There is no shortage of disdain lately for Bobby Valentine amongst Boston Red Sox fans, but how much of this is deserved? Let’s take a look back in Red Sox history… In 2003, manager Grady Little made a controversial decision to leave Pedro Martinez in the 7th game of the ALCS, a game where a win could have sent the Red Sox to the World Series and in the process slay the mighty Yankees. Martinez was the number one pitcher in the bigs that year, with a league leading 2.22 ERA, but was showing signs of fatigue late in the game. This decision (combined with the extra inning home run by Aaron Boone) quickly became on par with the 1986 Buckner play and cemented its place in Boston sports nightmares.
Boston fans could care less that Little’s winning percentage in his brief two-year stint, which was .580, or that between the 2002 and 2003 seasons Red Sox ownership and management actually decreased their payroll by $9 million or than the Sox payroll was $53 million less than the Yankees in 2003. Instead, Grady Little was shown the door and the rest is history. Now we fast forward to 2012, where we have a familiar situation.
On Saturday afternoon the Red Sox had another epic collapse. Leading 9-1 after six innings manager Bobby Valentine took out starter Felix Doubront in favor of the bullpen and the Red Sox were on the wrong end of history again. Now I know the game against the Yankees on Saturday pales in comparison to the one nine years ago, but is it really a reason to run Valentine out of Boston?
We have not seen Valentine since 2002, when he left the Mets after 7 good years that included a .534 winning percentage and one failed trip to the World Series (Damn Yankees). When Valentine joined the Red Sox this offseason he may have acquired the third highest payroll in baseball, but walked into a mess of a situation handed off to him by Terry Francona. The team was coming off of a Hollywood-like collapse that even Matt Damon and Ben Affleck could not have scripted and the locker room was turning into a high school hallway, with players tattling on each other and blaming everyone but themselves. I am sure all of you remember the friend chicken, beers and video game stories from the Hot Stove. What manager would want to enter this situation?
Unlike Valentine, Terry Francona walked into a perfect situation when he joined the Red Sox in ‘04. He acquired a team that was only a couple of outs from the World Series the season before and then ownership and management increased their payroll by $26 million (from 2003 to 2004), including acquiring Curt Schilling. The Red Sox and Francona never looked back. They broke an 86-year-old curse and in the process put the ownership, Theo Epstein and Terry Francona into Red Sox lore, alongside Ted Williams and Yaz. After a couple shaky seasons the Red Sox went on to win another World Series and Francona accumulated a winning percentage of .574 in 8 years with the Red Sox, but was shown the door in an ugly fashion after a late season collapse last year and a lost locker room. Francona will always be loved by Red Sox nation and for good reason; he was the manager when the curse was broken. Of course, he also never had a team that wasn’t in the top 4 in payroll.
Baseball is a numbers game and one decision should never cost a person their job, but is Valentine going to pay for his decision on Saturday? Last year the Red Sox started off with the same record over the first 14 games (4-10) and then followed with a great summer and the aforementioned collapse, so perhaps they are primed for the same turnaround this year, minus the collapse of course. Looking back at the numbers from the Grady Little through Bobby Valentine eras, its looks like Boston fans and management react to emotion and not logic. There are still 147 games to be played and plenty of those against the Bronx Bombers. Come September I predict the Sox will be contenders once again and this entire saga will behind them, like the decision to leave Pedro on the mound all those years ago.