Posts Tagged ‘Bobby Valentine’

Enough, Already—Bobby Valentine Needs to Go; Yesterday, if Possible

It’s come to this. The other team who collapsed almost as monumentally as the Red Sox did a year ago gets credit for not doing what the Red Sox did, letting an incumbent and decent manager fall on his sword and hiring Bobby Valentine in his place.

The Red Sox collapse spared the Atlanta Braves the ignominy attached to the Red Sox, never mind that nobody accused the Atlanta rotation of spending more time with chicken and brewskis than with pitching charts and sliders on the black down the stretch. And the Braves should probably be grateful not to have had imposed upon them what was imposed upon the Red Sox.

Cover boy . . . (Sports Illustrated image)

“Even as the Braves tease/torment us with the possibility (remote though it would seem) of another epic collapse,” writes Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “we can take solace in this: As frustrating as they can be, they’re not the Red Sox. Because the Red Sox took their own E.C. of last September and proceeded to destroy themselves.

“They changed general managers. More to the point, they changed managers and hired the absolute worst man for the job, and not a day passes that Red Sox Nation isn’t given a new reason to realize that any organization that employs Bobby Valentine is doomed.”

That, too, was prompted by Valentine’s ghastly appearance on this week’s Sports Illustrated cover. Not to mention Valentine’s unconscionable radio rant a day or so earlier, when he threatened to punch out one of two radio interviewers who dared to question whether Valentine, who hasn’t exactly kept secret his own disenchantment with this season, had “checked out” on it at last.

It would have been hilarious if it hadn’t been so disgusting. And no amount of backpedaling that he was only kidding around has cauterised the impact yet, if ever it will.

Practically anyone who heard the exchange on the air has written that Valentine in that moment sounded anything like a man going for a laugh. Here is the transcript from WEEI, to whose host Glenn Ordway he directed his fumes, after Ordway asked him directly, if not maliciously, “Have you checked out?”:

What an embarrassing thing to say. If I were there, I’d punch you right in the mouth. Ha, ha. How’s that sound? Is that like I checked out? What an embarrassing thing. Why would somebody even, that’s stuff that a comic strip person would write. If someone’s here, watching me go out at 2 o’clock in the afternoon working with the young players, watching me put in the right relief pitchers to get a win, putting on a hit-and-run when it was necessary, talking to the guys after the game in the food room — how could someone in real life say that?

Apparently, it’s just fine for Valentine to ask whether a Kevin Youkilis has checked out, metaphorically speaking. Valentine in April threw the first match into the natural gas leak that already was the Red Sox clubhouse when he was foolish enough to question since-departed Youkilis’s heart in hand with the first baseman’s physical health. Valentine may have lost just enough of his clubhouse right then and there. Now, knowing Valentine hasn’t exactly been demure about his own frustrations lately, someone had the temerity to question Valentine’s heart. And Valentine went Hiroshima.

Imagine if Youkilis in mid-April had been asked in a radio interview about his manager’s original comment and told the questioner, “What an embarrassing thing to say. If I were there, I’d punch you right in the mouth.” What would you consider the odds of Youkilis surviving without taking a beating from the rest of the press or from his own bosses? Who’s to say he wouldn’t have been run out of town sooner than he finally was?

Just when you thought, as I did just a day or so ago, that it was safe to bear even a modicum of sympathy for the man, Valentine drops Little Boy and makes yet another big stink. Compared to him, Ozzie Guillen is beginning to resemble a diplomat.

It got even better when Valentine, parrying an inquiry into his late arrival at the ballpark, dragged Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon into it, saying Maddon sometimes gets to the park even later than Valentine “once” did. To his credit, Maddon refused to let Valentine make a beard out of him. “Apologies to the writers for being late to today’s pregame session,” he tweeted post haste. “My pedicure appointment ran a little late.”

It’ll take more than a pedicure to settle Valentine’s and the Red Sox’s hash. Bradley isolates the point rather well.

No wonder this man’s smiling . . .

