"What an embarrassing thing to say. If I were there right now, I'd punch you right in the mouth. Ha, ha. How's that sound? Is that like I checked out? What an embarrassing thing."
-- Bobby Valentine, talking to Glenn Ordway Thursday on The Big Show
How did we get here? Who's to blame?
First, the required preface: Bobby Valentine did not trade for Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon, did not sign John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Carl Crawford and Bobby Jenks, did not turn a great clubhouse into a lousy one, did not turn Josh Beckett and Jon Lester into mediocre pitchers, did not put the franchise in a position where it had to give Adrian Gonzalez away, and did not cause the injuries to Bailey, Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz.
But, as Ben Cherington reminded us when he fired Bob McClure about three weeks ago, this is a "performance-based" business. And Bobby Valentine is the manager of a team that is 63-75, 15 games out of first place in the AL East and 14 games out of the wild card. This was supposed to be the easiest season in baseball history to make the postseason, right? If there were six wild card teams the Sox still would be four games out of the playoffs.
A total failure, a spectacular wipeout of a season. I don't think anyone -- with the exception of John Henry, evidently -- believes that Bobby Valentine has done anything resembling an acceptable job as manager of the Red Sox this season. And no one thinks he'll be back in 2013.
In a city that has won seven titles in this still-young century, a coach that is an obvious goner during the season is a very rare thing. Think about it -- the last time a coach or manager was technically fired was Dave Lewis of the Bruins in 2007. Also, this is all happening for the first time in Boston during the full-volume Internet era, an era of multiple sports talk stations and 3 million blogs and message boards and Twitter and iPhones and podcasts and PTI ripoffs.
There is competition. There is competition to be first, there is competition to be outrageous, there is competition to be loudest, there is competition for page views and listeners and Likes on Facebook pages and Twitter followers and retweets and TV ratings.
And in this world, Bobby Valentine is the holy grail. A lightning rod with an inability to censure his thoughts on his way out of an organization that is perceived to be in complete chaos? Gold.
We heard it again on Wednesday, as Valentine broke out his Howard Beale act for 20 minutes on The Big Show with Glenn Ordway and Michael Holley (Disclosure: I'm an occasional guest on the program). We got the Full Bobby, soup to nutso.
Threatening (though probably in jest) to punch Ordway in the mouth? Check.
Fighting back tears as he defended his reasons for being late to Oakland Coliseum last Saturday? Yup.
Referring to Oakland Coliseum as "stupid" as part of his defense for being late, even though he claims he wasn't late? You bet.
Questioning the integrity and intelligence of members of the media who reported that he was late to the park last Saturday, while admitting one sentence later that he was in fact late to the park last Saturday? Done and done.
Throwing Joe Maddon under the bus, backing up and running over him again a couple of times? Confirmed.
More sound bites in 1,200 seconds than Bill Belichick will utter in all the radio and TV appearances for his entire life.
Here's the not-so-dirty secret about Bobby Valentine: He's not half as smart or media savvy as we were told when he was hired. He's thin-skinned, insecure, condescending and allergic to self-editing. (His fascination with Maddon -- who, according to Tampa Bay writers, does not show up at the park at 4 o'clock every day, as Valentine said Wednesday -- frankly borders on obsession. One can picture Valentine in private trying to slip on a pair of skinny jeans while nursing a glass of Sea Smoke Pinot Noir. The truth, of course, is that the perception of Maddon out there is what Valentine craves desperately for himself.) Valentine is a train wreck, plain and simple, and to pretend he's not is insulting to anyone paying attention.
Understanding all this, it's absolutely fair to at least ask if the media in Boston has been too tough on Valentine. Has the conversation about his first 138 games as manager been too personal and not enough about baseball?
Maybe, I'll buy that. I'll even give you this: There are some in the media who are thoroughly enjoying this disaster, taking deep and sensual pleasure in each loss, each new Valentine story and each tone-deaf misstep from ownership. This last calendar year essentially has been sports pornography for professional Red Sox haters, and we all know that group is represented in the media.
So if we eliminate the worst of that group -- which always will exist and flourish in times like this -- and the worst of the group that will carry the water for the Red Sox no matter what, and boy are we in No Matter What territory right now, I think we'll find the large majority is somewhere in the middle. And that group has been less hyperbolic but equally resolute in labeling Valentine as titanically miscast and, if not first to the blame for the problems, not part of the solution for this franchise. Everyone thinks he has to go. And he's only adding to all the drama by responding to these questions. Again, we were told a master of handling the media was coming when Valentine was hired. Where is that guy?
(Oh, and I had no problem with Ordway asking Valentine if he had "checked out" for the rest of the season. None. This is not Jim Lehrer, OK? This is a talk show host, a paid entertainer. It's been discussed countless times on the air by hosts, guests and callers recently. Valentine has added fuel by giving multiple "Who cares?" answers to questions -- sarcastic or not, maybe Valentine needs to work on that before he signs on with the folks in Bristol in October -- and appearing a whole lot less energetic than the guy who was running around Fort Myers in spring training. If Ordway has Valentine on the phone and doesn't ask the question after talking about it for weeks, it's disingenuous and bordering on offensive. That is part of the job.)
All the soap opera stuff -- chicken and beer, who was the rat (or rats) to Bob Hohler, does Valentine hate Kevin Youkilis, does Dustin Pedroia hate Valentine, who sent the text message, is Josh Beckett a poison in the clubhouse, should John Lackey be drinking beer, who went to a funeral and all the rest -- might have nothing to do with 70-95 since last Sept. 1.
But let's stop lying to each other. We often engage in reporting or reacting to gossip because it's easier to write and because we know you'll read it. And you read it because you really like it or really like to hate it. If you stopped caring, it would be done, trust me. But it's not going away.
It's just reality. Bobby Valentine gets more page views than Pedro Ciriaco. More people care about Curt Schilling's thoughts on Valentine than they do on the progression of Felix Doubront, for example. If Craig Breslow's role in the bullpen was a driving topic of conversation, that would be all you would hear on the radio. The Patriots went 13-3 and won the AFC championship last season. Tom Brady was brilliant, Rob Gronkowski had a historic season and Wes Welker caught 122 passes. But Chad Ochocinco was the name, for this site at least, who brought the most consistent traffic. Not even close, really. Why?
People, for the most part, inhale drama. It's why Harvey Levin has six houses and his own plane. And sports fans are no different. There is literally no other way to explain the success of Skip Bayless.
And that's not TMZ bleeding into sports. Sorry, it's always been this way. There's just more places to surface this now, the world has changed. You think Roger Clemens bitching about carrying his own luggage was relevant to anything on-field? How about Wade Boggs and Margo Adams, or Bill Lee and Don Zimmer, or Carl Yastrzemski and Dick Williams? Think Ted Williams would agree that the media used to focus just on what happened on the field?
Today it's Bobby Valentine. When he's gone it'll be someone else. It never ends.
And you don't want it to.