Valentine's edict not just reactionary
Alcohol ban less a result of 2011 fade than proper conduct
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- They hadn't made the postseason in two years or won a playoff game since 2008, they'd blown the biggest September lead in history, been ridiculed as being characters from a lite beer commercial and while they'd offered up their best defense, they knew this was, in Bruce Hornsby's words, the end of the innocence.
The agony of Aaron Boone in 2003 and the ecstasy of ending the 86-year itch in 2004 was the fantasy of Red Sox history, and when they won again in '07 and became the first team to win twice in the 21st century, there was an expectancy the Red Sox had never encountered -- an entitlement, players believed -- but by the moment Evan Longoria went yard against the Yankees on the final day of the regular season last year, there was no urgency to have one's picture taken with the trophy. "We've been poisoned by these lies/the lawyers clean up the details/since Daddy had to lie," and Terry Francona had to leave because of all he had to say for his players.
So as Bobby Valentine told players they had to ride the buses to road Spring Training games and declared there would be no more beer in the home clubhouse or on flights returning home at the end of road trips, it was, indeed, the end of the innocence.
"It's been an interesting Spring Training, because Bobby has been everywhere," says Kevin Youkilis. "His energy is unbelievable. He's always talking about some detail of the game. It's great. It's his team, no doubt."
Asked about Valentine's ban on alcohol, Josh Beckett said, "Whatever the manager thinks is right is fine. The only thing that matters is being focused on doing what we need to do to win. We want it; the fans deserve it. Fine."
"The clubhouse ain't no bar," said David Ortiz. "It's about baseball. That's what Bobby Valentine is all about."
The ban on beer is an outward sign of what Valentine intends to be an inward grace. It is about discipline and the way Valentine expects the team to carry itself, but it is nothing that unusual.
"We're in the majority now," said general manager Ben Cherington.
"I did it in Texas and New York," said Valentine. "There are 19 teams that do not provide alcohol, like any normal business."
It isn't a reaction to all the notoriety about pitchers reportedly sipping beer and a couple of times ordering fried chicken late on nights they weren't pitching. It's about decorum and, perhaps more important, liability. The Yankees haven't provided alcohol for years; if a player were involved in an accident driving home and he'd had a few beers provided by the club, what would be the liability to sports' most historic franchise? Same with the Red Sox.
As for banning alcohol on the flights home after a road trip, players often have beer, get to Fenway Park at 4 a.m. and drive home.
"If something serious happened," said one Sox official, "the party suing might end up a limited partner."
What Valentine did was set the rules and take the heat off Cherington, who is in his first year as GM, and ownership. If any player doesn't like it, he has to take it up with Valentine, not hear that it is club policy. When it comes to the clubhouse, Valentine has established that he sets the tone and the rules.
"This thing is no big deal," said Dustin Pedroia. "The only big deal is winning, and I think a lot of us are still angry about what happened last September and want to focus all our attention on getting back to winning." Which is all Valentine talks about.
Valentine wanders the new JetBlue complex, working with pitchers on bunting, slap swings, fielding and pickoff moves. He gets pitchers and catchers together for discussion groups. He spends time with each player, "to get to know them." One player, Carl Crawford, has acknowledged that Valentine's television criticism of the outfielder's open batting stance was valid, and when Crawford and his agent, Brian Peters, brought in Mike Roberts to get back to his crossover first step without addressing Valentine about the coaching, Bobby said he had no problem and added, "If Carl thinks it makes him better, I'm all for it. He clearly works very hard and really wants to do well. That's what's important."
Valentine refers to defensive metrics in his daily media discussions. He is a devotee of Yale physics professor and author Robert Adair.
Before he arrived in Fort Myers, Valentine drove to Philadelphia to attend an Andrew Bailey fundraiser for the Strike Three Foundation, founded by Craig Breslow. He attended Youkilis' foundation fundraiser. He joined in a fundraising forum for Theo and Paul Epstein's Foundation to be Named Later. He joined Boston Mayor Tom Menino at several events.
"The man never stops," says Menino, who visited the new complex this past weekend. "He's remarkable, and he made himself a part of our city in a very short time."
Valentine is, of course, a New Englander. Cherington, assistant GM Mike Hazen, Allard Baird, farm director Ben Crockett, director of baseball operations Brian O'Halloran and pro scouting director Jared Porter are all New Englanders.
"I understand what this team means to its fans," Valentine often says. Two weeks into his managerial tenure, it is eminently clear that when it comes to the clubhouse, the field and, eventually, the games, while the two World Series and "Red Sox Nation" belonged to the fans, the players and the owners, this team is going to be run by Bobby Valentine. Period.
The innocence of Dave Roberts' steal and Jonathan Papelbon's pump has been lost for awhile now, and the next era -- Valentine's era -- has begun.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.