Some Braves fans who were so disenchanted with the user-friendly Fredi Gonzalez last September that they took to AJC.com message boards to lobby for a hard nose with a flair for tactics—a man, in sum, like Bobby Valentine. Trouble is, nobody who plays for this “tactician” can ever be troubled to do as he asks: They’re all too busy hating their manager’s guts.

The Red Sox serve as both case study and object lesson: They failed spectacularly last season and overreacted, and today they’re one game out of last place in a five-team division and have taken to selling off assets in the hope they might get a little better somewhere down the road. The Braves stayed the course and are again positioned to make the playoffs. Sometimes we around here criticize the Braves for being too passive, but whenever we look toward Boston we should be reminded that motion for motion’s sake is never a good idea.

The Red Sox thought it’d be a good idea to throw the smarmy Bobby Valentine into a combustible clubhouse, and today the flagship team of New England is in ashes. And we learn yet again that actions do have consequences.

So does partial action. So does inaction. The Red Sox are learning about both the hard way, too. It’s no longer possible to hang most or even some of it on the players, with maybe one or two exceptions. Sure, they’ve still had a season in hell on the field. But those who were considered Valentine enemies, actual or alleged, are gone now. The season in hell continues apace, and Valentine keeps putting torches to the fires and his foot in his mouth. All the way to his ankle.

The longer the Red Sox leave him where he is, the deeper runs the perception that this is a management that either wouldn’t know a clue or couldn’t care less. All things considered, it probably should have happened immediately after The Big Deal. But Valentine needs to go. Yesterday, if possible. For the sake of the Red Sox, and just maybe for his own sake, too.

Sobering Up with the Red Pox

Remember when Idiots weren’t bad things?

In the wake of the 2004 World Series, I wrote, for a since-defunct publication, “[S]omething seems not quite right about the literature of the Boston Red Sox turning toward triumph and away from tragedy.” Specifically, I was reviewing Faithful, Stewart O’Nan’s and (yes, that) Stephen King’s collaborative, end-to-end chronicle of viewing that year’s extraterrestrial Red Sox. And I was trying to say this: A near-century’s literature of transcendental disaster, usually upon the brink of the Promised Land but not necessarily exclusive to it, could only become a literature of transcendental triteness, now that the Red Sox had won a World Series, in my lifetime and every other Red Sox Nation citizen’s.

What I should have added, but couldn’t have had the foresight to see, was that it would all depend upon the attitude, if you will, within the Red Sox following that conquest. None would have faulted them for resting on a laurel too hard earned and too long coming. But—even knowing the Red Sox’s yin-and-yang history—few including myself dared to ask whether such an engaging gang as had stood history (and the New York Yankees, while we’re at it) squarely on its head could go, from there, to become anything, at any time, equal to the worst of the Red Sox’s yin.

Valentine’s day may yet arrive . . .

The question became only somewhat more delayed when, defying the gods yet again, the Red Sox picked up from the near-misses of 2005 (a division-series sweepout by the eventual World Series winners, the Chicago White Sox) and 2006 (a third-place American League East finish, underwritten by a small but profound rash of injuries and a 9-21 August), to win a second Series, again in a four-sweep. But then came another pair of early postseason exits, and the collapse of September 2011, with all the subsequent revelations in fact, in fancy, or in fustian, followed by the 2012 disaster from which the team only begins to recuperate at this writing.

The season now starts chugging to a finish that can’t come too soon for either the Red Sox or their Nation. While the Gonzalez-Crawford-Beckett swap to the Los Angeles Dodgers has eradicated what once seemed a terminal illness, even if the Red Sox in their hearts of hearts may not really have wanted to surrender Gonzalez, if they could have helped it, it seems apparent now that the days are numbered for manager Bobby Valentine. It is fair to write that Valentine may not really have had a prayer coming in. But it is fair concurrently to write that he certainly did see his clubhouse afire and, when asked for water, gave it gasoline, too soon to afford himself any reasonable chance at clearing the toxins that remained to poison it deeper.

