If the Boston Red Sox's Bobby Valentine is fired at the end of the 2012 season, will GM Ben Cherington be the one to fire him? Or, will CEO Larry Lucchino and/or owner John Henry handle it and make the announcement?
Will Cherington be allowed to conduct a genuine search for a new manager without significant interference from CEO Larry Lucchino or owners John Henry and Tom Werner?
Pay close attention, fans, because how the Red Sox handle Valentine's situation will tell us a great deal about how much longer the Red Sox will be mired in problems and dysfunction.
A powerful argument can be made that from the moment Lucchino undermined Cherington in the fall of 2011 by rejecting Cherington's choice for the team's next manager (Dale Sveum) and later "forcing" Valentine into the role, the Red Sox management system was irreparably damaged. The chain of command was ruptured because Lucchino had squelched his new, young GM, and Cherington didn't want Valentine from the start.
All season long, the Red Sox management, particularly Lucchino, Henry and Werner, has looked embarrassingly inept and in denial about the overwhelming problems on the team.
Players reportedly came up the backstairs to air clubhouse grievances about Valentine to Cherington or the owners, and things boiled over at a players' meeting with owners in New York when some players' anti-Valentine sentiment reached a high point.
Valentine has brought repeated negative media attention on himself by making ill-advised, sensational remarks. Clearly, he is not a "fit" for the media-crazed environment around the Red Sox. The team would have stunk with or without Valentine. The roster Valentine has put on the field in recent weeks, since the mega-trade involving Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett, has resembled a Triple-A squad.
However, Lucchino and Henry have continued to appear oblivious about their own limitations and how much they've hindered Cherington in his first year as GM following the departure of Theo Epstein, who was often covered as the "boy-wonder" executive who could do no wrong here.
Theo was terrific in the early years, but made some large, lasting errors in his later years. Further, Theo was incredibly fortunate to inherit a team with Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz in their Ruth-Gehrig period.
Lucchino and Henry still, mistakenly, seem to act like they should play as large a role as Cherington in making decisions about which players to put on the field. Both have been quoted in recent days about baseball matters. Both, for instance, have told the media that baseball guru Bill James will be more involved in contributing input in 2013 (http://espn.go.com/blog/boston/red-sox/print). Lucchino has been quoted discussing the need to be careful about signing free agents to lengthy contracts (http://audio.weei.com/a/62429049/larry-lucchino-we-ll-deal-with-bobby-v-decision-after-the-season.htm).
Don't they "get" that Cherington should be the one publicly discussing—and privately overseeing—all baseball matters?
Cherington should be the one deciding whether Bill James will have a bigger role in 2013!
Why isn't Lucchino willingly and humbly backing away from baseball decision making after his incredibly damaging decision to hire Valentine? One would think Lucchino would learn lessons from that and allow Cherington to assume more power in roster moves from now on. I wish Cherington would insist on being given more autonomy and influence.
Yet, all recent signs suggest the opposite trend is true. Lucchino and Henry appear to want greater roles in baseball decisions. Heck, when the team made the huge trade with the L.A. Dodgers, I read articles that quoted Lucchino about his and the owners' important involvement in making the deal happen.
Why is Lucchino this blind?
Doesn't he see that he comes across as a narcissistic "glory-hound" who cannot allow his GM to do his job freely and independently? Don't forget that it was not until Epstein rebelled against Lucchino and insisted on getting more autonomy (back when he temporarily left the team) that he was given more leeway and influence.
I understand that Lucchino and Henry need to have a role and approve of large moves, but I feel that unless Cherington can break free from Lucchino's shadow, he will not be able to show his talents as much as he could otherwise. Given Lucchino's awful contributions to the disastrous 2012 season, I almost think that the only way Cherington can improve his lot would be to repeat the kind of episode Theo created.
It seems Henry, ultimately, has to decide whether to tell his buddy Lucchino to let Cherington be Cherington. If Henry does not do that and he and Lucchino keep trying to share baseball decisions with the GM, then I fear the Red Sox are in for a long, long, bad spell that will feature some of the same qualities we saw in this awful 2012 season.