Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bobby Valentine?!?!?

The rumored new manager of the Boston Red Sox (or at least he was earlier in the week, after all Rumored New Manager was once Dale Sveum's title) has a solid and substantial resume. While I support Valentine's candidacy for its considerable promise of summer entertainment to come, were I a Red Sox fan, I'd be brooding on the implications of the franchise seeking out such a well-known personality to make out its lineup cards.

Experience suggests that when a baseball needing to make some changes hires a big name to be its new manager, it does so in large part because it has no idea of how to make more relevant changes. Making Valentine Skipper would be a prima facie admission that he will be leading a roster of the same old Gilligans in 2012, who it is hoped will just play a little better this time around.

That's not necessarily a daft plan, but it's a pretty passive one. To be frank, it is designed to delude the rubes among Sox followers, the crowd which believes the players need a good paddlin' for their failures of September, 2011. Since Valentine is voluble, colorful, and widely known, that crowd will assume, incorrectly, that he's also an iron disciplinarian, a thought that would never strike them about an obscure bench coach named manager who might actually BE a tough guy.

The theory that underperforming ball clubs only need the firm guidance of a no-nonsense manager who'll teach them to play "the right way" is an eternal fallacy, one generated from the anger fans and owners feel when their teams screw up. To disprove it, we need look no further than the bottom of the AL East standings.

The Orioles hired big name Buck Showalter, a man utterly without nonsense or any other engaging human trait, to bring a taste of the lash to their lousy team. Showalter would stress discipline, the fundamentals, etc. When the Orioles improved from horrible to mediocre in the stretch of 2010, loud were the cries that this approach had worked. Even the players said so. I read more than a few stories in spring training in 2011 about Baltimore's new regime of baseball correctness and the progress it would bring.

And of course, when the season began, the Orioles were still a lousy ball club. They may have been a hustling, fundamentally sound lousy team, but the latter adjective still dominated their description. Discipline cannot help bad relief pitchers get anyone out. Learning how to cover first base, while essential, won't get a starter's ERA below 5 if that's all the stuff the guy's got.

Discipline won't make Josh Beckett any less a cementhead nor Kevin Youkilis less prone to injury either. If the Sox really want their new manager, whomever it is, to succeed, they ought to get him some new players.

Minus Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke, Terry Francona's first season would probably not have gone so well.


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