He had been sitting out there, at the ready, for some nine years. Everyone knew Bobby Valentine was a phone call away, but for the longest time no one dared call upon him. He was baseball’s nuclear option: He could do the job, and the results could be spectacular, but could anyone live with the fallout?
This was exactly the sort of situation that called for an infusion of Bobby V. The Red Sox have spent the last three months dealing with one embarrassing implosion after another, the chain of collapses starting in their clubhouse and moving to the front office, costing them a playoff spot, a successful manager (Terry Francona) and a brilliant general manager (Theo Epstein). It took new GM Ben Cherington the entire month of November to find Francona’s successor, after his reported top choice, Dale Sveum, followed Epstein to the north side of Chicago. Even now, there are whispers that it was president Larry Lucchino, and not Cherington, who drove the selection of Valentine.
It is entirely possible Valentine, 61, will be exactly what the Red Sox need, given the obvious lack of clubhouse discipline that marked the end of the Francona regime. He has a huge personality – smart and smart-alecky. He can be slick, and he can be abrasive, and he knows which situations call for which. He has none of Francona’s self-deprecating modesty, but his players also won’t have any doubts as to who is in charge.
Still, the risk with Valentine is significant. He is an inherently political animal, highly skilled at building alliances and using them to his benefit. But when those alliances unravel, as tends to happen when a team vastly underperforms, it can go bad quickly. Valentine’s history is littered with clashes with both his players and his bosses. Putting him in the media-driven, high-intensity fishbowl of Fenway Park only heightens the scrutiny and the pressure.
The Red Sox’s hopes in 2012 will have less to do with Valentine’s performance than on the state of their pitching staff, which is in desperate need of shoring up. But by bringing him on board at such a pivotal moment, they have ensured that the coming season will either be a spectacular success or a spectacular disaster.