“This year’s won-loss record reflects a season of agony. It begs for changes,” Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said. “We are determined to fix that which is broken and return the Red Sox to the level of success we have experienced over the past decade.”
What was supposed to be a season of celebration for Fenway’s 100th anniversary was instead the worst under the current management, which bought the team in 2002. And though injuries probably doomed the Red Sox anyway _ they used a franchise record 56 players _ Valentine’s clumsy handling of his players forced him into frequent apologies that undermined his authority in the clubhouse.
“Difficult as it is to judge a manager amid a season that had an epidemic of injuries, we feel we need to make changes,” Lucchino said. “Bobby leaves the Red Sox manager’s office with our respect, gratitude, and affection. I have no doubt that he will continue to contribute to the game he loves so much and knows so well.”
The Red Sox had the AL’s best record on Sept. 1, 2011, and a nine-game lead in the AL wild-card race before missing out on a playoff berth on the final day of the season. Francona, who led the Red Sox to Series titles in 2004 and again in 2007, was let go after admitting that he had lost his touch in the clubhouse.
To replace him, the Red Sox picked Valentine, who took the New York Mets to the 2000 World Series and won a championship in Japan but hadn’t managed in the majors in 10 years. The move was an intentional and abrupt attempt to change a culture that enabled pitchers to drink beer and eat fried chicken in the clubhouse during games on their off-nights.
On that, Valentine delivered immediately: He banned beer from the clubhouse, and didn’t hesitate to criticize his own players publicly _ something Francona took pains to avoid. But players bristled at the new accountability, with Kevin Youkilis objecting when Valentine said he wasn’t as “into the game” as before and Dustin Pedroia coming to his teammate’s defense, saying, “That’s not the way we go about our stuff around here.”
“He’ll figure that out. The whole team is behind Youk. We have each other’s backs here,” Pedroia said. “Maybe that works in Japan.”
Valentine spent seven seasons in Japan, winning the championship in 2005 with Chiba Lotte. But he had returned to the states and was working as an analyst for ESPN when the Red Sox went looking for a manager to shake up their complacent clubhouse.
But even before the season began, injuries began tearing that roster apart.
Crawford missed much of the season, joining pitchers John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka on the disabled list before opening day. Potential closers Andrew Bailey and Bobby Jenks had offseason surgery; Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz, Clay Buchholz, Pedroia, Beckett and Youkilis also spent time on the DL.
Valentine managed to anger _ if not alienate _ many of those who remained.
He took issue with Beckett playing golf two days before he was scratched with shoulder stiffness. An unknown player ratted him out after he said, “Nice inning, kid,” to Will Middlebrooks in what Valentine said was actually an attempt to cheer the rookie up after he committed two errors.
In July, ownership met with players to discuss Valentine but denied reports that players called for him to be fired. Two weeks later, Henry emailed reporters to say Valentine was not to blame for the team’s record and said he would finish out the year; Pedroia agreed, saying, “It’s on the players.”
In August, management gave up on 2012 and unloaded several of the team’s most burdensome salaries on the Dodgers. Los Angeles also missed the playoffs.