Valentine 'humbled' to be Sox's new manager
'Bobby V' back in big leagues as franchise's 45th skipper
BOSTON -- Within the first few seconds of his opening news conference as manager of the Red Sox on Thursday, Bobby Valentine half-kiddingly looked for a teleprompter before he started talking.
But as much as he enjoyed the work he did for ESPN the last two baseball seasons, Valentine was all too happy to trade in his microphone for a Red Sox uniform that has No. 25 on the back of it.
For a man who has been absorbed with baseball for virtually his entire life, it was notable just how visibly exuberant Valentine was to accept his new post, which includes a two-year contract with options for 2014 and '15.
Valentine led the Mets to the World Series in 2000; He even won the Japan Series for the Chiba Lotte Marines in '05.
Bobby V hits Beantown
But he's never won a World Series in the Major Leagues, and he realizes this is probably the best opportunity he's ever had.
At 61 years old, Valentine -- the 45th manager in Red Sox history -- sounded downright youthful while embarking on the next chapter of his career.
"I am honored, I'm humbled and I'm pretty damn excited," Valentine said during a packed introductory news conference at Fenway Park, where the scoreboard welcomed him as manager in bright red letters (all caps).
"This day is a special day, and it's more than a special day. It's the beginning of a life that I think is going to extend beyond anything else that I thought of doing. The talent level and the players that we have in this organization, I think, is a gift to anyone. And I'm the receiver of that gift."
Just like Valentine didn't need another reclamation project at this stage of his career, the Red Sox felt it would have been a bad fit to hire a first-time manager.
So they went with someone who is known throughout the game for his intellect, his energy and, yes, his strong opinions.
For the Red Sox, a thorough search for Terry Francona's successor revealed that Valentine best fit what they were looking for in their next dugout leader.
"That's the way I would put it, that he's the right man for the job," Red Sox principal owner John Henry said. "[Valentine is] the right man at the right time for this particular team. We're set to win. We should've won last year. We're built to win. We thought, in the end, that Bobby was the person most capable of taking us to where we want to go in 2012 and 2013. We're not at a point right now where we're building for the future. We are trying to win now. We always try to do both, but we felt he was the right person at the right time for this team."
General manager Ben Cherington's process to find a manager, which started even before he was promoted to GM on Oct. 25, was exhaustive. But ultimately, he thinks it landed him the right man for the job.
Bobby V back in bigs
"In the end, I'm very confident that we found the right person in Bobby Valentine," Cherington said. "When I started this process, I said we were looking for someone who cared about players, who had a strong voice, who was willing to have difficult conversations with players, who could collaborate with the front office and ownership ... someone who has a passion for the game, someone who's open-minded and someone who wants to win. Based on those criteria, I believe we found the right person in Bobby Valentine."
This is the third stop on Valentine's Major League managerial tour, which has been spread out over a near 30-year span. He managed the Texas Rangers from 1985-92 and the Mets from 1996-2002. Valentine served two stints in Japan with the Chiba Lotte Marines ('95, 2003-09).
But now Valentine is in Boston, where the passion for baseball is representative of his own.
"I understand the rich tradition of baseball in the city, of sports in this community. I understand the great rivalries that this team has, and I understand the great talent that has been assembled here," Valentine said.
While Valentine's opinionated nature has often landed him in controversy, particularly during his stint with the Mets, he takes exception to the notion he is a "polarizing" figure.
"Polarizing is a tough one," said Valentine. "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 vs. character. 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."
Initially, the Red Sox were looking at a pool of candidates (Pete Mackanin, Dale Sveum, Sandy Alomar Jr. and Torey Lovullo) who didn't have much experience. Sveum was considered the favorite of that bunch, but that became academic when he was hired by the Cubs.
In Valentine, the Red Sox get one of the smarter baseball minds around, someone who loves to teach the game and is known as being a solid tactician.
Considered a top World Series contender most of the season, the Red Sox became the first team in baseball history to have a nine-game lead in the standings during the month of September and not make it to the postseason.
In the aftermath of the collapse, there was a lot of talk about the deterioration in culture, which impacted the club's conduct and work habits.
There were stories of starting pitchers drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games in which they weren't pitching. There were questions about certain players not being in the best possible shape, which led to an overhaul of the team's medical and training staffs.
Valentine wasted no time addressing the situation head-on.
"Something happened in September that I wasn't involved in, and I didn't see it firsthand," Valentine said. "I think that reputation is something that other people think about you, and right now, maybe this group of guys has a reputation that's not warranted. Because everything I've heard about the players that were in uniform last year and the coaching staff says nothing but that they have great character. There might have been a couple characters, there might have been a couple situations that got spinning too fast -- I don't know, because I wasn't there. But I'm looking forward to working with this group and establishing a reputation of excellence."
Back in a dugout for the first time since 2002, Valentine would much rather look forward than in his rearview mirror.
"To take all this time, which is very valuable time, and delve into the past, is not productive," Valentine said. "What I would have done hopefully is learn from the mistakes. ... I think probably the one thing that we all know is that things get spinning quickly. When they get spinning quickly, sometimes they get out of control. I think that's basically what happened."
Red Sox Nation always looks forward to playing the Yankees 18 times a year, and their new skipper -- a native and lifetime resident of Stamford, Conn. -- is right there with them.
"I'm really excited," Valentine said. "Six times during a season is a little different than 18 times during a season. I know the Yankees always have a team where you always have to put your best foot forward against them."
Although the Red Sox identified several candidates publicly, Valentine wasn't one of them.
"I think we felt that because of the position he was in at ESPN and the public forum he had and knowing a little bit about my own style, it was probably going to take a little longer than we hoped it would when I first started," Cherington said. "Including him in a public way at that point might be difficult for everyone involved."
Although he's been out of Major League Baseball for almost a decade, Valentine is ready to dive back in.
So enticed was Valentine by the opportunity to manage the Red Sox that he tried not to think about it, for fear of disappointment.
"I'm trying to wrap my head around it, to tell you the truth. ... I tried to not engage myself in this day, because I didn't want to be heartbroken," Valentine said. "I wanted this from the first time I heard the job was opening, and I was sitting next to Karl Ravech [at ESPN], and he said, 'Maybe you can be the manager.' And I said, 'Uh, I don't know.'
"I would wake up at night thinking there's a chance, then say, 'Don't go there. You're going to get your heartbroken.'"
Instead, while Valentine was on a charitable trip to Japan earlier this week, Cherington offered him the job. So excited was Valentine he probably felt he could have flown back from the Far East without an airplane.
"Did I dream about this situation? Absolutely," Valentine said. "Did I wake up and put water on that face whenever I had that dream and say, 'Hey, come on, get back to thinking about a new fire chief [for Stamford]?' Yes I did. I'm a realist. I saw the game as it was changing and I saw it obviously getting younger and different. I didn't know that I could ever fit in. But maybe I'm going to fit in."