Bobby Valentine has badly misfired twice in his first few weeks, setting up a weekly appearance gig on an ESPN New York radio program, then questioning Kevin Youkilis’ attitude after just a nine-day evaluation Sunday. And when Valentine opted not to play Youkilis on Patriots Day, Fenway serenaded him with a chorus of boos loud enough to throw Sharon Cherop off her game.
For a guy whose managed for 25 years (including six in media-saturated New York) and worked in broadcasting for two more, Valentine’s inability to avoid PR blunders like this is stupefying.
A young guy managing for the first time? Sure, he might say a few things that get taken the wrong way. Same goes for a long-standing manager who never worked for a big-market team – the Boston press craves drama in a way the Kansas City press doesn’t, and an unfamiliar manager could easily shoot himself in the foot.
But Valentine is neither of those things. He knows how a manager gets treated by the press, he knows how big-market media work, and he knows what in the past has gotten him into trouble. If anyone ought to know better than to insult a beloved player like Youkilis, it’s Valentine.
Valentine isn’t the first manager to take a “cavalier” approach to the press, nor even the first in a major market. Rex Ryan has played games with the press every fall since 2009, and he’s said some way dumber stuff than Valentine.
But Jets fans have rarely booed Ryan the way Sox fans laid into Valentine Monday. It’s not because Jets fans are nicer than Red Sox fans – both are pretty damn nasty, compared with other fanbases (fans of the Milwaukee Brewers, for instance, or the Phoenix Coyotes). New York fans just get that Ryan mouths off to take pressure off his players.
Ryan’s players get that too, which explains the iron-forged loyalty with which they defend him. But on the Red Sox, no one feels that loyalty yet. They protected Terry Francona until he lost the team midway through the 2011 season, but they haven’t had enough time to build any reverence for Valentine.
So Valentine’s first few weeks have basically been a car crash with no one to pull him out. The fans don’t like a manager talking to the “enemy,” especially when he simultaneously insults one of their favorite players. And with the players, just think who they’d side with in a fight: a nine-year veteran with two World Series rings and three All Star selections with the team, or some dude who’s been here two weeks and lost more games than he’s won?
The fans, the press, the players – everyone could come around to Valentine’s side. Winning smooths over transitions faster than anything else, especially if those wins come because of perceived managerial decisions. Bullpen usage, for instance, or lineup decisions in the face of Jacoby Ellsbury‘s injury.
If Valentine’s Red Sox win games, he’ll keep his job. If they win a World Series, Valentine might hang around for a bit longer than his current two-year deal. With a squad this talented, either scenario could easily happen.
But no matter how well Valentine’s team does, as a person Valentine may never appeal to the fans. Red Sox fans don’t like nonsense (especially when it lacks the intentionality of Ryan’s quotes), and they really don’t like managers who put themselves above the players, the press (more powerful here than most other markets) or the fans.
So far, Valentine’s actions suggest he doesn’t care about public opinion – an attribute easily misconstrued as not caring about the public. And without anyone to hold him accountable, Valentine seems unlikely to change. He’ll keep making blunders a manager as experienced and media-savvy as him has no business making. He’ll keep insulting the wrong people while appearing to suck up to even wronger people.
Valentine will keep having to backtrack before moving forward, over and over and over again, all season long.
Hopefully he doesn’t backtrack so much he backs the 2012 Red Sox off a cliff.