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Bobby Valentine could be the short-term solution for Red Sox

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  November 18, 2011 10:34 AM

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Bobby Valentine has been there from the very beginning, which certainly suggests that the Red Sox have at least some trepidation about him, too. The Red Sox could have hired Valentine weeks ago. They did not. Instead, the Red Sox have gone through a protracted search for their next manager, which does not make one wonder about the decision so much as it does about the process.

Has this all been a sham?

Or are the Red Sox such slaves to the process that every decision is akin to giving birth?

We've said this before and we'll say it again: Managerial searches are not about finding the best candidate so much as they are about finding the right candidate. Terry Francona himself was proof. Nobody ever said that Dale Sveum was going to be the next Jim Leyland, so any suggestion that the Red Sox have lost out to Theo Epstein and the Chicago Cubs here is a load of hooey. That is hardly the point. The question is whether the Red Sox' bureaucratic methods help them or hurt them, whether the general manager is an errand boy or a decision maker.

With the Red Sox, especially, titles clearly mean nothing. Epstein learned that during his first three years on the job. That is why he temporarily resigned and fought for power during the fall and winter of 2005, the last occasion the Red Sox went through as unsettling a time (at least from the outside) as this one.

And so, if Larry Lucchino is truly the man who runs the Red Sox, as principal owner John Henry has publicly stated, that is certainly fine. Lucchino is beyond capable. But let's stop with the charade and stop putting any stock into what Ben Cherington says or does.

As for the megalomaniacal and polarizing Bobby V., he is as capable of managing the Red Sox as anyone else, if not more so. Just don't expect an eight-year run like the one the Sox just shared with Francona. Valentine will be 62 in the spring, but he has the energy and vibe of someone about 10 years younger. Valentine is (or was) an excellent game manager and skilled psychological manipulator, which is to say that he knows how to push buttons, play politics and self promote.

The Red Sox can win with him, to be sure, and another World Series championship would obviously make his hiring worthwhile.

But he would likely last two or three years here, absolute tops.

On many levels, given those realities, Valentine would be a good fit here. The Red Sox do not lack for talent. They are not rebuilding like the Cubs. The next manager of the Red Sox will be expected to contend for a championship right out of the gate, and any failure to do so will prompt immediate and significant criticism. The Sox have shortcomings, to be sure, but they remain a big-market team with big resources and enough talent to beat just about anyone, anytime, anywhere.

Whether Valentine alone could tap into a roster that went 7-20 would remain to be seen, but the hiring of such a high-profile manager seems to suggest that the Red Sox would not make significant changes to their roster. Someone like Josh Beckett would be more likely to stay with the hiring of Valentine than the hiring of Sveum, if for no other reason than the fact that Valentine would be here to push buttons and maximize talent.

Bobby V. wouldn't be here to bring along Josh Reddick. He would be here to win.

Now the question that warrants asking, despite the belief from Valentine's most ardent supporters that he is a brilliant manager, one of the best in the world: why hasn't he won anything? In 15 years as a skipper with the Texas Rangers and New York Mets, Valentine has never won so much as a single division title. He has won three playoff series, two coming in 2000, when he took the Mets to the World Series. In the two years after that season, the Mets went 157-166, Valentine's personality becoming such an irritant that he and then-general manager Steve Phillips fought for power while the Mets clubhouse disintegrated.

Fine. In professional sports, managers and coaches are hired to be fired, and every relationship runs its course. Epstein and Francona worked brilliantly side by side for eight years, and things got ugly at the end here, too.

Does that make Valentine any more or less of a gamble than, say, Sveum or Sandy Alomar? No. Of course not. But it doesn't make him any less of one, either. Valentine has something neither of those men possesses - a disproportionately sizable ego - which would certainly make for an interesting dynamic within the walls at Fenway Park. Lucchino is no shrinking violet. At some point, probably sooner than later, the two would almost certainly butt heads.

After all, why do you think Billy Beane ultimately turned down the job when the Red Sox tried to hire him in 2002? And before you suggest that Beane wanted to remain close to his daughter and family, remember that the Red Sox were willing to let him spend a significant amount of time working out of an office on the West Coast.

Meanwhile, in the middle of all this rests Cherington, the new general manager of the club, at least in title. Unlike Epstein, who was 28 when he was named GM, Cherington is 37. He does not need his hand held. In the wake of seemingly pointless managerial interviews, one can only wonder where Cherington truly rests with regard to Valentine, who seems to be the choice of ownership. And if Cherington does not want Bobby V. as his skipper, then what kind of foundation does that create for the relationship allegedly at the center of the Red Sox baseball operation?

Remember: when he departed, Epstein told us that he and Francona bonded during the interviewing process.

With regard to Bobby V. and Cherington, one can only wonder whether the process is instead serving as a wedge.

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About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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