“This day, it’s a special day. It’s more than a special day. It’s the beginning of a life that I think is going to extend beyond anything that I ever thought of doing. 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. Without any further ado, I think we’re going to do this man, and I really, I really and truly enjoy this opportunity.” – Bobby Valentine, December 1, 2011
For a moment, forget the issue of whether or not Bobby Valentine should be fired, or when it makes sense to engage in such an act or how to slice his piece of the blame pie in this mess of a Red Sox’ season. What is unfolding right now is less about a job and more about a very sad human story.
Bobby Valentine was overcome with emotion on the day that he was introduced as Red Sox manager. He viewed it as “more than a special day,” the start of a job that was, by his account, “beyond anything that I ever thought of doing.” It was the opportunity he’d craved to win, and not just to win but to do so in a place where winning mattered and served as the life blood of a community.
“I get it,” he said of the responsibility and scrutiny he accepted in becoming manager of the Red Sox.
On that day, the idea that, just over 10 months later, "the gift" would have turned out to be a Trojan Horse. And frankly, even now, the reality of his circumstance is likely hard to process.
That Valentine would be subject to constant scrutiny, left to twist while being challenged openly about not just his job security but also his desire to retain his job? How could anyone have foreseen such an outcome when the manager started what he portrayed as a dream job last December?
Valentine wanted the job so badly, he said, that he wouldn’t allow himself to think that he actually might get it, so fearful was he of setting himself up for a dramatic letdown. But he did get it, and though it was just a two-year deal, he was well compensated to commence a task that seemed to have virtually no downside.
After all, the Sox were coming off an epic collapse in 2011 that many traced (rightly or wrongly) to the unraveling of the clubhouse. Valentine saw a team that was ready to win, and no doubt there was appeal to the idea that it was a situation where he could be credited as the conquering hero who righted the wrongs that sabotaged such a promising season last year.
No one is portraying him in such a light now. The Sox are 63-75, on pace for their worst winning percentage in 20 years. Criticism of Valentine is brazen and direct. He spends much of his time being asked about his job performance and security.
Part of that is of Valentine's own doing. Part of that is a function of circumstances beyond his control. But again, there is something taking place that goes far beyond a normal job assessment.
The experience is not merely challenging on a professional level but a human one. And so, there has been a buildup to a day like Wednesday for some time, when Valentine blew a gasket in his interview on the Big Show.
While the drumbeat of questions about his handling of his job indeed has grown louder in recent days (during a roadtrip in which the Sox went 1-8 and in which Valentine’s daily sessions with the media became exercises in considerable discomfort), Wednesday represented the snapping point for the manager, in what he described as a “lousy season.” It was a stunning and defeated change of tone from Valentine’s sentiments 10 months earlier.
“Regret returning? No, life is the journey you guys. You have to understand that. Everyone thinks that misery is something that people run away from. I think you learn from misery, you learn from challenges, you learn from failures as well as you learn from success,” Valentine said of his year as a Red Sox manager. “So, this what I chose to do. I think it’s been miserable, but I also think it’s been part of my life’s journey.”
Valentine later clarified that admission when talking to the media prior to Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to the Mariners in Seattle.
“I don’t like to talk about my emotions and my feelings. I’ll say ‘miserable’ because it’s not what I expected,” he told reporters. “It’s been a little misery, yeah. I don’t know if that’s 24-7, but I would think after a loss, I’m miserable.”
Valentine’s not alone among members of the Red Sox organization in his sense that the 2012 season is a miserable one. Undoubtedly, numerous others feel that their year has been consumed with misery. Still, his candid admission of that fact represented a somewhat poignant revelation of the depths to which the season has plunged.
In terms of his demonstration of managerial leadership, it was in some respects an inglorious moment. Under the most challenging of circumstances, managers are expected to be akin to the captain of a sinking ship – dignified in their resolve, strong in the face of even insurmountable adversity, a stabilizing clubhouse presence.
But on Wednesday, Valentine did not react as an embattled manager but instead as a person trying to fight for his dignity.
“This is not who I am. This is just what I am,” Valentine said on the Big Show when asked whether he was concerned about his unresolved job status beyond the 2012 season. “I am concerned with who I am.”
That Valentine would differentiate between his professional and personal self represents a dramatic turn of events from the day when he so giddily embraced the idea of being the Red Sox manager. The closest thing that happened to a moment of foreshadowing on the day of his coronation occurred when Valentine responded to a question about the oft-repeated view that he was a polarizing figure.
“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,” said Valentine that day in December. “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.”
Now, Valentine is fighting to assert his personal dignity and to separate it from who he is as a manager. That he would want to work so hard to do so represents a stunning development in a season that has gone counter to just about any expectation imaginable.