My childhood hero Bobby Valentine, from my hometown Stamford CT, has now officially completed an infamous hat trick – he has not lived up to his promise in 3 different areas of baseball and football.
The first 2 shortcomings of the current (at the time of this writing anyway) Red Sox manager were no fault of his own. Bobby V. had a chance to follow O.J. Simpson as the next great USC tailback, but he chose baseball over football after being chosen 5th overall in the 1968 MLB Draft.
Tommy Lasorda was Valentine’s manager and mentor in the Dodgers minor league system. As Lasorda bided his time until Dodgers skipper Walter Alston retired in 1976, Bobby V was already being mentioned as Lasorda’s successor. As a player, Valentine had run into too many outfield walls and injuries ruined a potentially great career.
No matter, Bobby V. would become Tommy Lasorda Jr. in his managerial career. The two shared an immense knowledge of the game of baseball, and Bobby V surely learned a lot from Tommy. But there was one thing Valentine failed to pick up from Lasorda – his ability to lead.
Bobby V. began managing in the majors with Texas in 1985. After some initial success, the players soured on him and George W. Bush canned him in 1992 with no real skins on the wall.
After a brief stint in Japan, Valentine returned to the majors and managed the Mets to the NL Pennant in 2000. This was a huge accomplishment, but New Yorkers remember him more for losing to the Yankees in the World Series (and of course his bizarre “fake mustache and glasses” routine in the Mets dugout after being ejected from a game).
Ron Washington was never projected as Tommy Lasorda Jr. but he is sure a lot closer than Bobby V. these days. Not so much because of the Rangers 18-3 “Valentine’s Day Massacre” at Fenway Park Tuesday night, but because of the lead-up to it.
Wash was supposed to be managing a Rangers team in crisis this season following a devastating World Series collapse to St. Louis. However, “Washball” has never looked better with the best record in the American League early in 2012. If the Rangers didn’t have so much power in their lineup, Washington would be known as a “Smallball” genius like Lasorda was.
But the similarities don’t end with Smallball, their patience before becoming managers, or the exuberant styles that Lasorda and Washington share. Most importantly, they are incredible leaders of men – always showing respect for their players and uniquely avoiding throwing their players under the bus.
But as former ESPN colleague Curt Schilling predicted, Bobby V. does not have those leadership attributes necessary to turn the Red Sox around in 2012. I am particularly shocked at the accuracy of Schilling’s comments when I think back to what Valentine told me once personally.
At Bobby V’s Sports Gallery Café in Arlington, Valentine refused to second guess any managerial moves during a 1987 World Series game; he told me “a manager always knows his team best.”
However, Valentine has shown this week he doesn’t know the team he is managing at all; the Red Sox first two World Series victories in almost 100 years were led on the field by the likes of Kevin Youkilis.
Yet, for some inexplicable reason, Bobby V. ripped “Youk” this week for not being the same player now physically or EMOTIONALLY. In effect, Valentine was questioning Youkilis’ commitment to baseball – an absolutely ludicrous indictment when you consider Youk was seriously injured during the Red Sox historic collapse last September.
Team leader and former AL MVP Dustin Pedroia shot back hard at the Boston manager, and Bobby V quickly apologized. Too little, too late. Terry Francona may have lost the slackers on the Red Sox last season – but he never lost Pedroia and Youkilis. Consequently, it will be surprising if Bobby V. survives much longer in Boston.
As Bobby Valentine starts contemplating a return to Connecticut with Schilling in the ESPN studios, Ron Washington keeps bringing it every day with the Rangers. As a result, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Wash recognized as “Lasorda Jr.” in the coming years. Remember, Tommy recovered from consecutive World Series losses in 1977 and 1978 to win it all in 1981 and 1988.