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August 20, 2012
Out of Left Field
Bobby Valentine's Communications Problem
It’s no secret that there have been some problems with the Red Sox recently. Or, if it is a secret, whoops. Sorry. Cat’s out of the bag. So now you know if you didn’t already. There are issues in Red Sox land. Some have regarded those issues as holdovers from last season when things turned bad like cheese left out during a month long vacay to Maui. To others, the peculiar peccadilloes of this particular… uh, season, can be traced back to once single source: manager Bobby Valentine.
Valentine took over the team from Terry Francona, who was adept at handing the personal interaction side of managing in Boston. He was good with the players, he was good with the press. But those strengths belied a laissez faire attitude that permeated the Red Sox clubhouse, an attitude that some say led to the team’s downfall last September. That and also some incredibly awful baseball.
Bobby Valentine was hired to put a professional face on things, to be more a Manager (capital “M”) and less a friend. Because being friendly with players is a huge, huge problem and don’t ask why because duh you totally know.
Much was known about Valentine when he was hired. That he managed the Mets, that he managed a team in Texas before they moved to Washington, D.C. – bet you didn’t even know Texas ever had a team! – and that he spent significant time in Japan playing a sport similar to baseball while drinking beer named after himself.
But even back during Valentine’s interview with Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, there were hints that communication might be an issue.
Ben Cherington: Welcome to Boston, Mr. Valentine. Have a seat.
Valentine got the job despite the hiccups, but things didn’t get much better during the introductory news conference.
Reporter: Mr. Valentine! Mr. Valentine!
Then there was the Kevin Youkilis situation where Valentine told a reporter that Youkilis wasn’t physically or mentally into the game. That turned out well.
Valentine: Thanks, Kevin for agreeing to talk with me.
Sometimes Valentine got accused of leaving his pitchers in too long, well after they were clearly gassed.
Valentine: Good work, Lester. Nice job. How do you feel?
Back-up catcher Kelly Shoppach was freshly outed as the sender of a mutinous text message to ownership claiming the team couldn’t play under Valentine any longer. Shoppach was subsequently dealt to the Mets for a minor league-pitcher who the Boston media is fond of telling us was on Baseball America’s top 100 list five years ago. Which is… well, nothing at all, really.
One of the problems Shoppach complained about during the meeting with Red Sox ownership in New York was that Valentine had problems communicating with the players. We here at OOLF HQ have managed to get a transcript of some of Shoppach’s examples. First there was a meeting with Carl Crawford that didn’t go well.
Bobby Valentine: Hey Carl, thanks for coming in. Have a seat.
Then there was a meeting with Dustin Pedroia that could have gone better.
Valentine: I’m going to need you on my side, Petey.
Valentine was however able to win some players over.
Finally, there was the team meeting that Valentine conducted just last week.
Bobby Valentine: OK, guys, I called you all in here to reassure you mangle blop glurp nerpdy slurp herpty burb burb buuuuuuuuuuurp. Any questions? NOOOOO!!! [sprints out the door]
In the end, Bobby Valentine won’t sink or swim on his communication skills. Managers are defined by the way their players play. And the Red Sox haven’t played well. So, by Aristotelian logic, Bobby Valentine hasn’t managed well, whether he has or not. The way he’s related to his players, made them feel welcome in the locker room is fine, nice even, but it’s a distant second to injuries and under-performance by star players. Those are the real issues facing the Red Sox. Anything else is just made up.