November 30, 2011
Bobby Valentine is the new manager of the Boston Red Sox, as team president Larry Lucchino reportedly pulled rank over new GM Ben Cherington to bring in someone with major-league experience in the dugout.
Why the emphasis on experience?
A veteran manager who knows how to handle a major-league clubhouse presumably wouldn't let the fried-chicken-and-beer clubhouse escapades develop into a problem that fueled this season's September collapse. He would challenge leaders like Dustin Pedroia(notes) and Kevin Youkilis(notes) to exert some influence among their teammates.
But even with 15 years of dugout leadership on his resume, is Valentine really the sort of manager who would've put out those fires before they grew into blazing infernos?
Before the 2011 Red Sox, the last team to display some infamous clubhouse insubordination was the 1999 New York Mets. In Game 6 of the NLCS versus the Atlanta Braves, with the Mets attempting to force a Game 7 and trying to protect a one-run lead in the 10th inning, two prominent veterans were nowhere to be seen in the dugout.
While their teammates were fighting to extend their season, Rickey Henderson and Bobby Bonilla were in the visitors' clubhouse playing cards. According to a report at the time, the two avoided the baseball game over its final three innings.
Henderson was reportedly upset with Valentine for being pulled for a defensive replacement in Game 4 of the series. Henderson had already taken his spot in left field for the eighth inning, but Valentine sent Melvin Mora(notes) out to replace him. Valentine reportedly tried to apologize for the perceived slight, but Henderson ignored him.
In spring training the following year, Henderson confirmed that he was "furious" about being taken out of Game 4. Valentine responded by challenging Henderson to play better defense so he wouldn't have to be replaced in later innings.
Henderson initially denied playing cards during the game, but later admitted he left the dugout in the eighth inning. When asked about that, Valentine said he didn't confront Henderson because the clubhouse is "not my turf":
"I believe it did happen because they always play cards. I think it's so what, personally," Valentine said. "I don't think it's necessary to change anything. We won 97 games and came within a game of going to the World Series and now all of a sudden there's some problem in the clubhouse. I think that's a ludicrous thought, personally."
OK, but let's get back to that "not my turf" quote. CSN New England's Sean McAdam reminds us that the 2002 Mets reportedly had a marijuana issue on the team, with as many as seven players allegedly toking up. Some of them apparently took limousines from the ballpark, rather than board the team bus, so they could light some postgame joints.
Valentine told the media he brought up drug use on the team to Steve Phillips, the Mets' GM at the time, and later addressed the team after reliever Mark Corey suffered a seizure following marijuana use. Speaking with reporters about the situation, Valentine stood up and depicted trying to swing a bat while under the influence in front of reporters, a gesture which apparently wasn't popular with the Mets' front office.
So if Lucchino asked Valentine during their interview how he might have handled players sneaking off to eat fried chicken, drink beer and play video games, how might Bobby V have responded? "Not my turf"? Is addressing such matters ultimately up to the general manager? It's hard to imagine Lucchino — or anyone else with the Red Sox — finding that acceptable.
But perhaps Valentine explained that he learned from that incident. Maybe he knows how he would establish accountability among his players, coaching staff and the front office. And maybe this won't even be an issue with Jon Lester(notes), Josh Beckett(notes) and John Lackey(notes) publicly outed and likely wanting to redeem themselves next season.
However, if Lucchino thought he was bringing in an old-school drill sergeant who would impose some discipline on the Red Sox clubhouse, Valentine might not be that guy. The question is whether or not everyone involved with this hire realizes that.