Some think the Weekend Wipeout between the Red Sox and the Dodgers means Valentine actually has a chance of surviving the season and managing for the second and final year of his contract. Try not to bet too heavily upon it. Unfortunately, Valentine’s reputation does precede him. And when the Red Sox enter the offseason, eyeing further trades or possible free agency signings, be not surprised if some of the targets decide it would be less taxing upon their sanities to play boccie with a shot put.

Valentine questioned Kevin Youkilis’s heart when the sole question was his body, and probably lost the clubhouse then and there. But it would be Youkilis who’d be shipped onward, to the Chicago White Sox. He betrayed to the press a confidence from reserve catcher Kelly Shoppach, who had not intended his question over playing time to go public. In due course Shoppach would be shipped onward, to the New York Mets, with the followup going-away present being implications that he had written the infamous message that led to a (some) players’ sit-down with upper brass sometimes known as Textgate. He may have praised Gonzalez publicly as a solid player and citizen after Weekend Wipeout. But it was Gonzalez’s cell phone through which the original Textgate message was sent. And it would be Gonzalez dealt to the Dodgers in due course, perhaps only partially because it was the only way to convince the Dodgers to take Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford.

And what was Textgate, really, if not a camel’s broken back after Valentine, almost inexplicably, left Jon Lester in to take an eleven-run beating from the Toronto Blue Jays in latter July before finally finding relief for Lester, who clearly didn’t have his best going into the game?

They’ve purged Beckett (a malcontented pitcher, whose injuries and inconsistences probably didn’t help his disposition, a far fall from his triumphant 2007) and Crawford (whom we know now to have been obstructed by injuries from the moment he turned up in Red Sox fatigues). They dumped a pitching coach (Bob McClure) who did not see eye to eye with Valentine. But while they rushed to fill the void in the interim with a Valentine preference (Randy Niemann), they still hold coaches (Tim Bogar, Dave Magadan, Gary Tuck) who are not necessarily Valentine allies.

Valentine’s style was the absolute last thing needed in a Red Sox dugout and clubhouse rent by a pennant race collapse, tales of actual or alleged malfeasance in the thick of it, and physical fissures in the bargain that didn’t end with those of Youklis that provoked merely his first verbal pratfall. Perhaps the Red Sox administration now comprehends it wasn’t the brightest idea to supplant a becalmed people’s manager (Terry Francona, who jumped before he could be pushed) with a man who confuses division and conquest for reasonable discipline.

Valentine may be looking respectable enough today, with a few young Sox playing well, an apparently repaired relationship with Dustin Pedroia (who called him out over Youkilis), and a fine relationship with David Ortiz. That’s today. His history suggests too many chances for another misstep. Another verbal pratfall. Another wrongly-alienated player. Another betrayed confidence. Another tactical mishap.

The rumours suggest a deal in the works to bring Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell, a former Red Sox pitching coach, home to take the Boston bridge. Other speculation has reached out to touch such different bridge prospects as longtime team captain Jason Varitek (who retired before spring training); or, recently-purged Houston Astros manager Brad Mills, formerly the Red Sox bench lieutenant as they broke the actual or alleged Curse at last.

Dr. Strangeglove; or, how he to learned to stop worrying, love the bomb, and torpedo his manager . . .

Meanwhile, a question nags: Considering the bristling writings about this year’s model, is the 2012 edition the absolute most distasteful Red Sox aggregation of any wearing the fatigues of the Olde Towne Team? Each to his or her own. Here might be previous considerations that might—might—make this year’s Red Sox seem none too terrible in comparison:

1963-64—Johnny Pesky is undermined by complacent veterans and a general manager who seems bent on making certain his greatest strength (as a teacher and mentor) doesn’t stand a prayer, no matter how many good-looking young players he has to work with. Perhaps the main example: power-hitting first baseman Dick Stuart, who might get some laughs in the clubhouse but who actually causes a few teammates to seethe, with both his chronic undermining of Pesky’s authority and his refusal to concentrate on any facet of his game other than hitting the ball over the fence. Pesky would be executed before 1964’s end; Stuart would be dealt away after the season. It won’t help all that much.

