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When former general manager Theo Epstein dared speak of a "bridge" season after an ALDS sweep at the hands of the Angels in 2009, indicating a need to scale back even if it meant taking a step backward in the standings for a year, team chairman Tom Werner later publicly rebuked him for even suggesting an idea like that in Boston. Now the bridge must be built. Asked via e-mail whether Boston's poor track record with top-end free agents leaves the club less inclined to invest in those kinds of players, Henry replied, "Yes."
"Other than losing and injuries," Henry wrote, "if you ask what the biggest disappointments were, I would say how hamstrung we were financially with long-term, expensive commitments and the level of our return on those commitments whether due to injury or poor play....
"But aside from the injuries, we have had no consistency. We would have poor at bats one night, poor starting pitching the next night, a poor bullpen the next. By mid-August it was clear we needed to rebuild. What appeared to be an outlier month in September 2011 turned out to be a harbinger instead."
Boston's 7--20 collapse last September chased Epstein and manager Terry Francona from their jobs. The ownership group quickly moved to promote one of Epstein's assistants, Ben Cherington, but finding a manager proved trickier. Cherington was identifying up-and-comers such as Dale Sveum (who was ultimately hired by Epstein to manage the Cubs), but Red Sox ownership didn't want a rookie G.M. and a rookie manager. One day Valentine's agent telephoned Lucchino to say Valentine wanted the job. Valentine hadn't been in a major league dugout in a decade, but the phone call and his reputation for being a cutting-edge tactician were enough to gain him traction with ownership.
In retrospect, Valentine was doomed to fail because 1) Cherington had not wanted to hire him (though he did warm to him during the interview process); 2) Valentine, never known to play well with others, was not allowed to handpick his coaching staff; 3) the Red Sox owners gave him the least support possible: a two-year contract. (One-year deals for new hires are virtually unheard of.) The owners were so unsure about dropping Valentine into this group of players that they considered 2012 something of a trial, like trying on a boldly styled suit. They would reassess the fit after the season.
It was evident quickly that Valentine, thanks partly to his confrontational reputation and partly to his aloof, off-putting carriage, could not win the trust of key players, especially when he took an open shot at third baseman Kevin Youkilis in April and was reprimanded through the media by second baseman Dustin Pedroia. (Youkilis was traded to the White Sox two months later.) "If you're going to manage today, you better have the important players in the clubhouse," says one NL manager. "You have to work through them; otherwise you lose the others."
Another key April misstep occurred when Valentine didn't know whether an opposing pitcher, Liam Hendriks of the Twins, was lefthanded or righthanded when he made out his lineup. He admitted he checked his phone for the information—and still got it wrong. Valentine laughed it off, but it was a dagger to his credibility, especially in light of the club's ethos. The Red Sox had earned a reputation as a forward-thinking franchise with proprietary metrics, sophisticated scouting reports and a secret computer program dubbed Carmine to catalog and update the streams of information. Francona would arrive eight hours or so before game time to begin sorting through the daily piles of analysis.
Privately the owners, who worry incessantly about how the team is covered, grumbled that members of the Boston media were prewired not to like Valentine. The opposing-pitcher snafu, they thought, wasn't a big deal. But snafus seem to happen a lot to Valentine. In August he referred to pitching coach Bob McClure's being "on vacation" for two weeks, when the coach had returned home because of a family emergency. Last Friday, Valentine showed up at the park in Oakland at 4:15 p.m. for a 7:05 game because he had been picking up his adult son at the airport—then watched a 20--2 defeat, the worst Boston beating in a dozen years.
"The problem when you have a manager like Bobby is you're always refereeing if the players don't like the manager," says one baseball executive. "That gets old. And when some people aren't happy, they go around and get other people to be unhappy."
Indeed, Valentine, and the coverage of Valentine, have drained energy in the clubhouse. Players arrive not with scouting reports or opposing pitcher tendencies top of mind, but the latest gossip about what their manager said or how he was covered in the latest blogs, talks shows and columns. Such misplaced priorities say more about the players than Valentine. Francona operated a loose clubhouse with few rules, an atmosphere the players grew to exploit. Valentine, too, did not bring many rules with him. Without his own staff or much muscle behind him from ownership, he would sequester himself in his neatly arranged office. Outside that office the lack of rules, discipline and focus continued to be a problem.