Manager of the Boston Red Sox. It's an impressive job title. And in terms of job stability, it has traditionally carried the same weight as such titles as "James Bond love interest," "Spinal Tap drummer," or "2012 Republican frontrunner." The last few men to hold the reins of the Sox franchise have not seen their tenures end pretty. Jimy Williams was fired in 2001 amid conflict with his GM, and the Sox promptly fell into a Carl Everett-fueled tailspin that led to the dismissal of his hapless successor Joe Kerrigan. Kerrigan's replacement, Grady Little, was let go in 2003, after he did the single dumbest thing any manager has done in the history of baseball, all the way back to and including its English cricket-based precursors.
Little's successor, Terry Francona, fared substantially better. He managed the Sox from 2004-2011, for a total of 1296 games, the second-longest tenure in franchise history. Francona's squad won two World Series, and made the playoffs five times in eight years. Even this impressive run, though, couldn't stave off the chilly shears of Atropos forever (the Fates, with their sick senses of humor, are of course Red Sox fans). Tito found himself among the casualties of last year's collapse, and the Sox turned to Bobby Valentine to reassemble the shattered bits of the 2011 Sox bandwagon. Bobby's made a lot of stops over the years, and it was hard for anyone to imagine exactly how he'd go about his job in Boston.
So, with spring training under way, what have we seen from the new guy?
Well, first and foremost, we've seen him working the media. This is an aspect of managing that doesn't necessarily come up in the standard metrics, and doesn't really matter in markets where the existence of the team is barely acknowledged. Boston, of course, is not one of those markets. From "Colonel" Dave Egan on down to the current crop of Sox scribes, Boston's media has been a major item of responsibility for anyone planning to manage the Red Sox. In a development that bodes well for this season, Bobby Valentine seems not only to accept that responsibility, but revel in it. Part of this is certainly his recent experience with ESPN, part of it seems to just be him.
In particular, his willingness to step right in to the Sox-Yanks rivalry with his comments on Tek's legendary introduction of his mitt to A-Rod's mug and Jeter's sainted "Flip Play" stood out. Valentine's new to this rivalry (although his managing gig with the Mets does give him a certain anti-Yankee cred), but he's already taking shots. This doesn't mean he's won us over, of course, there's a seventeen-step manual for that, the only copy of which is buried under the statue of Cy Young at the Huntington Avenue Grounds inside a puzzle box. But it shows an awareness of the PR aspects of the job, something that bodes well for future losing streaks and clubhouse controversies.
Speaking of clubhouse controversies, he's settled the most burning of all burning questions, banning alcohol in the Sox clubhouse. Whether you see this as a PR move, a liability move, or a disciplinary move, it's definitely a tone-setter. The general atmosphere from spring training to this point seems to be one of business. In between innings of the Sox-BC game, NESN showed footage of the JetBlue Park clubhouse, and revealed that every morning, several large TVs are set up in the center of the room, playing game clips on a loop. These clips are meant to show "the right way" to do things, from first-base coverage to bunts to hit-and-runs. Detail-oriented seems to be the way of things now. Whether this emphasis on the little things will lead to success or a micromanaged mess remains to be seen, of course.
Finally, we come to the stuff we can (kind of) quantify: roster construction and lineup management. Obviously, there hasn't been too much of either on display this early in spring training, and we'll get a much better handle on this as the season approaches. One particular move does merit mention, though: the decision yesterday to bat Dustin Pedroia leadoff, with Jacoby Ellsbury second. WEEI's Rob Bradford talked with Valentine about the move yesterday. Obviously, this doesn't mean Pedroia will be the leadoff hitter on Opening Day. But it also wouldn't be surprising. Pedey's got better on-base skills than Ellsbury, and it's not as though he can't steal a base when the opportunity arises. Valentine's got a history of relatively saber-friendly lineup construction, and this could be a sign of that.
More importantly, though, it shows a willingness to tinker. Rather than looking at the roster he's been handed and saying "OK, who's been the leadoff hitter?" it seems clear that he's thinking about game-by-game matchups, and building a lineup that will score runs. "Because he always has" may be one answer to the question of why Jacoby should bat leadoff, but it appears that's not an answer Valentine's comfortable with. This, I think, bodes well. If Bobby V's emphasis on fundamentals also extends to first principles, this season should see some interesting experiments played out on the field, with any luck leading to a few extra wins on the margins.
And hey, if they don't work out, at least the dude can dance.