1968-69—Losing his best pitcher to a knee injury in a skiing accident after the 1967 Cinderella season, convinced his players came to spring training 1968 with less obvious desire, Dick Williams graduates from mere drill sergeant to none-too-benevolent dictator. He rides his players like a steamroller over fixable mistakes; he pits player against player based on their relationships with the team’s stars, particularly with Carl Yastrzemski; he refuses to think of himself as fallible; and, he overmanages himself out of the job, barely two years after he skippered a miracle pennant and got to within a game of winning a World Series.

The Can’s Film Festival was the least of Johnny Mac’s post-1986 troubles . . .

1987-88—First, the Red Sox enter spring training under weight of revelations that most of the team tried to stiff the clubhouse and stadium workers when it came time to divide the World Series gold. Then, Oil Can Boyd gets bagged when he forgets to return a small pile of videocassettes to a rental store, and many turn out to be of, shall we say, an “adult” nature. Wade Boggs’ chicken comes home to roost, when his long-enough-time mistress reveals some less than savoury details, actual or alleged, about the future Hall of Famer. Then, Margo Adams helps blow up that portion of the clubhouse manager John McNamara’s dubious strategies don’t. McNamara really earns his stripes when he insists on a none-too-ready Pawtucket callup, the kid gets shelled, McNamara tells reporters, “My people in Pawtucket told me he’s ready,” and his people in Pawtucket swear the next such comment will get them to call their own press conferences. Boggs’ marriage will survive a lot longer. (And, still does.)

1989—Manager Joe Morgan (no relation to the Hall of Fame second baseman), who ended 1988 with a dazzling winning attitude, tussles with too many players who have their own agendae. When Red Sox pitcher Mike Smithson brushes back Rafael Palmeiro after too many Texas Rangers dug in deep on him, only one Red Sox player—pitcher Joe Price—comes out of the dugout to stand with him as Palmeiro and the Rangers pour onto the field. Late in the season Devon White steals three bases in one inning on Price, who tells Morgan, who asked what happened, “Go [fornicate] yourself!”

Kerrigan, saving Everett in, shall we say, less contentious hours . . .

2001—Ugueth Urbina and Trot Nixon brawl on a flight out of Tampa Bay. Bench coach Gene Lamont (thought to be on the Red Sox’s post-Francona managerial radar, at first) shrugs a suggestion that they just be left to kill each other. Enough of the team tunes manager Jimy Williams out over his incessant lineup tinkering, until Williams gets dumped in August over a small slump for pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. With the Red Sox barely far behind in the division race. Outfielder Carl Everett, whose customary targets usually seemed to be umpires, almost assaults Kerrigan post-9/11—to which post-attack relief efforts the Red Sox couldn’t even agree on how much to donate as a team. Both Kerrigan and Duquette won’t be around for 2002 . . . and neither will the Red Sox ownership, selling after foolish sales process delays to John Henry and company.

Say what you will about this year’s Red Pox. But Josh Beckett never told either of his two Red Sox managers to perform anatomical impossibilities upon themselves after anyone stole even one base on him. No Red Sox player this year ever just sat on his hands while his pitcher’s brushback triggered a rhubarb. Neither the departed Adrian Gonzalez nor Carl Crawford got anywhere near trying to hand Bobby Valentine his hat (or choicer portions of his anatomy) before they departed. I haven’t heard of any in-flight brawling among 2012 players. (Yet.) Nor have I heard of any 2012 Red Sox mistress preparing to sue her incumbent or ex-man for palimony, never mind telling tales to, ahem, adult magazines. (Yet.)

Conversely, alas, none of those other toxic Red Sox clubs could boast (if that’s the right word for it) that, among them, only four incumbent players deemed worthy of their presence the funeral of a franchise icon. Who probably loved the Red Sox over his entire life far more than these Red Sox love themselves.

Brad Mills, Prodigal Manager?

