The phrase “dead man walking” refers to a prisoner on death row who is walking past a cell. A second meaning has taken hold referring to someone whose future looks grim in his present job. If ever a guy fit the description it was Bobby Valentine in his role as Boston Red Sox manager, oh since June maybe. As expected, Valentine was fired immediately after the Sox finished last in the American League East Division.
Valentine was given his walking papers so fast from the brass that if he blinked he couldn’t read them. They were so hot off the presses he probably burnt his fingers. The Red Sox bundled Valentine on a jet out of town so fast it was already rolling down the runway at Logan Airport and he didn’t have time to pack anything but a carry on.
The Red Sox might have finished better than 69-93 in this nightmare of a season if they had anyone who could run as fast or throw as fast as management acted in showing Valentine the exit.
Many thought the hiring of Valentine might be a volatile mix for the Red Sox clubhouse. He had the new-sheriff-in-t0wn reputation and he was going to clean up the mess left over from the 2011 September fold that cost the team a playoff berth. It didn’t help any that the Red Sox had more injuries in 2012 than any team in about 40 years, but using that as a reason to give Valentine another year would have been a smokescreen. Valentine put his foot in his mouth more often than a soccer player and made enemies on the team faster than Al Capone ever did in Chicago.
To me the Sox erred in their rush to judgment in dumping Terry Francona last year after he led the team to two World Series titles. Despite suggestions that he is interviewing for the Cleveland Indians manager’s job, representatives of the Red Sox hierarchy should get down on their knees and beg him to return.
Lists of other potential Sox dugout soulmates are winging through the air, some of them about 20 deep. Some of the names listed might be courtesy interviews, Sox coaches or minor league managers. Some of them are Major League coaches for other teams. Some of them are ex-players with former Sox ties. There have been some suggestions the Red Sox should think outside the box and hire someone who has been a broadcaster or personnel man, but never managed.
This is a crucial hire for the Red Sox, but the in-house meetings must be fascinating as those with a voice try to figure out what the team needs next. They won’t take Francona back. They will be looking for a more sensitive, modern guy than Valentine. Long-time Major League bench experience won’t be a prerequisite. Picking the right guy is going to be a little bit like taking a gamble in Las Vegas, but it’s unlikely the Sox are going to return to the days of the Chicago Cubs College of Coaches of the early 1960s either, so they have to hire someone.
Management thought that Francona lost the clubhouse, was tuned out by the players in 2011. But they don’t want a dictator, either. Valentine was a my-way-or-the-highway guy, but his highway to heaven the Mass. Turnpike wasn’t. There is no sure thing when it comes to hiring managers. Even great ones fail in towns other than the those they make their reputations in. Too late to hire Casey Stengel without resorting to a seance, so what are the Red Sox to do?
Here’s one idea–Hire Ryne Sandberg, which the Cubs should have done two managers ago. The Hall of Fame second baseman did not take the prima donna approach as famous players have often done throughout baseball history. He started his new career fresh in the low minors, worked his way up, and has done just about everything to prepare himself for a big boy job in the big leagues. Sandberg managed in AAA for the Philadelphia Phillies the last two years, but he was just promoted to the big club as third-base coach. Supposedly, it comes with no guarantees of becoming Charlie Manuel’s successor after next season, so if the Sox make the offer now, Sandberg will jump.