Boston being a rigid sports town – there are ways to run a baseball club and ways not to, ask anyone on any barstool – it is no surprise the burg of Theo and Tito and Larry could be utterly mystified by the early days of Bobby Valentine.
They've only been playing pro ball in Boston for 112 years (wedged into this very triangle for the past 100), and the likes of Bobby V don't come along very often. He's like a locust cloud, a glorious comet … hurtling toward earth.
There's a genius to what Bobby V does, an intellectual plane on which few of us get to hold a barbecue, and frankly it takes some getting used to. Think morning commute through the Big Dig. Think, I don't know, sand in your bathing suit.
After long enough, it just becomes part of life. Granted, it's a gritty and chafed and strangely gaited life. But it's better than being in Houston.
Maybe, after these many decades of baseball, the good fans of Boston are about to learn something on the art of team management and leadership, courtesy Bobby V. And he's more than happy to do it.
You know, like granting Kevin Youkilis the platform of public shame. How often do any of us experience something like that? Consider it a gift, a lesson in maturation and coping that Youkilis will carry with him for years, and perhaps pass along to his children. It's about persistence, Youkilis can tell them, and uttering what many under Bobby V's tutelage have uttered before. That being, "Wha?"
And look what he's done for Dustin Pedroia. Already a capable and respected clubhouse presence, Pedroia has earned an even greater standing among his teammates. They now know that if a manager is out there enough to say, as Bobby V did about the cuddly Youk, "I don't think he's as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past," that Pedroia will take him down like a rodeo calf.
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The last guy? Pedroia played cribbage with him. This one?
"I don't really understand what Bobby's trying to do," he told reporters in Boston, "but that's really not the way we go about our stuff around here. I'm sure he'll figure that out soon."
So, in two sentences, Pedroia claimed the clubhouse as his, as the players', as the organization's. And not – yet – Bobby V's.
See how Bobby V worked that? Genius.
Then there's Ben Cherington, who, at 37 became the Red Sox general manager when Theo Epstein bolted for the Chicago Cubs and immediately was forced to fight for the turf Epstein left behind. Amid reports he preferred Dale Sveum to Valentine, Cherington stood before Boston and did that awkward introductory handshake. The tone at the time was that John Henry and Larry Lucchino didn't absolutely trust the Theo understudy and first-time GM, and that the owner and his president strongly believed in the headstrong candidate (Valentine) over the measured candidate (Sveum). After what that clubhouse had morphed into by the conclusion of 2011, the top-end thinking seemed to go, it was time for the iron fist. So, Bobby V took it out for a test drive.
[ Related: Bobby V hears boos during first loss at Fenway Park ]
And how's Cherington look today? With Bobby V's generous assistance, Cherington looks a little smarter, right? Though he challenged those stories, Cherington sort of understood the clubhouse, its personalities, and what it might respond to.
This, folks, is what lifting an entire organization feels like. And this is what Bobby V is all about, changing the culture and mending the clubhouse one reckless press conference at a time.
If he has to be the bad guy, so be it. Save the popularity contests for Ozzie Guillen. Bobby V will do the dirty work, lifting Youkilis, Pedroia and Cherington, even Terry Francona and Curt Schilling, even Derek Jeter, to his own detriment.
A divided organization has a common cause. A skeptical town has its focus. The top step has its villain.
Look, these are hard lessons.
But know that it's not your fault, Boston. The players, with their behavior last season, practically begged for this sort of enlightenment. So, here they are, watching Youk get buried one day, and Daniel Bard granted another extra hitter or two the next. This loyalty business, it's tricky.
"The last thing in the world I would want him to think is that this was anything but an answer to a question that seemed, the question was jabbing at him," Valentine said of the Youkilis dust-up thingy. "I was trying to smooth it over."
There you go. In the end, a man can only do so much with sand in his pants.
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