‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
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The Boston Red Sox had to think outside the box this offseason when replacing former manager Terry Francona.  A first-time managerial candidate such as Dale Sveum, Torey Lovullo or Sandy Alomar Jr. wasn’t exactly going to win over a city still smarting from Boston’s late season collapse and Francona’s exit.

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That isn’t the case with Bobby Valentine, whose experience, personality and methods all appear to be what is required to take on the unique assignment of changing the culture associated with the demise of the 2011 Red Sox.

Hiring a rookie manager would have been like feeding bait to the frenzied Boston media, some of which believe majority owner John W. Henry and Red Sox president Larry Lucchino led a smear campaign against Francona through the mouthpiece of The Boston Globe.  Henry was so enraged by these claims that he pulled over while driving to drop in on CBS Radio affiliate WBZ-F 98.5 ‘The Sports Hub’ to set the record straight with hosts Mike Felger and Tony Massarotti.

Henry actually came off very well in the interview, repelling claims that he and the Red Sox brass leaked information to The Boston Globe in an effort to tarnish the reputation of the popular Francona.

“The author of the story has gone on the record as saying we did not participate in that.  I don’t condemn Bob Hohler for writing a story.  I condemn personal things coming out… About medication, about someone’s marital life,” Henry stated on-air in mid-October.

The Boston media are still fiercely loyal to Francona, maybe even in a misguided sort of way.  Any rookie manager getting his first taste with the Red Sox would be on a very short leash before the media would begin questioning ownership for appointing him.  The hiring of Valentine avoids that potential situation.

It would be difficult for the Boston media to poke holes at Valentine’s managerial acumen as he guided the underdog New York Mets to the 2000 World Series and is considered inside baseball circles as a brilliant dugout strategist.  In Boston, getting the media on your side is just as crucial to the job as winning ballgames and that’s precisely why Valentine went from surprise candidate to the 45th manager in Red Sox history.

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What the Red Sox needed was a new face, an identity that fans could hang their hat on and get behind. Henry learned early during his baptism into English football that a rallying personality was needed to restore Liverpool FC from a fallen giant back toward their storied winning traditions.

Legendary manager Kenny Dalglish was handed the task of bringing a disillusioned squad together and thrust the Reds back on course toward capturing their first major trophy since 2006.  There aren’t any malcontent characters inside Liverpool’s dressing room and they’re all united in belief of their manager.  A similar comparison can be drawn between the situation Dalglish faced when he was appointed by Henry and the challenge currently presented to Valentine in Boston.

Like Dalglish, Valentine steps into the hot seat of guiding a storied organization that is treated like a religion by its vast and fervent fanbase.  Both spent long spells away from top level management but are also considered wise field tacticians and have a rare kind of charisma that connects with fans and bring teams together.

We all know how revered Valentine is to this day by Mets fans.  With all the uncertainty surrounding the Mets, their fans pine for their modern day roster to show any resemblance to Valentine’s turn of the millennium teams.  That’s no knock on Terry Collins but instead underlining the need for ownership and general manager Sandy Alderson to provide talent that at least gives Collins the opportunity to prove if his fiery demeanor can have an impact on changing the Mets’ fortunes.

Valentine’s personality is so magnetic that over 112,000 fans of Japan’s Chiba Lotte Marines signed a petition demanding Marines owner Ryuzo Setoyama to retain their beloved manager.  Setoyama had reneged on his declaration that Valentine would be “manager for life.”  Unlike the Red Sox and Francona, he actually unleashed a vicious smear campaign against Valentine which only made the bond between Marines fans and Bobby V stronger.  In the end, Setoyama ignored the petition as well as a 30-row high banner that fans stretched across half of the outfield seats at Chiba Marine Stadium that read ‘Bobby Forever.’

I’m certain that Valentine will earn the trust of Red Sox Nation, but it is more important that he meshes with a group of players that rebelled against authority in 2011.  It’s going to be difficult to mold a collection of lazy ballplayers that chose fried chicken and beer over workout regimes and supporting their fellow teammates but if anyone can get the Red Sox pulling in the same direction… it’s Bobby V.

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Is Valentine the right man to shake up the Red Sox?  Share your thoughts and opinions below.  Sean Hartnett will be covering the MLB Hot Stove all winter long.  Send him your tweets @HartyLFC.