Before Brad Mills played the patsy for two and a half seasons’ worth of Houston Astros’ rebuilding like the Mad Hatter’s tea party—except that, with the Mad Hatter, at least you got some tea once in awhile—he was very familiar to the Boston Red Sox. That was Mills, serving well as Terry Francona’s bench coach, while the Red Sox went from eternally star-crossed conquered to equivalently star-aligned conquerors twice in a four-season span. And this is Bleacher Report, suggesting Mills, who was guillotined by the Astros Saturday, a week after general manager Jeff Ludhow decided he needed the mercy killing, just might be the man to take the Red Sox bridge from Bobby Valentine, post haste.

Brad Mills (r.), watching with Terry Francona, during the 2007 ALCS . . . two years before Mills left to manage a Houston shipwreck and Francona was forced to abandon a ship his own rats wrecked . . .

You know, as BR writer Paul Francis Sullivan observes, that the Red Sox’s clubhouse toxicities are too overwhelming when it comes to this: Jon Lester—whom Valentine left in for an unconscionable eleven-run beating in July, which triggered the latest hoopla in the first place, albeit with a two-to-three-week delay—waxed the New York Yankees on a Saturday afternoon in the Bronx, yet the number one conversation topic, in its immediate wake, is the revelation that the text message now heard ’round the world, from Adrian Gonzalez’s cell phone to the Red Sox brass, asking (if not demanding) a sit-down over their manager’s untenable behaviours, may have originated with disgruntled, now-former backup catcher Kelly Shoppach.

Sullivan’s argument on Mills’s behalf isn’t that he’s familiar enough with the Red Sox as championship winners (the 2004 and 2007 World Series, including that stupefying self-resurrection in the 2004 American League Championship Series; the 2009 postseason, the last to be visited by the Red Sox, and before Mills thought about the Houston job), but that he’s connection enough to Francona’s happier years without quite being Francona. “Perhaps a season of Valentine,” Sullivan writes, “is what the veterans needed to realize how good they had it with Francona. Perhaps a manager who has the team’s respect from experience will be the best direction to move forward.”

He alludes, of course, to September 2011, when a manager who was renowned for hands-off and allowing his capable veterans to police their own clubhouse found himself quit upon, unconscionably, perhaps in the middle of private turmoil from which stouter men than Francona have found it difficult if not impossible to work. Sullivan continues:

[A] team like the Red Sox should try to get a manager who has made his first-time mistakes with another team. Clearly Mills has an idea of what does not work from the dugout.

Bring Mills into the Boston dugout, create a new link to the title years and turn the page from this awful year.

How could it possibly be worse than the 2012 season?

Mills’s likely ideas on what doesn’t work from the dugout could well include three years’ worth of roster turnover in which established veterans, who may or may not have had certain issues obstructing their contined performance, were flipped at or around the non-waiver trade deadline in favour of players with varying capabilities and little enough apparent cohesion. If the Red Sox brass must own up to a catastrophic error and execute Valentine post-haste, they would likely have to be wise enough to allow Mills, whom they know well enough, to share his own insights on navigating those kind of troubled waters.

It isn’t just the captain’s chair that needs a refill. His crew is going to need an overhaul of varying proportions. Most Red Sox observers think the overhauling should begin with finding a taker for Josh Beckett, removing from the clubhouse and the pitching staff a too-widely-perceived toxin of dubious influence, if possible without having to include Jacoby Ellsbury in the package just to excise Beckett.

Ellsbury—-should be a keeper.

The Texas Rangers are thought to have wanted just that if they were going to take on Beckett and lessen the meal the Red Sox would have to make out of his remaining contract. The Red Sox may be reluctant to part with a still-young outfielder of broad abilities and proven leadership, who was hung very unfairly, by teammates who liked and respected him otherwise, with a no-heart tag, after rib injuries—launched when he collided violently with then-teammate Adrian Beltre on a play—put him on the disabled list three times in 2010, including a season-ending re-injury in mid-August and a trip to Arizona to rehab the injury. On the other hand, that very and unfair no-heart tag may have driven Ellsbury himself into the kind of shell that, reportedly, left him trusting only one teammate by September 2011, since-departed infielder Jed Lowrie.

