Boston Red Sox: Why Bobby Valentine Has a City's Worth of Pressure on Him
Playing in Boston is tough and not everyone can handle it. Some can rise to the challenge, like David Ortiz, and have the best years of their career with the Red Sox. For every player who relishes the pressure, however, there are two who crack. Carl Crawford was a perfect example of this last year.
But it's not just taking the field that is difficult. Managing the team is, too. Not everyone can cope with the constant media and fan attention and second-guessing. New manager Bobby Valentine takes over the club under a lot of pressure. Here are the biggest reasons why.
The fans in Boston love their teams. You can argue about the record all you want but it is a fact that the Red Sox have a home sellout streak that spans nine seasons and over 700 games. This is a fanbase so loyal they turn out in their hundreds to watch the equipment truck drive off for spring training.
Succeeding in this environment is tough. Yet in another way, failing is even tougher. Even without the other reasons on this list, Bobby V would be under a lot of pressure just because of where he is managing.
How 2011 Ended
We all know the stories of September 2011 by now. The 7-20 collapse. Blowing a nine-game lead. No leadership in the clubhouse. Beer and chicken.
Bobby Valentine inherits a terrible mess in the Back Bay. He is the one charged with the task of picking up the pieces from a debacle so bad it cost the manager, the GM and the captain their jobs.
Terry Francona might be the greatest manager in the history of the Boston Red Sox. In his eight seasons at the helm, he led the team to the playoffs five times, to the ALCS on three occasions and won two World Series championships.
Tito was beloved in Boston. Proof of that is the fact he was blamed by no one for the September implosion last year. Not only was he immensely popular, he was in the job for a long time and was very successful. Following him will be a tough task.
Unwarranted or not, Bobby V has a reputation as being abrasive and unfair to players and media members he doesn't like. The most worrying aspect of his history, though, is the way his tenure with the New York Mets ended.
In 2000, Valentine led the Mets to the National League pennant. They lost the World Series to the cross-city rival Yankees but even getting that far was a great accomplishment.
Two years later, he left the team with a terrible legacy. The Mets collapsed, finishing last in the NL East. Then the stories started coming out of Shea Stadium about the disruption in the clubhouse, and the alleged marijuana use.
If you replace the marijuana with beer and chicken, does it remind you of anything?
Dispute with Players
As an analyst for ESPN last year, Valentine was highly critical of Josh Beckett. The pitcher would sometimes take 30 seconds between pitches and this riled Bobby V. He also criticized Carl Crawford, attributing the speedster's poor performance to his wide batting stance.
Of course, that's what he was paid to do. But the next season he becomes the manager of the Red Sox and the very players of whom he was so critical. That batting stance has brought Crawford success before, he's not going to change it.
The entire thing would seem overblown but it was reported that Valentine and Crawford had not spoken even months after he became manager. ESPN is reporting today that after their first face-to-face meeting, Crawford appears to be fully behind Valentine. That is probably the case but it still makes the clubhouse look messy to the average fan.
For all their talent, payroll and success, the Red Sox haven't been in the playoffs since 2009. In fact, they haven't won a playoff game since 2008. Boston fans demand success; with the way the last decade has gone, they have become accustomed to it.
It's not just that they're used to winning, though. This team will once again be over the luxury tax threshold because their payroll is too big. With the obscene amount of money invested in this group of players, they need to win.
Bruins and Patriots
Somewhat related to that is the success of other teams in the New England market. The Boston Celtics won the NBA championship four years ago and were in the NBA Finals again in 2010.
The Boston Bruins ended their title drought last year, winning the Stanley Cup. They are having another great season, currently sitting in second in the Eastern Conference.
The New England Patriots have made it to the Super Bowl five times in the last decade, winning three, and were about 12 inches away from winning a fourth last month.
John Henry and the rest of this ownership group want their team to be the most popular. For that to happen, they need to be successful. The Red Sox are now in the longest championship game drought in the city, and the second-longest title drought.
Boston finished 2011 in third place in the AL East. With the playoff structure likely changing in 2013, bringing the addition of a second wild-card team, third place might be good enough. It wasn't last year, though, and it won't be good enough this year.
They face an uphill battle to make it into the top two spots. With the improvements they made to their starting rotation this offseason, the New York Yankees have legitimate 100-win potential. The Tampa Bay Rays are not nearly as good yet but they are loaded with great young talent.
How He Was Signed
For most organizations, filling a vacancy is usually a fairly straightforward process. There are a couple of rounds of interviews and you pick someone. It might even be less complicated than that.
Not so if you're the Boston Red Sox.
When Terry Francona was let go, rumors started swirling about his replacement. It quickly became clear that Dale Sveum was the preferred choice of both outgoing GM Theo Epstein and incoming GM Ben Cherington.
Sveum was interviewed a couple of times and it appeared certain he would get the job. That fell apart, though, and he signed with the Chicago Cubs, with whom Epstein is now president of baseball operations.
The Sox ownership group then claimed they wanted a man with more managerial experience. That was at odds with their consideration of Sveum, who had never managed a team before.
It was not long before Bobby Valentine became the frontrunner and by the end it was a foregone conclusion. The discussions, meetings and interviews at the end seemed more to be posturing than legitimate considerations.
So the Sox were left with a manager who was not on their initial top six and who appeared to be forced on an unwilling GM who wanted someone else.