As a board member of the Massachusetts Building Congress, I had the honor of introducing Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine at the September 6th event. The MBC’s executive director, Jan Breed, has known Bobby since high school in California, when he was coming up in the Dodgers organization. Jan thought having Bobby as a featured guest would be a great way to sell a lot of tickets, and would be a treat for the attendees. She was correct on both scores.
To prepare for Bobby’s introduction that evening, I did a bit of research and found that Bobby has led an amazing life in sports and in baseball. He came up through the Dodgers organization, which at the time was regarded as one of the better talent evaluation systems in all of Major League Baseball. This was after being a standout high school athlete in his home state of Connecticut, the only three-time All-State football player in Connecticut history. Sports Illustrated magazine named him one of the best athletes of the 20th century from Connecticut.
He played in the majors throughout the ‘70’s and into the early ‘80’s. He coached and managed in the majors, winning the UPI award for American League Manager of the Year in 1986 as manager of the Texas Rangers. He later became the first American to accept a manager position in the Pacific League of Japan for the Chiba Lotte Marines, and in a second stint in 2005 led them to their first Pacific League pennant in 31 years and the Championship.
Bobby then went on to become one of the more recognizable baseball analysts for ESPN. If you watched and listened to him enough, as I have, you know that Bobby Valentine is opinionated, occasionally a bit hot-headed, and extremely knowledgeable about the game. As a die-hard Red Sox fan, I have to say I approached my introduction with a mixture of high regard for his resume and absolute bafflement over where he had taken my Red Sox.
Understand that I don’t blame him entirely for the team’s miserable season. The starting pitching has stunk (what the heck is wrong with Jon Lester), there have been many injuries, and the players acquired in past years have not jelled with their teammates or frankly with the fans (nice working with you, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, enjoy L.A.). Without a doubt, there are a few things Bobby could have better executed. Do you openly embarrass your current starting lineup by saying it is the weakest September roster in the history of baseball? Probably not. Do you openly question the commitment of a guy (Kevin Youkilis) who will walk through a wall to help his team win? Not if you want him to contribute. And do you leave a pitcher in who is rapidly imploding, all the while never bothering to get a reliever warming up? You shouldn’t, if you enjoy your job.
When Bobby arrived at the MBC event, he waded into the crowd gathered in the Hawthorne Lounge of the Hotel Commonwealth, a short pop fly from Fenway. I found Bobby to be an amazing storyteller, he really lit up the crowd by relating tales of all his stops throughout baseball. He showed a few of us the alarmingly large bump on his shin, the result of an old (and poorly treated) baseball injury. He related how life as an ESPN analyst really is as cushy as it appears.
After the informalities, it was time to introduce Bobby. I decided the best approach for me was to give him a welcoming introduction, to accentuate the positive, and let others ask the tough questions. He started by giving us his view of the team. Despite all he has gone through, he is remarkably positive about the future of the Red Sox. This MBC event was just after the big trade that sent Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers. He spoke about the great opportunity the team has to remake itself, with all the freed-up salary represented by those guys.
Someone in the crowd asked what the biggest difference is between managing in New York and Boston. Bobby’s responses focused on reporters, and didn’t sugar coat the answer: Boston writers ask far fewer intelligent questions, whereas the New York writers are more astute, more informed about the game. His example: some nitwit Boston scribe asks after every game: “Tell us about your pitcher’s mindset tonight.” Huh?
Bobby was clearly miffed with certain Boston baseball writers who reported that he had been late to a recent game, did not have adequate time to prepare, and cost the team a win. He was actually hurt that the writers had not even bothered to figure out what had happened: the Sox were playing in Oakland and Bobby’s son (who he had not seen in months) was flying in; when Bobby went to pick him up, the flight was delayed, putting them in terrible rush hour traffic. He actually made it to the game in plenty of time. He seemed most hurt that the writers didn’t even ask why he was delayed, or what the occasion was. That will happen when your team is 15 games under .500.
The award for Top Question of the Evening has to go to Steve Hassell of Columbia Construction. Steve asked Bobby to confirm the events when he, as manager of the Mets, was thrown out but returned to the dugout in disguise. Before asking about this, Steve donned a set of fake eyeglasses with an attached mustache. After he stopped laughing, Bobby allowed that, yes, that may have happened.
If you talk with Bobby for any amount of time, one clear impression is that he values young talent much more so than veteran experience. In that way, he is a lot like a teacher. He seems to relate better to the players who are coming up, and maybe need some guidance in order to blossom. No one asked the big question: “do you think you will be back as Red Sox manager next year.” If he had been less warm, funny, and entertaining, someone might have. But, he is Bobby V., a fairly big deal in the game, and we treated him with the respect he deserved.