The bullpen may need a bit of an overhaul. Come to think of it, Lowrie, himself bothered by injuries since 2008, was swapped to the Astros for Mark Melancon, about whom it is said often enough that he’s shown in Boston what he once showed in New York, before becoming a useful Astros closer: an inability to stay focused in the heat of a pennant race. Melancon might be thought of as a candidate for departure if a pen overhaul is called for, and the hapless Daniel Bard—of whom Valentine made a mess when he tried converting such a solid setup man into a starter—could be kept in his customary role likewise.

The Red Sox also might be wise to anchor Ellsbury, Lester, Dustin Pedroia, and Clay Buchholz, not to mention David Ortiz if he has something left in his tank, and reconstruct around them. Not to mention lefthander Felix Doubront, third baseman Will Middlebrooks, and shortstop comers Jose Iglesias and Xander Bogaerts. If John Lackey returns successfully enough from Tommy John surgery in 2013, they could yield him to that year’s non-waiver trade deadline and move him for solid players or prospects.

And if they do take Sullivan up on his suggestion, they should listen to their former bench coach upon making him at least the manager to ride 2012 out from the Valentine haboob. Mills more than many knows well enough what happens when the overhaul is done according to anything but sense, and without tea.

Boston Betrayal Continued, and Other Batterings . . .

Another day, another twist in the Boston-based soap opera known variously as John Henry’s Hammer or The Road of Strife. File this one if you must under the subheading of “Whistleblowers and Betrayed Whistled Out of Town.” The fulcrum this time: Kelly Shoppach, backup catcher, since traded to the New York Mets, but whose private complaint about his playing time behind Jarrod Saltalamacchia earlier in the season went public not because of Shoppach but because of Bobby Valentine, when the manager and not the player made the complaint public.

Shoppach (r, with Adrian Gonzalez) takes a fall for the text mutiny . . . after previously taking a fall for his too-loose-lipped manager . . .

The New York Daily News, a newspaper not exactly immune to fostering or running with a little prurient interest now and again, has it this way: It might have been Adrian Gonzalez’s cell phone from which was sent the now-infamous text message asking for a players’ pow-wow with the Red Sox brass, prompted directly by the beating Jon Lester was allowed to withstand against Toronto. But it was Shoppach, says the News, who “was deeply involved in writing the message” that launched the meeting and the not-so-quiet storm provoked by the meeting’s revelation last week.

Well, now. First a private complaint over playing time that became public when Valentine flapped his yap about it to the press. Then, “deep involvement” in the writing of the text mutiny heard ’round the world. Meet Kelly Shoppach, the latest example of what happens around the 2012 Red Sox when someone lower than the manager is perceived to be anything resembling a whistleblower.

Shoppach himself seems uncertain whether to confirm or deny. Gonzalez, for his part, wasn’t exactly anxious to talk further about it, when he was approached in the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, where the Red Sox are playing the Empire Emeritus this weekend. (They’ve split the first two games.) “I know why you’re asking,” he said, “but we’re not going to talk about that anymore.” The News suggests Gonzalez finally agreed to be the direct communicator because the grumbling had tired him.

An unidentified Red Sox player insists Gonzalez himself wasn’t the direct instigator of the texted pow-wow request, even if he did allow his cell phone to be the medium, perhaps because it would have looked more serious coming from one of the team stars rather than one of the team reserves. “He’s not like that,” the player told the News. “He’s a good team guy. He’s the kind of guy who would even cover for someone who did something wrong. He’d take a bullet.”

Approached by the News while the Mets were in Washington for a weekend set with the Nationals (they’ve split the first two games of the set), Shoppach told the paper’s reporters he didn’t know what they were talking about. But when Yahoo! Sports’s Jeff Passan broke the story of the uprising and pow-wow last week, he said on the record, “Let me be very careful. I think, and maybe this is as far as I’ll go with it, too, there is a disconnect in communication between the players through the upper management.”

