Valentine, Lucchino might squeeze Cherington
Rare is the truth that goes to the grave. So someday, whether through a slip of the tongue or a tell-all book or, as is the Boston Red Sox’s style of late, an organized leak, we’ll learn the franchise’s real power structure and how it led to Bobby Valentine’s hire as manager Tuesday night.
It’s either a stroke of brilliance or the Hindenburg. There is no in between with Bobby V, no in between with the Red Sox. The Type A franchise got its Type A manager, the one whose honeymoon will last far longer than that of the other candidate, Gene Lamont. He was the Honda Accord to Bobby V’s Maserati. And those in charge in Boston seem unconcerned that at their greatest moment of instability they’re choosing flash over safety.
While there is plenty of substance to Valentine, he arrives in Boston with a bundle of dynamite strapped to his back and lighters and matchbooks littered about Fenway Park. Following a September collapse, the public lynching of manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein using the Chicago Cubs, of all teams, as his life raft, the Red Sox were as unstable as francium. This doesn’t exactly make them iron.
Because Valentine’s hire only reinforces the perception, right or wrong, that pervades the game: Larry Lucchino, the Red Sox’s president who’s more hands-on than Herman Cain, is doing his best to wrest control of baseball operations and neuter the team’s new general manager, Ben Cherington. The Red Sox’s original list of managerial candidates, culled by Epstein and Cherington, yielded nothing. Lucchino greased Valentine’s way into an interview, and voila: A week later, Bobby V is the Red Sox’s 44th manager.
Now, it is eminently possible that the day Valentine spent with Cherington went swimmingly – that his stories of managing a championship team in Japan blew Cherington away, that his grasp on analytics tickled Cherington’s inner nerd, that his personality struck Cherington as perfect for Boston’s media meat grinder. It’s tough not to be charmed by Valentine. Give him 10 minutes and he could convince grass that green isn’t its best hue.
It’s possible, too, that the Red Sox hired Valentine without Cherington’s full support, and that’s the truth left for another day. When they introduce Valentine within the next day or two, the Red Sox will stand united. They must. Lucchino will minimize his role, and Cherington will ensure Valentine has his full support, and Valentine will smile the smile of a man who hasn’t managed in the major leagues in almost a decade, and the Red Sox’s axis of power will begin what it hopes to be a hand-in-hand ascent.
[Related: Brown: Valentine is the right choice]
The likelihood Boston wins under Valentine is high. He is a fine tactician and the sort of hard-ass the fried chicken-eating, beer-drinking and, most important, game-losing Red Sox needed. The chances of the power triumvirate continuing to hold hands long-term is the most dubious part of all this.
Cherington should be frightened. Not because of anything he does or did or will do. Those who know him and deal with him say he is plenty capable. An executive is only as good as what he is given: money, personnel and, more than anything, power. And when a decision as important as manager leaves his hands for even a second – when ownership thieves from him the autonomy every executive craves and that the best deserve – it’s a bad omen.
It’s not like Lucchino summoned a wallflower, either. Valentine, for all of his bona fides, is disliked by a number of baseball people due to his single-mindedness and totalitarian thought. It is part of his allure as well; his strength is his weakness. Should Valentine even once ignore the chain of command and consult Lucchino – and if ever there were a manager to use his wiles to get what he wants, Bobby V might be it – Cherington might as well buy a pistol and kneecap himself.
Whether the Red Sox ultimately are shaped by Cherington’s will, Valentine’s or Lucchino’s, one thing is certain: It can’t be all three. And because Lucchino is the constant, the man in whose hands majority owner John Henry places his franchise, the Cherington-Valentine relationship forever will be fraught with a tension unnecessary if not for the president getting too handsy.
It’s his prerogative, of course, because it’s his franchise to guide. It just does nothing to dispel the notion throughout the game that dysfunction pervades Red Sox ownership – which, while more involved than most, had been considered mostly reasonable until recent years – and that, as one source said with a knowing smirk Tuesday, Valentine’s hire “means Lucchino is in charge – as we thought.”
Hey, if hiring a guy with 15 years of major league managerial experience and nary a division title to his name is worth possibly splintering a franchise, call Lucchino a genius. He understands the Red Sox, with their insane revenues, always will be a destination job for a GM or manager. If one doesn’t work, chuck him aside and get another. They can afford such errors.
Which is why trying to shoot the moon with Valentine hews toward the Red Sox’s style. Even if Henry made hundreds of millions of dollars with relatively safe bets in financial markets, he has empowered his president to gamble. With Bobby V, the honeymoon always is great and the divorce inevitable and evermore epic.
[Related: Passan’s ultimate free-agent tracker]
No need to acknowledge that yet, not when the marriage isn’t officially consummated. This is a happy time in Red Sox Nation. They return a great nucleus. They’re trying to recapture their mojo. And now they’ve got the manager whose job is to ensure the former does the latter.
Whether Valentine was Cherington’s choice doesn’t matter right now. He was someone’s choice. It’s more what the entire arrangement says about how the Red Sox operate. Bobby V will stand up and project strength, and so will Cherington and Lucchino, and maybe what’s capable of devolving into a mess of a situation never will.
Oh, who are we kidding? These are the Red Sox. Brilliance can happen. Hindenburg never fails to.
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