Bobby Valentine came to Boston with a certain reputation, let’s call it colorful. It is exactly his outspoken, colorful nature that has put his decisions in the cross-hairs of every die-hard Red Sox fan on the planet.
While he has not been a bad on-field manager, his off-field blunders caused a storm of disharmony to ravage the clubhouse in April. It sometimes feels like this team has never really recovered.
While I put a huge percentage of the blame on the players—actually almost all of it, the manager still must be held accountable at some level. A manager must be able to take even the most thin-skinned, whining bunch of divas and turn them into a baseball team.
Make no mistake—Valentine inherited a monster. But even with that inheritance, Valentine had a responsibility to make the monster aware it was a monster. Valentine simply did not have the deft touch to make that happen.
But what exactly are some blunders that stand out from the rest?
Blunder one: Calling out Kevin Youkilis
“April is the cruelest month.” T.S. Eliot wrote that in 1922 in his poem "The Waste Land." If that poem were published this year I’d put good money, Eliot was referring to Valentine.
April—That could be the month Bobby V wishes he could take a mulligan on. Not just a day here and there—the entirety of it.
It was ugly.
And it all started when he publicly called out Kevin Youkilis.
If you need a reminder, here is what Valentine said about Youkilis: "I don't think he's as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason." (NESN)
Who really knows if Youkilis was physically or emotionally into the game in early April. And it can be argued players need that thicker skin I referred to—but it was very early to publicly call out a veteran player so soon in the manager's Red Sox career. Valentine did later apologize to Youkilis for his statement.
Valentine told reporters (via NESN.com)
"I don't know if he accepted my apology," Valentine said. "It was very sincere."
Call it a hunch, but I don’t think Valentine and Youkilis were ever going to buy each other rounds of beer down at the Baseball Tavern even after the apology.
One could argue Valentine lost the clubhouse right there. Ben Cherington came to the defense of Youkilis, and Dustin Pedroia publicly called out his manager. In short, with one statement he alienated a Red Sox veteran and lost the de-facto captain. Not a great way to start what was supposed to be a fresh start for a Red Sox clubhouse that saw Terry Francona get fired over the offseason.
Unfortunately, Valentine calling out Youkilis revealed this team still had not learned one thing from their September collapse. Pedroia actually came out looking like a fool in the entire scenario. Pedroia said, "I don't really understand what Bobby's trying to do. But that's really not the way we go about our stuff here. I'm sure he'll figure that out soon." (Yahoo! Sports)
Perhaps Pedroia forgot the way the Red Sox went about their stuff got their former manager fired.
At some point Bobby V may have thinking his biggest blunder was taking this job in the first place. This Red Sox monster was just too difficult to slay.
Blunder Two: Leaving Daniel Bard in the Game Too Long on April 16
On April 16 Daniel Bard was rolling against the Tampa Bay Rays. Bard had pitched six shutout innings in one of his first starts as since being converted from an eighth-inning setup man to starter.
Six shutout innings against a fierce AL East rival should have been good enough at that point. Bard lost his first start of the season against the Toronto Blue Jays and did not look good in the process.
The April 16 game could have enhanced Bard’s confidence in his new role as a starter.
But Valentine put Bard back out for the seventh inning. Bard loaded the bases but had two outs. Valentine still had a chance to pull Bard from the game. He didn’t. Bard walked in the go ahead run. The Red Sox lost the game.
Following the game Valentine said (via NESN.com)
"It was the wrong decision. The inning started, he looked good, he got the two quick outs, he got two strikes on the next two guys. I committed at that time he was going to finish the inning or at least try to finish it. It didn't happen."
Who really knows if Bard’s season would have been any different if he was able to ride the momentum of pitching six shutout innings.
But it is still a blunder nonetheless. Bard’s next four starts did not go well.
He went 2-2 in 17.1 innings pitched. His ERA over those four starts was 7.27 and he hit six batters. He walked 17 hitters and only struck out 11. Whatever he had going for him against Tampa Bay on April 16 completely abandoned him.
The one thing that didn’t abandon him was an April 23 relief appearance against Minnesota. In that game he pitched two-thirds innings of lights-out relief. He also earned a win.
