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Valentine will be one extreme or other

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  November 30, 2011 09:40 AM

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What we can assume, with relative certainty, is that the Bobby Valentine era will be, if nothing else, explosive. Maybe the Red Sox will win it all. Maybe they will fail spectacularly. But all things considered, they are terribly unlikely to land anywhere in between.

With Valentine, after all, it's usually one extreme or the other.

The Red Sox were due for another manager, anyway, because anyone who has followed the history of this franchise can tell you that the Red Sox have basically had as many skippers as America has had presidents. As it turns out, fittingly, 2012 just happens to be an election year. The job of Valentine (manager No. 45) will be on the line every bit as much as that of Barack Obama (president No. 44) next spring and summer, and rest assured that all campaigns will come with the requisite amount of mudslinging and backroom dealings.

Valentine is, after all, a politician if nothing else. On multiple levels, he knows how to play the game. And in the past, at least, he has not been the slightest bit shy about letting everyone know it, his style and methods as transparent as plastic wrap.

Talk to anyone who knows Valentine and here's what you will hear about him: smart, devious, manipulative, shrewd, conniving, prepared, untrustworthy, committed, charismatic. We all owe it to Valentine, as anyone else, to make our own judgments as time passes. But if what is past is indeed prelude, how Valentine mixes with everyone from Josh Beckett to Kevin Youkilis will be a fascinating study in human behavior.

For that matter, how Valentine mixes with Ben Cherington also stands to be rather interesting, particularly with the Red Sox continuing to tell anyone who will listen that Valentine is the choice of Cherington and not ownership and upper management (read: Larry Lucchino).

After the last two months, does anyone really believe that? In retrospect, the managerial search was a charade, right up until the last moments, when the Sox alleged that Valentine and Gene Lamont were the finalists. From a baseball standpoint, Lamont has every bit the baseball experience and acumen that Valentine does, if not more. He just comes from a different philosophical slant. That is why, from the start, Lamont seemed like an odd fit for a Red Sox ownership and upper management that believes in metrics. Lamont is neither a self-promoter nor someone who possesses any real flash - those are compliments - and the image of him, Lucchino, John Henry and Tom Werner sitting in a room together just didn't seem to fit.

Ask yourselves this: would Theo Epstein have hired Bobby Valentine? Never in a million years. No way. In fact, in Chicago, Epstein hired Dale Sveum, someone far more in line, philosophically speaking, with Terry Francona. Cherington seemed prepared to do the same thing until Sveum was rejected by his bosses, at which point it became clear that Cherington not would have the primary say (or any say at all) with regard to picking his manager.

So what did the Red Sox do? They extended the search and brought Lamont back for a second interview, if for no other reason, perhaps, than the fact that Lamont was on Cherington's initial list. From the outside, this looks like nothing more than an attempt to give Cherington more credibility in the baseball world. Whaddaya mean Ben didn't have a say? Lamont was in it until the very end.

Sure he was. Anyone who comes to Boston for an interview in the future might want to consider all this. Maybe Mike Maddux had it right when he withdrew before the nonsense even began.

So really, how is this all going to work now? Will Valentine work with Cherington the way Francona did with Epstein, or will he joust with him, the way Valentine did with Steve Phillips? Will Bobby V. go over Cherington's head and deal directly with Lucchino? Will Valentine handle Beckett or Youkilis the way he handled Todd Hundley, the once-popular New York Mets catcher who was all but shipped out of New York in an overnight package?

In the interim, here is what is indisputable: the Red Sox face the pressure to win. Now. After trading a collection of prospects and nearly $300 million last winter on Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford alone, the Red Sox burst into flames in September. Only now are some of the pieces being put back in place. Meanwhile, the Sox have not yet begun to address their roster, which has an additional hole following the departure of Jonathan Papelbon.

Presumably, Bobby V. would like a closer. In his two most successful years with the Mets, Valentine closed with John Franco and Armando Benitez (in 1999), and Benitez alone in 2000. In the latter instance, Benitez struck out 106 and allowed just 39 hits in 76 innings.

If Valentine got that out of a head case like Benitez, maybe he can get all that (or more) out of Daniel Bard, who could also be a candidate to start. That question, among many others, is one that Valentine will hopefully address, at least in some capacity, beginning tomorrow.

In the interest of fairness, let's give Red Sox owners and upper management some credit here. During the administration of Henry, Werner and Lucchino, the Red Sox have reached unprecedented heights, likely peaking. Sure, they'll try to sell you bricks, but only because they leave no stone unturned. They tried to get John Farrell out of Toronto. Presumably, they inquired about anyone and everyone (Joe Maddon? Tony La Russa?) with a managerial clue. They need a different kind of manager now than they did when they hired Francona, whose job was to keep a generally good clubhouse happy and to get out of the way on the field.

For the majority of his eight years here, Francona did just that.

This time, it certainly seems as if the Sox needed someone like Valentine more than someone like Sveum, who is building something, with Epstein, in Chicago. The Red Sox are not building. The Red Sox have talent. In the eyes of ownership, the Red Sox needed someone with panache who could take on an expensive roster and sell the team to the public, something Valentine conveniently acknowledged during the press conference following his interview.

If Valentine delivers here, Red Sox owners can nod knowingly and take all the credit.

But if it fails - and it could fail big - there will be an awful lot of explaining to do.

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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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