That disconnect began when assorted upper management tried to assure Red Sox players—whose haunting over the September 2011 collapse wasn’t likely to dissipate too swiftly—that, whomever would be brought in to succeed Terry Francona, whom too many of them had betrayed in the first place, it wouldn’t be Valentine, whose reputation for division-and-conquest surely preceded him no matter how long he’d been out of a Show dugout . . . except that it turned out to be Valentine, after all, most likely in a case of team president Larry Lucchino jamming Valentine down the Red Sox’s throat despite newly installed general manager Ben Cherington preferring someone like Dale Sveum, who now manages the Chicago Cubs.

There was probably bound to be a disconnect between players through lower management, too, guaranteed once Valentine was named manager. Shoppach above most should know. He may have been thinking of himself before the team when he complained, earlier in the season, to manager Bobby Valentine about falling playing time when Saltalamacchia hit a hot streak long since cooled. But Shoppach took it to Valentine privately, behind closed doors, one on one, not expecting it to go on the public record. Valentine took care of that for him, much to his surprise, if a lot of other people weren’t terribly surprised.

Don’t forget Kevin Youkilis got a very nasty public slap in the face from Valentine in which the divide-and-conquer manager, observing Youkilis’s physical struggles, decided they also indicated something missing in Youkilis’s heart, and decided further that the world needed to know whether or not Youkilis was in need of a gut check his worst enemy wouldn’t have thought he needed. And Youkilis was in no mood, apparently, to forgive or forget, perhaps even after he was finally traded to the Chicago White Sox.

It should surprise no one if it turns out that, among any incoming messages for Shoppach once he arrived and settled in with the Mets, there came one from Youkilis: “Welcome to the club.”

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .

“On the Web, I tell ya . . .!!!”

WEB OF DECEIT—Melky Cabrera may have gone to an interesting length on behalf of trying to duck a fifty-game drydocking over his use of synthetic testosterone: as in, creating a phony Website for an imaginary product, designed to make it look as though he’d bought a possibly lawful substance that turned out, without his knowledge, to include synthetic testosterone. The idea blew up in Cabrera’s face while baseball government was investigating him in the month prior to his bombshell suspension. And the fallout is likely to continue because the Feds—spearheaded by none other than famous enough A/A-PED vulture Jeff Novitzky—as well as baseball government’s investigations unit, are now interested in just about everyone in Cabrera’s orbit short of his upstairs maid.

MORALE BOOSTER—Among other things, that’s what interim Houston Astros manager Tony DeFrancesco—named Sunday to take the bridge after Brad Mills was sent packing Saturday—hopes to foster as the hapless Astros (a baseball-worst 39-82 at this writing) play out the seasonal string, such as it is for them.

DeFrancesco takes a troubled bridge . . .

When you get your butt kicked daily, the players feel it. They’re disappointed and the problem is, the next day they come to the stadium, and when you get your butt kicked on a daily basis, it’s hard to open the door because you lack confidence. Hopefully, with some of the new coaches here and myself, we can change the attitude.

The new coaches are Dan Radison at first base (succeeding the fired Bobby Meacham) and Ty Van Burkleo as hitting coach (succeeding the fired Mike Barnett). Nobody said rebuilding would be easy, but for a third straight season the Astros have sent veterans on at or before the non-waiver trade deadline and left little enough in the tank, which seems to have been a big problem for Mills since taking the bridge for 2010. General manager Jeff Luhnow hinted as much in addressing why he decided to dump Mills: “I have a great deal of respect for Brad, and he’s a great baseball manager. He’ll have a long career moving forward. To a certain extent, I sensed some relief, but I’m not going to speak for him. It’s been tough.” If it was so tough, why did Luhnow wait a week after making the decision, as the Associated Press says, before keelhauling Mills? Why make him prolong his own agony? If you’re going to unload a guy, even if you know it wasn’t exactly his fault, why wait and make him twist?

Lost release point, lost inning, lost 8-run lead, lost game . . .

