Now, the process that led to the hiring of Bobby Valentine is unimportant. The perception and preconceived notions of the new manager of the Red Sox likewise fade into irrelevance, as do any assumptions he might have had about his team.
With the introduction of Valentine as the 45th manager in team history, so begins the process of displacing what people think they know about the skipper and instead realizing what he is. Ultimately, he came to be the team’s choice for a couple of reasons. First, his experience suggests that he is undaunted by the task of taking charge of a contender, and not just any contender, but one coming off a 2011 season that concluded with a startling collapse. Second, those in charge of the hiring process who had initial misgivings about Valentine's reputation kept an open mind.
The second part of that equation is particularly important. After all, it is that same open-minded approach that will be necessary to make Valentine's tenure in Boston work.
Towards that end, Valentine’s introduction was fascinatingly humanizing. He became emotional as he tried to explain what it meant to him to be given the responsibility of managing the Red Sox. A veteran of parts of 15 seasons managing in the major leagues, he embraced his new task as the opportunity to fulfill his as-yet unrealized ambitions to win. And he made no secret that he is eager for what lies ahead.
“It’s the beginning of a life that I think is going to extend beyond anything that I ever thought of doing,” he said. “The talent, the players, the talent level, the players that we have in this organization I think is a gift to anyone. I’m a receiver of that gift.”
In order to take advantage of that gift, Valentine suggested, he understands that he actively must build relationships with the individual players on the team that he will now run. He acknowledged that he may have rubbed some of his new players the wrong way with comments that he made as an ESPN analyst. He spoke somewhat playfully of the idea that his criticisms of Josh Beckett’s deliberate work on the mound and Carl Crawford’s setup in the batter’s box while speaking during TV broadcasts might not have endeared him to his new players.
“I’m looking forward to the time when it’s not a conversation they’re going to hear from me making a comment on television, that conversation is going to be one-on-one,” he said. “I’m sure they’re looking forward to communicating with me to tell me that it’s OK to have an open stance or to take 20 seconds in between pitches.”
Valentine said that the relationship-building starts now. He plans to get on the phone, get on planes and reach out to players between now and spring training to get to know them, to learn about them individually.
He is not interested in assuming anything about their personalities. He is not planning to approach members of the Sox roster with a “Bobby Valentine Template for Human Interaction.” Instead, his goal is to commence a dialogue that will create common ground so that he will know how to communicate with his players going forward during the season.
“I think that there's going to be a continuing conversation so I can get to know these guys individually so that I can hopefully put them together collectively to be the championship team that this town deserves,” Valentine said. “It's not one size fits all, and it's not, ‘Oh, this is the way I did it last time.’ It's a collective experience that you bring to the table to try to make the best of the situation.”
That includes the touchy matter of the Red Sox’ season-ending meltdown and the subsequent portrayal of clubhouse dysfunction that contributed to the team’s 7-20 mark in September. Valentine was asked what he needed to do to address the team chemistry issues that led to that outcome.
He chose not to wield a sledgehammer. To the contrary, he suggested that he was in not in position to speak of a culture of dysfunction since he did not experience it. Rather than dwell on a past of which he was not a part, Valentine focused on creating something positive going forward into 2012.
"Something happened in September that I wasn’t involved in and I didn’t see it first-hand. I think that reputation is something that other people think about you and right now, maybe this group of guys have a reputation that’s not warranted because everything I’ve heard about the players that were in uniform last year and the coaching staff, says nothing but they had great character,” said Valentine. “There might have been a couple of characters that kind of got out of line. There might have been situations that got spinning too fast. I don’t know, because I wasn’t there. But I can tell you I’m looking forward to working with this group and establishing a culture of excellence.”
Valentine explained that his top priority now is to make a schedule for contacting Red Sox players and members of the organization, getting to know them as real people rather than as rumors. The idea of approaching his new team without bias or prejudgment has unquestionable appeal for Valentine. After all, his major league managerial and broadcasting careers have left him subject to ample scrutiny.
Even before his interview for the Red Sox became public, Valentine became something of a lightning rod in the team’s search process. His name generated impassioned opinion -- good and bad -- even before the team talked to him about his potential managerial fit.
He was characterized in any number of ways: Smug. Brilliant. Smarmy. Charismatic. Self-promoting. Charitable.
Ultimately, that rich stew has lent itself to one characterization more than any other about Valentine. The frequency with which Valentine has been described with one particular adjective is startling, to the part where one imagines that his business cards read: ‘Bobby Valentine: Polarizing Figure.’
So, what does it mean to Valentine that he is so frequently portrayed in that light?
“I can guarantee that no one in the room has made as many mistakes as I have. And I think I've learned from most of them,” Valentine said. “Polarizing is a tough one. I’ve had a lot of adjectives about me. I can’t describe them all, and I won’t defend them all. It’s about reputation versus character.
“People who know me, take the time to get to know me, understand I have some qualities to my character that are OK. I am not the genius that I’ve heard people refer to me as. I am not the polarizing guy the people refer to me as. I’m not the monster that breathes fire that some people have referred to me as.
“I’m a regular human being with regular feelings and regular attributes that make me what I am. Some of them, as I’ve been told by people who know me, are OK. I don’t know if I’m polarizing or any of those other things. It’s just what I am.”
What is Bobby Valentine? That is what yesterday began to define for Red Sox players and fans. The rhetoric and perception of the new Red Sox manager, the way in which he has been portrayed (caricatured?), are irrelevant, yielding to the reality of what he will do and how he will define himself and his relationships in his new job.
Yesterday, he did not lack for confidence. “I think we're going to do this, man,” he beamed while shaking the hand of Red Sox GM Ben Cherington during his introduction.
Still, humility was more in evidence than arrogance. So, too, was passion and excitement for the task of what lies ahead for Valentine and his team.
Yes, he arrives with a full airplane of baggage based on perception forged during his time in Texas, in New York, in Japan. But at his introduction, he did not strain under its weight.
Thursday represented the moment of departure from what people inside and outside the Red Sox organization think they know about Bobby Valentine and the beginning of what people will learn about him. At the least, it would be nearly impossible to find fault with his aims.
“What motivates me? The desire to be excellent,” he pronounced. “The desire to do something special every day that I get up. I just want to do something good. I’m motivated.”