BOSTON — Players eating fried chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse during games. If it didn’t bother Bobby Valentine as a baseball lifer, it would certainly offend his sensibilities as a self-proclaimed gourmet chef.
“He won’t let that happen. There’s no way he’s going to let that happen,” said Tommy Lasorda, Valentine’s manager in the minor leagues and a mentor who encouraged him to try for the Red Sox job.
“There’s times — in all phases of life — when you’ve got to kick them in the (rear) when they need it, and there’s times when you need to hug them if they need it. Your livelihood depends on those guys. You’ve got to have them in the right frame of mind, to be loyal to the organization, to put forth all the effort that they have.”
Boston announced Valentine as its new manager Wednesday and he will be introduced by the Red Sox at a Fenway Park news conference on Thursday evening.
The 61-year-old replaces Terry Francona, who left after eight years in which he guided the Red Sox to two World Series titles but also the biggest September collapse in baseball history. The first job for the former Mets and Rangers manager: reversing a culture in which players ate takeout fried chicken and drank beer in the clubhouse during games instead of sitting on the bench with their teammates.
“You give loyalty, you’ll get it back. You give love, you’ll get it back,” Lasorda said Wednesday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “And that’s the way it has to be.”
At a news conference the day he formally interviewed for the job, Valentine said he learned a lot about discipline while managing in Japan. Although the players there are more respectful of authority and less likely to step out of line, he said, they also appreciated having clearly defined rules so they knew where their limits were.
“Discipline is not 30 whacks with a whip these days,” Valentine said. “I think everyone likes discipline. I think everyone likes structure. Everyone likes to be acknowledged when they do things properly. Discipline and rules and things like that — it’s just about right and wrong.”
Francona admitted he lost his players near the end of a tenure during which he counted on them to police themselves and never said anything negative about them in public. When Valentine was in New York, he did not hesitate to criticize his players and bickered with them, his boss and the media.
Former Mets general manager Omar Minaya said Valentine is every bit a players’ manager but one who insists on accountability.
“Bobby is not going to be the guy who’s cracking the whip. I can tell you that right now,” said Minaya, who was in the Rangers and Mets front offices when Valentine managed there. “He’s going to be a players’ manager, but he’s going to command respect. … I think what Bobby’s going to try to do is demand that players be professional.”
The Red Sox topped the AL East for much of the summer and had a nine-game lead in the wild-card race that they squandered by going 7-20 in September, missing the playoffs for the second straight season. Francona left before he could be fired, saying the clubhouse needed a different voice.
And, boy, is Valentine ever different.
A restaurateur who claims to have invented the wrap sandwich; a high school star in football and baseball; a two-time minor-league MVP; the son-in-law of former major leaguer Ralph Branca; the manager of the NL pennant-winning New York Mets and Japanese champion Chiba Lotte Marines; the director of health and public safety in Stamford, Conn.; purveyor of an athletic training facility; a successful TV analyst.
And he might even be most famous for returning to the dugout wearing a fake mustache and sunglasses after being ejected from a game in 1999; Major League Baseball fined him $5,000 and suspended him for three games.
Valentine’s personality certainly is large.
And his resume is long.
But it has one major gap: He’s never won a World Series.
“It drives all of us that do this for a living,” Minaya said. “If you don’t win a World Series and you’re a competitor, it drives you.”
Valentine managed the Texas Rangers from 1985-92, when he was fired by then-owner and future U.S. President George W. Bush. His last big league managerial job was with the Mets, from 1996-02, where he guided the Mets to consecutive wild-card berths and a trip to the 2000 World Series.
Two years later, they finished last and Valentine was fired, leaving him with a 1,117-1,072 record. He has never finished in first place in 15 major league seasons.
But Valentine went to Japan and managed Chiba Lotte to a championship in 2005. He has been working as an analyst for ESPN, where he has said Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett should work faster and left fielder Carl Crawford should close his stance.
“These last two years have been good for Bobby. It gave him a chance to get back and become familiar with all the players in the major leagues. That will help him,” Branca said. “Boston is a challenge, but when has he not liked challenges?”
A native of Connecticut and a former roommate of Bill Buckner’s, Valentine was the most intriguing candidate for the Red Sox job on a list that included Gene Lamont, Dale Sveum, Torey Lovullo, Pete Mackanin and Sandy Alomar Jr. After his name surfaced, he was endorsed for the job not only by Lasorda but by Steve Phillips, the Mets GM who bickered with Valentine and eventually fired him; Bush has also expressed a fondness for his former skipper.
Minaya said Valentine’s outsized personality will be a plus in Boston, where fans still are stewing over last year’s collapse.
“All year they’re going to be reminded of what happened in ’11, and Bobby will be able to take the attention on himself,” said Minaya, whose Mets missed the playoffs on the last day of the season after leading the division in both 2007 and ’08. “We lived it. There’s no doubt that all year long the Red Sox are going to be reminded of last year. I think Bobby’s going to be a positive force in getting people to focus on ’12.”
The Red Sox certainly hope so.
At about the same time Valentine was landing in New York on his way back from a goodwill trip to Japan, the Red Sox sent reporters an advisory that select tickets for 2012 will go on sale next week.
AP Baseball Writer Ben Walker contributed to this report.