While we can’t blame the use of Bard completely on Valentine, Red Sox fans should demand more out of their front office and manager when it’s clear a pitcher’s value rests in his dominant relief work—not in his mediocre starting pitching work.
Granted, the decision to use Bard as a starter was made before Valentine was around. But fans can’t help but wonder how Bard would have fared if Valentine had taken him out of the game on April 16 riding a wave of confidence.
Blunder Three: Filing the wrong lineup card against the Minnesota Twins
In April, Bobby Valentine filed the wrong lineup for a matchup against right-handed pitcher Liam Hendricks. Valentine, through research on his cell phone, thought Hendricks was a left-handed pitcher.
Although Valentine’s mistake was caught by Jarrod Saltalamacchia, it came on the heels of the Youkilis drama. The timing was just plain horrible.
Any other time, this kind of thing would have just seemed funny.
Valentine told reporters (via Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com)
"I looked on this thing," Valentine said, gesturing to his cell phone, "and there was no history on him. It had his name, and 'against left-handed hitting.' My fault. That's why you make these lineups out early enough."
David Brown of Yahoo! Sports commented, “No harm done, right? None at all, except to Valentine's reputation, and the confidence his team (and fans, for whatever it's worth) have in him.”
April was indeed cruel to Valentine. But another line from T.S. Eliot’s "The Waste Land" comes to mind: “Summer surprised us.”
April was like watching a train wreck, and the summer has been surprisingly similar.
Blunder Four: Making the Will Middlebrooks Drama Public
After Middlebrooks had a rough inning in the field earlier in the season, Valentine told WEEI he sarcastically said to Middlebrooks, “Nice inning, Will.” (h/t WEEI).
According to Dan Duquette Jr. of NESN.com:
Valentine told WEEI's the Big Show that team ownership approached him only once this season about his communication with the players, after being overly sarcastic to the Sox third baseman.
It’s not the fact Valentine said something to Middlebrooks, it’s simply the fact he made it public. This could easily fall under the category of players needing thicker skin. But it still caused controversy the Red Sox just did not need.
One could argue this was a calculated move by Valentine. Perhaps he was simply sick and tired of the front office backing up the players and not him. Either way, it caused a firestorm of controversy that ended with a public statement of support by Owner John Henry.
Calculated or not, it was once again an embarrassing moment for the Red Sox. It was a mistake no matter what kind of spin one places on it.
It was later revealed that John Lackey was the rat who "crept softly" (thank you, T.S. Eliot, again) behind Valentine's back and told ownership about Bobby V's oh-so-hurtful words.
The ugly monster that was the Boston Red Sox in September 2011 was alive and well.
Blunder Five: Bobby V not being Bobby V
This blunder is more of an overall indictment of the entire Red Sox organization. Valentine had the reputation of being an outspoken person. But every time he spoke out, he was shut down by the front office.
Perhaps the Youkilis and Middlebrooks controversies would not have been blunders at all if the front office had Valentine’s back.
But, alas, they did not.
Tony Massarotti of the Boston Globe wrote:
Valentine came with a reputation for being a pot-stirrer and verbally provocative. And yet, at the first sign of provocation, Red Sox officials effectively neutered Valentine.
And when the front office neutered Valentine, they effectively neutered the team. It would be great to see Valentine just be himself for the rest of the season, front office be damned.
But maybe this is not a Valentine problem. There is a troubling pattern starting to emerge with Red Sox managers and the front office.
Consider the following statement (via the Boston Globe)
To be honest with you, I’m not sure how much support there was from ownership. You’ve got to be all-in on this job. It’s got to be everybody together, and I was questioning that a little bit.
That wasn't Valentine. That was Francona after being fired—oh, sorry, I mean their "mutual decision" to go in different directions.
So the blunder here is Valentine allowing himself to be neutered by the front office. But this is a blunder than can be remedied.
If Valentine turns into the fiery manager Red Sox fans thought they were getting in the first place, perhaps Valentine can end the season with some dignity still in his hands—and give Red Sox fans something to root for.