Bobby V promises abundant benefits for Sox
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It was about 4 p.m. ET on Monday when Bobby Valentine emerged from Boston's clubhouse in spanking new JetBlue Park and addressed the assembled media from a green two-step bench.Valentine's first full day as a Major League manager in a decade began early in the morning, and this is how it went: He tossed batting practice and winced a bit as he flexed his shoulder. He made the rounds of many of the seven practice fields due north of the new ballpark, which sports its own replicas of the Green Monster and Pesky Pole. He stopped to get a status report from Carl Crawford, the big-bucks outfielder recovering from offseason wrist surgery. And he met behind closed doors with 20 of the 34 pitchers in camp to tell each of them what is expected. "This is a new team of management," Valentine told a couple of reporters after the main session. "Last year [the pitchers] were with the old team. This is a new team, and we figured we'd just lay it all out." The looseness of the reins held by former general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona has been well documented. There will be some "New Rules," as Bill Maher would say. Players will ride the team buses from Fort Myers to the other Grapefruit League camps. With few exceptions, nobody holding a playing contract is allowed to take his own car. And there will be a different policy regarding beer in the clubhouse.
Though Valentine declined to be specific, because the players have yet to be notified, one can guess that the tap will be closed. There will be other "New Rules" to come as the regular season gets closer, but no decision has yet been made about the admissibility of fried chicken inside the confines of the home locker room.This wasn't exactly Valentine's first day back at school, but it was much anticipated. "Of course I'm excited. Look at me. I'm jumping around. I'm actually a little nervous," he said. There were times after he'd parted ways with the Mets in 2002 that he wondered whether he'd ever manage in the big leagues again. He opted for a tour with Chiba Lotte in Japan because no Major League job was forthcoming. Upon his return home, with a Japan Series title under his belt, he interviewed more often than a prospective high school graduate trying to pick a college. ESPN proved to be a lucrative holding pattern. The Marlins, Indians and Nationals came calling, but to no avail. "There might have been a couple of days when I had my doubts, when I wondered whether it was ever going to happen," Valentine confided. "But it was never on the scrap heap. It was never out of my thought process." Valentine is bright, inquisitive and assertive. His global interests go well beyond baseball, which he analyzes with aplomb. He is part Tony La Russa, part Howard Baker, the former senator and U.S. ambassador to Japan. He doesn't suffer fools well. During his tenure managing the Mets -- which included two trips to the playoffs and the 2000 National League pennant -- then-GM Steve Phillips separated him from the player-personnel process. That didn't sit very well. He certainly was an acquired taste for some members of the New York media. The reasons he was left out in the Major League Baseball managerial cold for so long are really quite simple. He has a strong-willed personality and commands a lot of money. Most GMs don't want to cede control to their manager. In this day and age, most owners don't want to pay managers seven-digit figures a year. Those issues weren't a problem for the Red Sox, who invest a lot of money in players and expect to win. "We liked his experience, period, and his ability to articulate how to apply it to this situation," Ben Cherington, the new GM, said about a man who's won and been dismissed in two countries. "He's won in tough markets. He's won in different cultures. In the final analysis, as we looked at what would be the best fit for this team right now, experience did begin to weigh more. All that combined with Bobby's inquisitive and creative grasp of baseball is what we thought we needed at the time." After a while, Valentine was not involved in the process in New York. In Japan he was the process. Now there's no question that Valentine and Cherington are on the same page. The meetings with the pitchers on Monday? Cherington and pitching coach Bob McClure sat in on them. There's no question that it's going to take a pliable and strong personality for the 38-year-old GM to handle the 61-year-old manager. But it's in their best interest, because the benefits for the organization can be abundant. "I'm looking forward to us challenging each other," Cherington said. "I'm looking forward to him challenging any assumptions I might have. I'm looking forward to us learning from each other. It'll be a challenge, but I'm confident enough that we can do that. I'm confident that we're in this for the same reason: to make the Red Sox as good as we can be." Cherington had a simple explanation why it took so long for Valentine to get another managerial post. "There are only 30 jobs, and they are hard to get," he said. "Every team has its own vision and criteria for what they want from a manager." Valentine really doesn't much care at this point. It's 2012 and he's back, wearing a dark-blue Red Sox T-shirt and red-piped gym shorts with the team's famous logo embossed on it. "The Curse" is long gone, and all Valentine has to do is snap a five-year drought. After last year's last-night-of-the-season debacle, even making the playoffs would be nice. "It's a great town and a great organization," Valentine said. "This is a brand-new facility. I love [Fenway Park]. I love the old. I love the new. The fans are wonderful. It's all good. How could I ask for anything better?"
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.