NEW YORK – Bobby Valentine, failed Boston Red Sox manager, beaten-down iconoclast, worn-out savant, dead man walking, tapped his index finger against his left cheek. He did so almost metronomically, tap, tap, tap, as if he was trying to signal something. Maybe he just figured "Taps" an appropriate soundtrack for his final day in a job that will define Valentine's career as much as his successes.
The Red Sox fired Valentine on Thursday and cast their first scapegoat for a season gone horrible, irreversibly awry. The model franchise that won two World Series over four seasons is now the model of dysfunction: an ownership group that can't shake rumors of its desire to sell a piece of the team, a cast of players that finished 69-93 and the man tasked with bridging the two, Valentine, gone from the major leagues never to return.
His career died on the wrong side of a 14-2 loss to the New York Yankees, in the city that at one time loved him. As much of a caricature as he has become – had he spent the season in glasses and a fake mustache, this foray into disaster would've made a little more sense – Bobby V can be eminently lovable when a team is winning. Of course, the Valentine who so quickly alienated his entire clubhouse, prompted a mutiny and spent the remainder of the season as the lamest of ducks was entirely in the cards, too, and surprised nobody who considered how his ego would mesh with a group of super-sized ones. This partnership wasn't doomed, per se. It was just risky, far riskier than a team like the Red Sox needed, an ode to the hubris of president Larry Lucchino, who bullied Valentine into a position that begged for finesse.
That was never Bobby V. In Texas and New York and even Japan, he bulldozed a path which his acolytes would walk or risk his wrath. Ten games into the season, he accused veteran third baseman Kevin Youkilis of loafing. Ten games. Think about that. Valentine was the new boss who pissed off his charges, and the players felt empowered to reach out to ownership to tattle on him, in large part because they, like everyone else, knew the majority of the Red Sox's front office didn't even want Valentine as manager. The emperor was naked almost from the start.
"I had every opportunity to succeed and didn't," Valentine said before Wednesday's game, and in one way he was correct: The sorts of resources afforded the Red Sox manager – the usual $150 million-plus payroll – is matched by only three other teams.
To say he had every opportunity, though, simply isn't true. Any sort of environment in which subordinates actively undermine the person in charge is the epitome of toxicity, and even more, Valentine on Wednesday accused some of his coaches of doing the same in an interview with WEEI radio. He followed up during a news conference: "I had just a feeling. I don't have any facts. Just a feeling every once in a while we weren't all on the same page."
All season was like this: Valentine saying something completely outlandish, trying to explain it away, spiraling deeper into the whirlpool of his own making and, ultimately, drowning. He projected so erratic, so eccentric, so incapable of handling a modern-day major league team that even if much of the fault rests on his spoiled players, the concept of Bobby Valentine, major league manager, is ruined.
His 2012 season is every bit an equal partner on the Bobby V tableau with his Rangers successes and the World Series appearance with the Mets and the mania that surrounded him in Japan. The Valentine experiment lasted one year. Hell, even Grady Little got two years. The last one-and-done manager for Boston was Bucky Harris in 1934, long before players could complain to ownership by sending a text message that expressed how the team was fed up with Valentine.
Before the blowout Wednesday, Valentine went through an accounting of his season. He regretted calling Youkilis' commitment into question. He called this season "a great life experience," which, when run through the Truth-o-Meter, translates to "I would rather get punched in the face every day for the next five years." He obliquely criticized the team's medical staff, praised ownership and GM Ben Cherington and claimed not to know his fate, as if those rain clouds over his heads for practically the whole season were going to hold off forever.
"I think the Boston Red Sox will look different next year from what you see today," Valentine said, failing to note that among the biggest differences will be atop the dugout steps. It's where he stood for the final time Wednesday, soaking in the massacre until it grew too much to bear and forced him back to a seat on the bench. Valentine had drawn the batting order one final time, brought the lineup card to the umpires and tried to find a pitcher who could stop the Yankees' offense.
In that final task, like so many others this year, their failure was his.
Much like all season, the past haunted Valentine's present. Announcing the game on TV was Terry Francona, the popular manager fired last October and replaced by Valentine. He lurked around the clubhouse, chatting up Dustin Pedroia and others, his presence a reminder of what could have been, what should have been.
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Instead, Bobby Valentine gave Boston something altogether different, a season reminiscent of so many the Red Sox of old came to know: one not just of disappointment but of top-to-bottom failure, epic in scope and metastatic in virulence.
Finally, mercifully, the Red Sox's 2012 season is done and so is their manager. All that's left is a call to the bugle player.
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