Bobby Valentine: 'I'm not doing a good job'
The joy surrounding the opening of Fenway Park in 1912 gave way to tears as a nation mourned the sinking of the Titanic.
Now, as the venerable stadium celebrates its 100th anniversary, the team that occupies it looks to be a shipwreck. And manager Bobby Valentine sounds as though he is prepared to go down with his teetering vessel as Boston stares at its first losing season since 1997.
"I'm not doing a good job," Valentine said before Saturday's 4-1 victory over the Yankees at the Stadium. "I don't get paid but to win lots of games, get to the playoffs, be in the thick of things to the end."
Valentine's injury-depleted Red Sox on Friday night were victimized by five Yankees solo home runs in a 6-4 victory. After Saturday's win, the Red Sox are 59-62, 12 1/2 games behind the AL East leaders. Although they are 6 1/2 games behind the second wild card, that seems like vast acreage to cover with four teams to leap over, not to mention issues surrounding a club that finished 90-72 last year.
Valentine, who was named manager last December after Francona's contract was not renewed, has clashed publicly and privately with players, including Carl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia. David Ortiz, a Valentine defender, conducted an expletive-laced tirade about the team.
Owner John Henry and others in upper management met with Valentine's disgruntled players in late July. Many complained that the manager kept Lester in too long when he was rocked for a career-high 11 runs and four home runs among nine hits in four innings in a 15-7 loss to the Blue Jays on July 22, two days before the meeting. Valentine received a vote of confidence Aug. 6, but it was not one that guaranteed his future.
There are some who will wonder why Francona, 744-552 during an eight-year managerial run that long-suffering Red Sox fans will always cherish, landed in an ESPN broadcast booth. Not Francona. "It was time to make a change," he said during a phone interview. "I thought they needed a new voice. I think they thought they needed a new voice."
Francona was troubled by much more than a 7-20 collapse last September to cost Boston a playoff spot. The vibe was no longer good in a clubhouse in which top pitchers Josh Beckett and Jon Lester were among those consuming fried chicken and beer during games instead of sitting in the dugout to observe hitters they would face on another day while cheering for teammates.
"I was growing frustrated with my inability to change certain things," Francona said.
He declined to offer an opinion on whether he would have chosen Valentine as his successor, saying, "That's none of my business." He also would not evaluate Valentine's performance.
In-game dining and imbibing is no longer an issue. But Valentine has run afoul of the team's veterans for many reasons.
Youkilis, the popular third baseman, was dealt to the Chicago White Sox on June 24. In April, Valentine had been quoted as saying of Youkilis, "I don't think he's as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past, for some reason."
Crawford called it "embarrassing" when he was placed on a "four-day plan" -- meaning he would not play more than four consecutive games -- because of an elbow injury that the player has said will require offseason surgery.
The scrutiny in Boston that accompanies all things Red Sox only adds to what has deteriorated into a season-long soap opera.
"They talk baseball almost 24 hours a day. It doesn't matter whether the [New England] Patriots are winning or not," said former Boston pitcher Derek Lowe, now with the Yankees. "They are just fanatical fans."
As is the case with fans in any market, they also can be fickle. "They've said everything that could be said about me. They had Derek Lowe poster day where they threw the posters back on the field and had to stop the game," Lowe said.
Lowe pitched in Boston from 1998-2004. He started and gained the victory when the Red Sox finally sipped champagne after the Game 4 clincher in St. Louis.
"Francona was so great," he said, "because he was a great players' manager. He had a great rapport with the guys. We policed ourselves. We didn't need to be told to have a great work ethic because we all did."
He said of playing in markets where expectations are always high, "In those cities, managing people and managing circumstances can be more important than actually managing the game."
If Valentine, who ranks fifth among active managers with 1,176 wins, is willing to take responsibility for Boston's mighty fall, it would only be fair to view him as guilty with an explanation.
The Red Sox have had 25 players land on the disabled list for 29 separate stints. Thirteen of those players are current or former All-Stars. Only two teams in the last 25 years have used the disabled list on so many occasions, the 2004 Texas Rangers (29) and the 2008 Washington Nationals (30).
Valentine said of the injury factor: "They're part of every team's season. We've had our share of them, that's for sure."
Boston's pitching, especially its starting pitching, has been a massive disappointment with a 4.33 team ERA that ranked 23rd among all clubs before Saturday. Beckett heads the list of those falling far short of expectations. He takes a 5-10 record with a 5.19 ERA into Sunday night's game against the Yankees after producing a 13-7 record with a 2.89 ERA in 2011.
"You build around pitching and that's how the Red Sox are built," Francona said. "So far, it's not working out."
In truth, nothing is working for sinking Boston as another offseason of wrenching change rapidly approaches.