BOSTON (CBS) — Bobby Valentine left no room for debate. Long before the Red Sox put the finishing touches on their worst season since 1966, it was a foregone conclusion among fans, media and likely players and coaches that Valentine would be fired.
So when news came down Thursday that Valentine had indeed been let go, it was no surprise. It was also much deserved, as Valentine had taken a team with problems and added many, many more.
Still, none of that is to say that Valentine didn’t do his job.
It is the details of that job which may have made it hard to see that accomplishment, but given the Red Sox’ unique position last fall, Valentine was given a unique set of tasks. And it’d be hard to say he didn’t follow through on just about all of them.
Bobby Had To Generate Headlines And Attention
After falling flat in September 2011, the “Best Team Ever” missed out on the postseason for the second straight season. With the Bruins winning a Stanley Cup in ’11, the Celtics still competing at a championship level and the entire region being infatuated with Tom Brady and the Patriots, the Red Sox knew that the attention they’ve become accustomed to having was no guarantee heading into 2012.
The Red Sox needed someone with some punch and pizazz, someone who generated headlines on his own and someone to whom people simply had to pay attention. That person was not Dale Sveum, Pete Mackanin or Gene Lamont. That person was Bobby Valentine.
And it worked. When you think of the 2012 Red Sox season, you’ll forever think of Valentine first. Scroll through the months and months of stories on the Red Sox page of this very website, and there’s no face you’ll see more often than Valentine’s.
In this case, the Red Sox subscribed to the theory of “no publicity is bad publicity.” Of course, that has nothing to do with winning baseball games, but it was most certainly an important consideration for Sox’ ownership last autumn.
Bobby Had To Be A Punching Bag
Somewhere in their minds, Red Sox brass must have known last November that rough seas were ahead. They likely didn’t foresee a 69-win season, but after the September collapse and the serious clubhouse culture issues which caused it, they likely had a very strong belief that a World Series title was not in their immediate future. (For further proof, know that the trading away of your offensive and defensive centerpiece, for whom you traded your top prospects just one year earlier, with the return only of salary relief, is not a decision made overnight.)
Simply put, the team had problems. Big problems. Josh Beckett, John Lackey problems. “Snitch” problems. Alcohol problems. Problems which weren’t going away any time soon.
Enter Bobby V.
He likely knew the scenario heading in, but he couldn’t help himself. A cool $5 million, plus nightly national attention, plus radio interviews in Boston and New York, plus Dunkin’ Donuts and Jordan’s Furniture sponsorships … how could Look-At-Me Bobby say no to tall of that? He couldn’t, which made him the perfect man for the job.
Conventional wisdom has said that this team should have been better than its record, but should it really? This team was destined to be bad, and rather than offer themselves up as scapegoats, Larry Lucchino and Ben Cherington chose Bobby V to be their punching bag. And boy, did he take a beating.
Bobby Had To Make Excuses
Most baseball people loathe excuses. Bobby Valentine doesn’t.
So the team lost by 10 runs? Bobby V doesn’t mind blaming it on an injury … even if that injury took place in spring training.
So the team mustered just three hits against a mediocre starter? Bobby V will tell you that his players hit the ball hard, but they just hit the ball right at the fielders.
So the Sox’ starter gets shelled and knocked out of the game in the third inning? Bobby V says the guy pitched well but balls just managed to find holes.
There might be nothing Valentine did better this year than make excuses. It was really a sight to see.
Bobby Could Be Anything But Boring
This goes back to the first point, but it’s different.
Think back to the 2004 team (you know, the one that celebrated its grand eighth anniversary at Fenway Park last week?). That team will forever be loved in Boston because the players had personality. Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, Kevin Millar, David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez and the rest of that lot was actually fun to watch.
Some star players were surely a pain in the butt for management to deal with, though, leading to a systematic change that led to the team seemingly only seeking to add the most boring players in the sport. That may have made some people’s jobs easier, but it didn’t lead to interest in the team, which translated to a steady decline in TV ratings.
So to get those ratings back up, the Red Sox needed someone worth tuning in for. Even the most adamant Valentine hater would have to admit that if nothing else, Valentine managed to be a captivating figure all year long.
He had a big presence on NESN and did weekly radio and TV interviews in Boston, New York and beyond. You had to pay attention to his press conferences, because you didn’t want to miss the next ridiculous statement he made. Being an ESPN analyst for several years, he obviously came with appeal from the country’s most powerful sports media organization, too. He didn’t mind setting the Red Sox record for most ejections by a manager in a season. Hey, more time on TV, right?
We can all agree that many of the words that actually exited Valentine’s mouth were foolish. When he declared in May, “If we play like this the rest of the season, we’re going to win a championship,” it was pure comedy. But it was also entertaining.
And that’s what the Bobby V hiring was all about: Entertainment.
It just came down to the Red Sox losing 93 baseball games, so he had to go. But don’t get it confused: The Red Sox hired Valentine to do a job, and he gave them exactly what they wanted.