loses his clubhouse, he has to be fired.
The Red Sox currently sit fourth in the A.L. East with a 57-60 record, and the playoffs and Boston’s last two World Championships now seem like distant memories. Valentine needs to be fired right now if the Red Sox want to salvage anything out of this season or avoid completely turning over their roster this offseason. A coaching change could breathe new life into the Sox to help make a desperate push for the playoffs. Valentine received a public vote of confidence from Red Sox ownership on August 7, which by my calculation means that he is going to be fired in the last two weeks of this season.
..and that’s the Last Word.