|Valentine’s Day: Bobby Valentine to become next Red Sox manager||11.29.11 at 11:40 pm ET|
Sixty days after the Red Sox parted ways with Terry Francona, the team has identified his successor. The long wait for a Red Sox manager has reached its conclusion. According to an industry source, confirming multiple media reports, the Sox expect to name Bobby Valentine the 45th manager in team history.
News of a verbal agreement was first reported by Mike Lynch of WCVB (via twitter). Multiple outlets suggest that a final agreement is not yet in place, however.
Colorful and controversial, Valentine has built a reputation as a brilliant dugout tactician who has been a polarizing figure for both players and front offices in the past. Yet there is little question that he represents a different managerial style from Francona, something that the Sox may have ultimately sought in order to provide the different voice that the former Sox manager himself suggested the team needed to engage the clubhouse.
Meanwhile, Valentine suggested that while he has resisted input from front offices in the past, he remains open to the idea of a partnership with the Red Sox’ baseball operations department.
“I would expect it. I would hope for it,” Valentine said of input from a front office. “This is a growth opportunity for me. … I know I’m old. The back of my card gives my date of birth, but I want to understand what’s going in my life, and my life is baseball. I’ve been outside the information age of baseball for the most part.”
Valentine spent eight years as the manager of the Rangers from 1985-92, going 581-605 (.490) and never reaching the playoffs, finishing as high as second place once. He spent one year managing in Japan for the Chiba Lotte Marines in 1994, but was fired after that season.
He then joined the Mets in late-1996 and spent the next six full seasons in New York, going 536-467 (.534). While the Mets never won the NL East, they twice reached the postseason as a wild card, advancing to the NLCS in 1999 and then reaching the World Series in 2000, where they lost to the Yankees.
Valentine was fired by the Mets after the 2002 season. He returned to manage Chiba Lotte, guiding the Marines to both the 2005 Japan Series title and the Asia Series. His second run in Japan lasted six seasons, but Valentine was let go by the Marines after 2009. At that point, Valentine elected to return to the U.S. in hopes of landing one last managerial job in Major League Baseball.
“I was 59 ready to turn 60 and knew if I signed up for another tour of duty there would never be a door that could open up here again,” Valentine said after his interview at Fenway Park on Nov. 21. “I was rolling the dice a little. I didn’t know that I’d come back and have an opportunity, but I knew if I waited another four years and stayed there for another four years it would be over a decade that I was out of the country and no doors would be opened.”
The 61-year-old spent the last two years as an ESPN analyst, interviewing with multiple teams during that time. But it was with the Sox that he emerged as a late frontrunner for the position.
Valentine first met with Sox President/CEO Larry Lucchino and GM Ben Cherington in Hartford, Conn., on Nov. 3, prior to a panel discussion that included both Lucchino and Valentine.
While the Sox brought five managerial candidates to Fenway Park prior to the GM meetings in Milwaukee two weeks ago, Valentine was not among that initial group, a reflection of the fact that the baseball operations department had some misgivings about his candidacy. Instead, it was Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin, then-Brewers hitting coach (and now Cubs manager) Dale Sveum, Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr., Blue Jays first base coach Torey Lovullo and Tigers third base coach Gene Lamont who took part in the day-long interview process.
Cherington appeared ready to select a manager from that group. While he did not rule out the idea of bringing in another candidate, prior to the GM meetings, he suggested that he did not anticipate adding candidates to the pool.
However, that stance changed after Sveum became the first candidate to advance to the second round of the interview process, meeting with Sox principal owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner (along with Lucchino and Cherington) over a lunch in Milwaukee. At the end of that lunch, the team felt that it was not ready to make Sveum an offer.
Instead, both Lucchino and Cherington emerged from that lunch suggesting that the team was prepared to broaden its search and interview an additional candidate or candidates. The team seemed interested in interviewing additional individuals with prior experience, given that, among the initial five candidates, only Lamont had been a full-time big league manager.
Cherington suggested that, in conversations with ownership, the team was prepared to rethink how it was approaching its search given the “unique circumstances” in play, chiefly, the fact that the Sox are a team that is built to contend in 2012 and that the team’s 2011 hopes collapsed as the clubhouse descended into dysfunction.
“I’m not dissatisfied with the candidates we have. It’s just we feel like there are some unique circumstances here,” Cherington explained. “This is not just any manager’s job. This is one where we do feel we’re ready to win and there are challenges that related to what happened to what happened last year and just generally in the Boston market, as you guys know. …
“We’ve learned a lot as we’ve sort of asked each other questions both within baseball operations and with ownership about what is it really that we need right now for this team. So through that process, it’s sort of, I think forced all of us to consider whether the current group, whether we’re sort of looking at this in a broad enough way to really make the right decision. Our manager may very well come from the group of candidates that we’ve already interviewed. At this point, we may not limit ourselves to that.”
At roughly the same time that Cherington was making that proclamation, the Cubs offered Sveum their managing job and he accepted, thus removing the former Sox third base coach from consideration.
Days later, Valentine – who had already met with Lucchino, Henry and Werner – spent the day at Fenway Park interviewing with the four members of the Red Sox front office who were responsible for leading the search from the baseball operations department: Cherington, assistant GMs Mike Hazen and Brian O’Halloran and VP of player personnel Allard Baird.
At the time, Valentine was asked about the possibility that he might represent a fallback plan for the Sox.
“You know, if I was Plan B and I got this job, I would feel like it was Christmas and I was Plan A,” Valentine said. “Luckiest guy in the world.”
Now, Valentine will get the opportunity to discover what is under the tree. He takes charge of a Sox team that is loaded with superstars such as Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez along with All-Star starters Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz.
However, he also inherits a team that melted down the stretch. Clubhouse issues such as the in-game consumption of beer and fried chicken by starting pitchers has since come to light, as have conditioning issues that contributed to the underperformance by some players down the stretch.
Even so, the Sox finished the year with 90 wins, and their 7-20 September left them just one game short of advancing to the postseason. The team was in first place and on pace for 100 wins through late-August, and so the Sox continue to anticipate that they are built to contend in 2012, a status that also appealed to Valentine about the possibility of the Sox job.
“This is a great organization with a great team and a great city and ballpark. That is very attractive,” said Valentine. “I don’t think that anywhere else there’s been a job opening where my name has been mentioned, there have been as many fabulous factors.”
The Sox ultimately chose Valentine over Lamont, with the two finalists being the only candidates with prior experience as full-time managers. Ultimately, the Sox made the call for the 61-year-old Valentine over Lamont, who spent eight seasons as the manager of the White Sox and Pirates between 1992 and 2000.
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