Top Stories of 2012, No. 2: Bobby Valentine leads woeful Sox to 93 losses, gets fired
|12.31.12 at 11:30 am ET|
Over the final week of 2012, WEEI.com will count down the top 10 stories of the year in Boston sports. This entry in the countdown is No. 2: Bobby Valentine’s nightmare season as Red Sox manager.
Check out our previous entries:
No. 10: NHL lockout
No. 9: Wes Welker’s up-and-down year
No. 8: Bruins’ early playoff elimination
No. 7: Ray Allen’s departure from Celtics
No. 6: Tim Thomas’ political controversy and sabbatical
No. 5: Celtics’ Eastern Conference finals loss to Heat
No. 4: Red Sox’ megatrade with Dodgers
No. 3: Tom Brady’s MVP-caliber season
In a forgettable season, the 2012 Sox finished 69-93, their worst record since 1965, and in last place in the American League East for the first time since John Henry and Tom Werner bought the team.
According to multiple reports, Bobby Valentine was not the preferred choice of first-year general manager Ben Cherington, but team president and CEO Larry Lucchino made the hire to replace Terry Francona.
As Valentine was formally introduced to Boston, nobody could have foreseen the outcome of the season.
“I am honored, I’m humbled and I’m pretty damn excited,” Valentine said at his introductory press conference. “This day is a special day, and it’s more than a special day. It’s the beginning of a life that I think is going to extend beyond anything else that I thought of doing. The talent level and the players that we have in this organization, I think, is a gift to anyone. And I’m the receiver of that gift.”
Valentine, 62, would become the first Red Sox manager since 1934 (Bucky Harris) to be fired after just one season with the team.
From the get-go, Valentine drew criticism and ire from the fans and the media. Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, now an ESPN analyst, said the Sox’ hiring of Valentine shocked him.
“This one was just a stunning one for me,” Schilling told Dennis & Callahan. “I didn’t see the fit. Personality-wise, Bobby’s a different bird. … He’s a different animal. He’s a smart guy. I had a chance to work with him this year at ESPN. He’s got some very interesting takes on managing. It just caught me off guard because when I think about the baseball ops people and what they want to do and how they want to do it here, I just didn’t see him being the guy that was on their list.”
In an awkward interview with D&C a few months later, Valentine said that he didn’t think Schilling was a good source of information about the 2012 Red Sox.
It didn’t take long for Valentine to land himself in hot water with his own players. On April 15, just two days after the Sox had played their home opener, he questioned third baseman Kevin Youkilis’ commitment to playing.
“I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason,” Valentine said.
It didn’t take long for Valentine to apologize to Youkilis, but this perhaps sealed the deal on the relationship between the manager and the third baseman. Youkilis would be moved to the White Sox in a trade Cherington said was “best for everyone.” The Sox got their hands on Zach Stewart and Brent Lillibridge in the deal.
At the All-Star break, the Sox were even at 43-43. Hopes were alive for a strong second half and a playoff push, but a dismal 26-50 record after the break eliminated those aspirations.
As the writing appeared more clearly on the wall, the Sox decided to shake things up. On Aug. 25, the Red Sox made a major move with a milestone trade that sent right-hander Josh Beckett, outfielder Carl Crawford, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and infielder Nick Punto to the Dodgers.
David Ortiz was one of the many players who visited the disabled list in 2012. Valentine would later contend that after Ortiz realized the trade with the Dodgers signaled the Sox’ white flag for the season, he quit.
“David Ortiz came back after spending about six weeks on the disabled list and we thought it was only going to be a week.” Valentine told Bob Costas. “He got two hits the first two times up, drove in a couple runs; we were off to the races. Then he realized that this trade meant that we’re not going to run this race and we’re not even going to finish the race properly and he decided not to play anymore. I think at that time it was all downhill from there.”
And it was. After the trade, the Sox went an embarrassing 7-25 to finish off the season.
At the beginning of September, The Big Show’s Glenn Ordway asked Valentine whether he had “checked out” on the season. The manager responded (jokingly, he insisted later) by saying he wanted to punch the host.
What went wrong?
Among the many problems, injuries were a key stumbling block. The Sox had 27 players go to the disabled list a franchise-record 34 times during the season. Valentine never once managed a game with the full roster he had envisioned prior to the season. At one point or another during the season, the following position players were on the disabled list: Youkilis, Ortiz, Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, rookie Will Middlebrooks, Dustin Pedroia and Cody Ross. Pitchers on the disabled list included: Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lackey, Andrew Miller, Vicente Padilla, Clay Buchholz and closer Andrew Bailey. It’s hard to win with a short-handed team, and Valentine found that out the hard way.
During his final appearance on The Big Show before he was fired, Valentine reflected on the season that was and alleged that his coaching staff undermined him.
Asked whether he knew if he would return the following season, Valentine said, “I really don’t. It all depends what they’re looking for. People have to make decisions, and God bless them. It’s not going to be an easy job no matter who’s at the helm.”
In the end, after dropping the final eight games of the season by a combined score of 56-18, the Red Sox moved swiftly to get rid of Valentine.
“There were a lot of things that were contributing factors to our team disappointment,” Cherington said in year-end press availability. “It’s really about moving forward as we started to look at next year and the process of rebuilding the Red Sox next year and beyond, we also have to look at the manager’s role in that. We came to a point where we felt in order to really have a reset and move forward and have a fresh start, that required a change in manager. There will be other changes, too. That required a change in the manager’s spot. Bobby was put in a difficult spot this year, some things working against him. Dealt with adversity pretty much from the start. By no means is this decision in any way trying to assign responsibility on him for what we all admit was an organizational failure. We need to move forward and start to rebuild a team and a culture and a clubhouse. We felt a change in manager was a necessary part of that.”
Added Lucchino: “Things have broken and we’re going to fix them. It’s nearly impossible to put a precise timetable on that. There’s too many factors and too many variables and too many uncertainties. We know that the team needs to be better next year, pointed in the right direction, doing the right things. We think it will. That’s as far as I will go to kind of hazard a timeline. This is not some 10-year rebuilding process, as Fenway Park was, but we can answer that question better after a winter of reconstruction.”
The reconstruction began when the Red Sox lured former pitching coach John Farrell back to Fenway to replace Valentine.
What’s next for Valentine? He might be too damaged to coach in the league next season. He previously held an analyst position on ESPN, which, ironically, was filled by Francona. With Francona off to manage the Indians, ESPN announced that John Kruk will take the job, so that rules out Bobby V’s return to “Sunday Night Baseball.”
If all else fails, he might have a career in Japanese pop music.
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