By Ernie Palladino
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The Red Sox fired Bobby Valentine Thursday, a day after they ended their worst season in nearly 50 years.
Why is that relevant here? Because Valentine once managed the Mets to the NL pennant.
Nobody, of course, is suggesting the Mets should jettison Terry Collins and bring in Bobby for Valentine’s Day Part Deux. Heaven forbid. The last thing that clubhouse needs is Zeus freshly descended from Mount Olympus, complete with high expectations and erratic management style to go along with that all-knowing attitude.
But maybe that was the whole problem with Valentine in Boston. He had inherited a team loaded with veteran talent that had basically quit on nice guy Terry Francona in last year’s pennant race collapse. As eager as Valentine was to win something with his long-desired gaggle of high-priced stars like the since-departed Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford; and holdovers Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, that kind of roster presents a recipe for disaster for him.
It’s just not his strong point, managing loaded teams. That’s just not the kind of roster that succeeds for a guy like Valentine, or vice versa.
Better to give him a team like those 2000 Mets, a good team certainly capable and deserving of winning the 94 games to finish second in the NL East. That team then went out and beat San Francisco in the NLDS and the Cardinals in the NLCS before losing to the Yanks 4-1 in the last, real Subway Series.
They had veteran talent, too, but not the kind the Sox unloaded in midstream. Mike Piazza had a big contract, but other vets like Robin Ventura — a real pro who remained unfazed at Valentine’s imperial demeanor — Todd Zeile, Lenny Harris and Al Leiter, and by then 41-year-old Rickey Henderson dotted the lineup.
None of them had oppressive contracts.
In addition, there were some younger players who Valentine could command at will. Guys like Mike Hampton, who pitched older than his 27 years, a smooth shortstop Rey Ordonez, a good second baseman in Edgardo Alfonzo, a productive enough left fielder in Benny Agbayani, and a pretty neat utility player in “Super Joe” McEwing. And hard-throwing 27-year-old Armando Benitez had replaced injured John Franco as the Mets’ closer by then.
Valentine got that team to scrap. And he wasn’t afraid to get into the occasional scrape along with his players. Just the season before, Valentine donned the infamous mustache-and-sunglasses disguise that enabled him to sneak back into the dugout after a midseason ejection.
His 2005 championship with Japan’s Chiba Lotte seemed a perfect result of a mix of culture and personality. A roster full of players from a country where obedience and humility stand above all else human, and a manager who rules his clubhouse like an emperor.
When he went after Youkilis early in the season, the whole clubhouse exploded. When he criticized Beckett for playing golf two days before a start that caused a sore shoulder, Beckett moped.
Management got rid of the big contracts, along with the big egos. What remained still hated Valentine.
The Red Sox didn’t need a Sun-God. Never did. The players didn’t put up with him. Never would. They just needed a disciplinarian who could wrangle a bunch of self-entitled veterans into playing winning baseball again.
Valentine wasn’t the guy. He’s not that guy. He’s way past that guy.
Wrong team, wrong time. Maybe, at this stage of his career, wrong country.
Do you think Valentine got a raw deal in Boston? Sound off in the comments below…