Valentine's passion for baseball still burns brightly
Bobby Valentine had been committed to a fundraiser north of Boston at Salem State University since early April. He had a Boys and Girls Clubs breakfast in Stamford, Conn., at 7:30 a.m. the same day, so he drove from his Boston condo to his Stamford house through snow and traffic on Wednesday night.
Then he went back to Boston after the breakfast and was in Salem by five o'clock. That night he traveled the three hours back to Stamford because he had to be in New York City Friday morning for a meeting for emergency relief, and he spent a good part of Thursday on the phone with officials in Stamford ensuring that Craig Breslow's Strike Three Foundation fundraiser would be able to go off as scheduled next weekend.
During the event in Salem, he was asked about the past and the potential of a future that would include managing, and Valentine essentially danced around the answers. "The most important thing is that nothing has really changed," he told the audience. "I try to be involved in a lot of activities in a lot of areas; for instance, one company I own began delivering water on the Jersey Shore this morning. I don't know what lies ahead, just that I wake up every morning believing this will be the best day of my life. That keeps me going."
Valentine hasn't spent much time dwelling on the Red Sox's 93-loss season. His comment about David Ortiz "quitting" has passed without further comment from Ortiz. He makes veiled references to Kelly Shoppach's demand to know when he was going to play, and he clearly feels some members of the media treated him unfairly, especially the references to him being late to the park in Oakland after picking his son up at the San Fransisco airport (he did call in the lineup to coaches from traffic). He clearly feels he took all the heat in the Kevin Youkilis situation, when others believed that when Josh Beckett referred to a "snitch" concerning the beer-and-chicken drama he was pointing the clubhouse finger at Youkilis. "I'm simply not going to comment about certain things," he told the audience. "But I will say this -- no one can question my work ethic and prove it."
He has remained in Boston, cycling around the city and Charles River almost every day while doing his charitable work, such as for Breslow's foundation. He watched the news conference for John Farrell. Asked if he wishes he could have been named manager the first week of October last year and had a share of the coaching and organizational hiring processes -- instead of the shotgun wedding-style in which he was hired at the end of November -- he shrugged and said, "I don't know."
It never worked. Maybe Valentine was out of the American dugout too long. Maybe he would never have meshed with the Red Sox baseball operations folks. Maybe his blunt style never would have built relationships with players and even coaches, and he told the audience "you have to have everyone together," which might never have been. People skills are far more important than knowing when to hit-and-run in today's game, something he may have misread. An important factor in leadership is authenticity, which some players questioned in their manager, who clearly wonders about the culture he inherited.
And perhaps because of the way things deteriorated and, because of injuries and the trade with the Dodgers, there was never a chance to make up any space in the final month. Maybe his occasional off-the-cuff comments about the roster or players will make it hard for him to manage again.
That remains to be seen. Like him or detest him, no one can dismiss Valentine's passion for pitching in to society, be it workers for and victims of 9/11, to victims of Sandy's tragic fury, to foundations around the country. Has time separated him from baseball in 2013? Maybe. But as Bud Selig has wisely reached out and utilized Frank Robinson, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and other giants of the game, he ought to bring Valentine into his circle. He will raise issues from a different lens. He can bring along Darrell Miller of the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy. He can be a leader in the myriad of social issues and programs Selig tries to address. Put him in the room with Mark Shapiro, Torre, La Russa and the others in Selig's special committee, and he will make people think.
As he talked about the fundamentals of hitting or calling for a pop fly, it was clear to everyone at Salem State that Valentine isn't ready to put baseball in his rear-view mirror. He doesn't have to manage Youkilis again, or dwell on the decision to make Daniel Bard a starter. When asked about Mike Aviles, at whom he shouted during Spring Training, he went off on a long tangent about how hard and well Aviles played.
Selig has opened baseball's thought process to men like Robinson, Torre and La Russa, and while not every one of those gentlemen might necessarily embrace Valentine, in the end, they will listen, which can only help. He'll go to Staten Island for the Commissioner's Office one morning, be in Mantoloking, N.J., in the afternoon, New Orleans the next morning.
While Valentine was moving from a youth breakfast to university fundraiser to an emergency meeting in three different venues, the Rockies were naming Walt Weiss their manager, whose experience was coaching Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo., to a 20-6 record. Which may be the wave. Robin Ventura was a huge success with the White Sox, Mike Matheny with the Cardinals. Like Weiss, neither had managing experience. Like Ventura and Matheny, Weiss is uncommonly honest, with great people skills. He played for La Russa and Bobby Cox. He told the Colorado media "there is no blueprint for me, on how to deal with players and develop that trust. You have to be yourself."
If the Red Sox had not been able to get Farrell, they probably would have hired Brad Ausmus; he has managed only Team Israel, but he is brilliant, honest and blessed with uncommon personal skills and authenticity. Calling around the last 10 days, I had baseball people recommend a number of other potential managers who had never held that position -- Victor Martinez, Alex Cora, Jamey Carroll and Kevin Cash in particular.
It may be a world that doesn't make sense to Valentine, but it is the game and the business he loves, and in which he should find some way to remain involved.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.