Even as the Braves tease/torment us with the possibility (remote though it would seem) of another Epic Collapse, we can take solace in this: As frustrating as they can be, they’re not the Red Sox. Because the Red Sox took their own E.C. of last September and proceeded to destroy themselves.
They changed general managers. More to the point, they changed managers and hired the absolute worst man for the job, and not a day passes that Red Sox Nation isn’t given a new reason to realize that any organization that employs Bobby Valentine is doomed.
A manager must be able to lead men in the pursuit of a common goal. Bobby Valentine can only lead men to want to get as far from Bobby Valentine as possible. If there’s a bigger phony in the world, it’s only because this is a mighty big world.
He cannot bring himself to shut his month, and whenever he opens it, trouble follows. Valentine defenders — actually, the plural could be incorrect; I only know of one — insist that his keen sense of humor isn’t always appreciated by us dimmer bulbs, but what Valentine sees as wit is only the ongoing quest to make himself seem smarter than everyone else alive. Which he demonstrably is not. As a man who covers baseball for a living gleefully notes, Valentine has still never finished first with a team in the Western Hemisphere. (He did manage the trick in Japan.)
From the day the Red Sox chose Valentine to succeed the affable and able Terry Francona, you knew it wouldn’t end well. You knew because Valentine makes everything about Valentine, and anyone who has spent any time around the Sox — except, perhaps, for the idiotic men who hired Valentine as their manager — grasps that this club’s many fans take a proprietary interest. They don’t just follow the team: They agonize with it.
New Englanders are good at suffering, less good at humor. Valentine’s little jibes have never played well with this constituency, and they’ve played less well in his clubhouse. He angered Kevin Youkilis (since traded) and Dustin Pedroia, by midsummer the respected Adrian Gonzalez was asking to meet with management — other players came along, too — about their differences with this manager.
Management responded by dumping Gonzalez, who still had more than $100 million left on the famous contract he signed with the Sox, and Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers — essentially quitting not just on this season but on the next few. That’s how bad things can get when you employ Bobby Valentine: Every flaw is emphasized, every nit picked. Not so long ago, players wanted to play for the Red Sox, who paid well and won big and had Francona to placate the ravenous media. Now nobody wants to be there.
Valentine is still in place, but that can’t last much longer. His team just finished a 1-8 Western road swing, and along the way the manager seemed not to know (or care) why the banjo-hitting Scott Podsednik was batting third on his lineup card; showed up less than three hours before a game (he was picking up his son at the San Francisco airport and traffic got tangled); had a breakfast summit with team owner John Henry and complained about the fare, and threatened to punch a Boston radio man who asked if Valentine had indeed “checked out.”
Valentine claimed he was kidding about the punching part — he always claims to have been kidding about something — but the same Valentine had responded to a question after the lost series in Oakland by saying, “What difference does it make?” He also pointed out, apparently incorrectly, that Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon routinely arrives at the ballpark even later than Valentine had that one night. This prompted the arch Maddon to Tweet: “Apologies to the writers for being late to today’s pregame session. My pedicure appointment ran a little late.”
So now we know that Joe Maddon is like almost everyone else in baseball: He can’t stand Bobby Valentine, either.
Some Braves fans who were so disenchanted with the user-friendly Fredi Gonzalez last September that they took to AJC.com message boards to lobby for a hard nose with a flair for tactics — a man, in sum, like Bobby Valentine. Trouble is, nobody who plays for this “tactician” can ever be troubled to do as he asks: They’re all too busy hating their manager’s guts.
The Red Sox serve as both case study and object lesson: They failed spectacularly last season and overreacted, and today they’re one game out of last place in a five-team division and have taken to selling off assets in the hope they might get a little better somewhere down the road. The Braves stayed the course and are again positioned to make the playoffs. Sometimes we around here criticize the Braves for being too passive, but whenever we look toward Boston we should be reminded that motion for motion’s sake is never a good idea.
The Red Sox thought it’d be a good idea to throw the smarmy Bobby Valentine into a combustible clubhouse, and today the flagship team of New England is in ashes. And we learn yet again that actions do have consequences.
By Mark Bradley