After a 2011 season full of disappointment, bad pitching, and some weird scandal about eating chicken and playing video games (I had completely forgotten about this and I don’t know how https://www.cbsnews.com/news/red-sox-flop-linked-to-beer-chicken-video-games/), it started to look like the spirit of those championship teams was all but gone. Now it was time to return to form, back to another 86 years of darkness; I don’t know about other Sox fans but even being a kid at that point I had accepted our fate. It seemed like I had gotten lucky, to have two world series wins in my short life, and I was. But now that luck had dried up and that was ok, now we’d go back and trudge through the darkness, and I’d trudge with them; all we needed now was someone to lead that forced march through the bottom of the barrel. I guess the front office had kind of a different idea because instead of a march we got a tightrope walk across the Pacific Ring of Fire led by the best carnival barker the world has ever seen, Bobby Valentine.
Real quick I just want to make it clear that Bobby V. is hilarious, I might’ve been mad at the time but looking back, this guy was great; he was also beyond mentally unstable. Big Papi said in his 2017 novel My Story, that Valentine wanted to implement drills that he had picked up on when he was coaching in Japan although from the way he describes it, they sound more like the kind of thing he came up with while coaching his men’s softball team (which I can only hope are named the Valentine Vigilantes). "He asked for a lot of changes, including some that were completely unnecessary. One of the more ridiculous ones was having players hit grounders to each other. I thought that was funny, especially for me. The Red Sox weren't paying me to hit grounders; I was there to hit balls to the moon." The idea of David Ortiz playing pepper with Jon Lester (who I’m deliberately choosing here because I never saw him make a play at first other than this one Lester tosses glove to make the out at first) is so funny and it’s even funnier if you imagine Bobby standing around watching it happen like the world’s highest paid gym teacher. Additionally, and yes this is half the reason I’m writing this piece at all, I have a vivid memory of seeing Bobby trying to teach Big Papi how to bunt. Like full on him pushing Ortiz out of the way like a little leaguer and showing him how to square it up better. I’ve been trying to find an actual clip of this somewhere but I can’t find it, from my memory I think it was some b-roll used by NESN. For real if anyone remembers this please let me know because it’s very possible that my brain made this up.
That’s the thing though with Bobby Valentine, most of what he did felt like this; it felt like a fever dream of a season all the time. I have this memory of sitting under a tree in early April, waiting for the game to start with my family’s carry-radio that had an antenna that had been broken for around thirteen years but didn’t seem to make any impact on the quality of the broadcast. Everything seemed normal and then boom - Dustin Pedroia is standing up for Yuke because Bobby had a go at him after a game. This was such a surreal moment for me and I don’t even know how any of it happened. I was like ten, I had never just sat around waiting for anything, but for some reason that day I felt like it was right to chill there and see what happened. I don’t know what part of my subconscious wanted that but thank god it did. I wasn’t tuned into sports news because again I was ten so I might’ve completely missed what is the dumbest beef in baseball history. Apparently, after losing 1-0 against the Rays, Bobby boy publicly put all of the issues with the offense onto Kevin Youkilis, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit but regardless, what the hell are you doing? Yuke is famously the most terrifying baseball player to ever exist. His batting stance looked like he was challenging the entire defense to a fight. He gave 100% to every game and expected his teammates to do the same; he’s actually the one that broke the very important chicken and video games story according to chicken boy Josh Beckett. I’m convinced that the whole Moneyball Greek God of Walks thing was a false flag campaign by Yuke’s agents to make him seem more friendly because damn was this guy nasty. Red Sox fans loved him, myself very much included. And yet here was Bobby getting on him ten games into the season at a point when it wasn’t even like the Sox were doing that bad. It was rough early on, losing all three games of the opener against the Tigers with two walk offs peppered in there. But lately things had turned around, the Sox had just rattled off a three game winning streak before that 1-0 loss which yeah that stings but still, what are you doing? Openly antagonizing a beloved franchise player in the first two weeks of the season in your first year as the head coach is wild and I don’t know if I’ve heard of anything like it in any sport before or since.
On June 24th, 2012 Kevin Youkilis was traded to the White Sox, this one hurt. Honestly, it still does. He had been there through everything, drafted in ‘01, getting his big league start in ‘04 and actually contributing a ton to that team despite not being on the World Series roster, being such an integral part of the 2007 world series team, wearing a Hooters uniform through US Customs. Ok maybe that last one isn’t as important as the others but also how am I just finding out about this now? Apparently the Sox used to have a hazing ritual where they made the rookies dress up in Hooters outfits and he had to do it when they were getting back into the country after a series against Toronto. And now all that was gone, so yeah it hurt, and we hated Bobby Valentine; the team hated him too. If there was any justice in the world then Bobby would’ve had to dress up like a Hooters waiter and walk through airport security or something, and that would’ve squashed the beef; probably would’ve been more on brand for this team too. But instead we got this unceremonious exit from Yuke that would be followed by Bobby in the offseason. It was all sad at the time and it looked like the season had just been a confirmation of what I said earlier, that those dark days were back and here to stay. Obviously that’s not what happened, Valentine’s replacement would be John Farrell, a person who made sense with a team that was great and they’d win a world series, making the Red Sox one of the most dominant forces in modern baseball. Weirdly enough though, that seems a lot less like the Red Sox that I know than the 2012 team and I think that’s the main reason why I wrote this. On the one hand I wanted to tell some funny Bobby V stories and see if anyone else had seen Big Papi bunting clip (for real please let me know if that’s real), but on the other hand this team for me felt like a break in what has been a strange decade of Red Sox baseball. We’ve turned into this juggernaut that’ll pay insane salaries for even the chance at playoff success, we’re just throwing money at our issues every year and that kinda sucks. Not to say that this team didn’t have that going on, remember Carl Crawford’s seven year, $142 million deal? I hope not, we should have all been working hard to remove that from our memory as much as possible but Crawford’s second and final injury plagued season with the Sox was this 2012 season. Not to cast aspersions on a team that I love, but we’ve turned into the Yankees with different uniforms. That’s pretty dumb for me to say considering that I’ve only lived through these Red Sox, I didn’t experience any of those years of losing. In fact, 2012 is probably as close as I’ve gotten, maybe that’s why in retrospect it’s easier for me to laugh about it and reminisce in a positive light. Everyone wants to root for the underdog and while I am very privileged to have the ability to see my team win so much, it is a little sad knowing that with the politics and finances of baseball working the way they do now, the Sox will probably never be an underdog ever again.
Ok that was sad and weird, let’s not end it off on that huh? For all of you who’ve been reading this so far and are like, "Hey dude, Bobby Valentine is literally the worst, why are you trying to humanize this jerk?" First of all, yeah you’re right and second, him being the worst is actually what humanizes him for me personally. But I get that this approach to looking at people, especially the people who control your favorite sports team isn’t for everyone so for those of you out there that still hate the guy, let me stoke the fire for you a little more. In an interview with The Boston Globe this year, Valentine said that, "I should have stayed at ESPN, where I was making $2.5 million and didn’t have a care in the world, instead of working my ass off and not being appreciated for seven months of my life." And y’know what Bobby I tried, I really did, I want you to get the credit you deserve for trying to teach Big Papi how to bunt but the world is just out to get you man. It’s obviously pretty strange that he’s still even talking about this team, or that anyone is doing interviews with him at all, but it’s straight up stupid that he also said that the team, "wasn’t even a good Triple-A roster." Dude what? I’ve been pulling for you so hard, why do you have to be like this? Like I said before, Bobby Valentine is the world’s best carnival barker so maybe I should’ve seen this coming. Man screw this guy.