THE QUESTION OF THE WEEKEND—Forget the Red Sox’s dope opera. Forget Melky Cabrera’s Web of deceit. Forget the continuing saga of the Houston Disastros. The question on everybody’s mind really is: How the hell did the Los Angeles Angels pile up an 8-0 lead on the Tampa Bay Rays and still lose the damn game Saturday? The Angels hung up three in the first including Mike Trout leading off by sending the second pitch he saw onto the center field rocks; and, four in the second, including Albert Pujols driving a two-run shot over the left field fence, not to mention an eighth in the third when Trout whacked an RBI single . . . but the Rays battered Angel starter C.J. Wilson for a seven-run fourth inside opening and closing outs from Jeff Keppinger: a bases-loading walk setting up an RBI single, a bases-loaded walk, a three-run double (Ben Zobrist), and a two-run homer (Evan Longoria), while Tampa Bay pitching kept the Angels shut out the rest of the way as the Rays hung up on in the sixth on a sacrifice fly and two in the eighth when Carlos Pena—pinch hitting—sent one over the right field fence.

Manager Mike Scioscia’s answer: “C.J. lost his release point. And when you’ve got an eight-run lead, you can’t walk people. He got behind in counts and ended up putting some guys on. They got some key hits and got back in the game. It’s definitely disappointing.” Some think it’s beginning to look as though the Angels are losing their release points and releasing themselves right out of the races, if not quite now then soon enough.

 

Item: Should the Red Sox Go High Tek?

ESPN’s Gordon Edes, running with something the New York Post‘s Joel Sherman floated, hoists another name into the pool of Bobby Valentine’s prospective successors by direct way of Sherman himself:

A high Tek successor?

I am not here to fire Valentine, a man I like and think had the thinnest possible chance for success in a soap-opera environment poisoned well before his arrival. But fair or not, if he truly is one and done, then my managerial suggestion for Boston would be Jason Varitek. He would allow the Red Sox to co-opt the idea of their main rival while honoring what is in vogue in the sport right now. 

Like Joe Girardi was for the Yankees, Varitek is a former championship catcher for the Red Sox. So he comes with built-in credibility within this group. Look, we can say the Red Sox players need to look in the mirror and not the manager’s office for the problem. But the reality is this core is coming back again next season and, if that is the case, the Red Sox are going to need to find someone who commands instant respect and who can begin to re-establish sanctity and sanity within what has become a Wild West baseball setting. Varitek should have that immediately with this group because it is so familiar with his preparation, professionalism and sturdiness as a teammate. 

“In the past, you would dismiss someone who was just a year out of the game with no professional managing experience. But the success this year of Robin Ventura of the White Sox and the Cardinals’ Mike Matheny — both returning to old haunts as first-time-anywhere managers — is changing the rules. In addition, Don Mattingly is having great success with the Dodgers after never previously managing.

Varitek did earn a sterling reputation as a handler of the Red Sox pitching staff. He does have an equal reputation for game knowledge. And he was one of the best-respected men in the Red Sox clubhouse, until his retirement before this season.

The prospect can be intriguing, especially in light of Girardi’s success.

The bad news: It can backfire, and sometimes has. Hark back to 1964, when another Yankee catcher—who won a lot of pennants and World Series rings in and for The ‘Stripes—was plucked, when his playing career had barely ended, to manage the Yankees for the Year of the Beatles. Unfortunately, Yogi Berra was perceived as being weak enough on team discipline that, despite the Yankees making a late-season surge to reclaim the pennant, before losing a thriller of a seven-game Series to the Cardinals, he was executed* the day after the Series ended.

Jason Varitek may well want to manage. He may well jump as high as he can if the Red Sox offer him the chance. But he may well say his prayers that the Red Sox under his command don’t get anywhere near as wild and crazy as the 1964 Yankees were thought to have gotten for most of Yogi’s single-season reign, never mind as wild and crazy as they continued to get under Valentine’s divide-and-conquer rule.

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* Yogi Berra’s October 1964 execution had a little too much of a stink to it, as things turned out. The man who defeated Berra in the Series, Cardinal manager Johnny Keane, had been approached about taking the Yankee job about midway through the season, when the Yankees got wind that Keane was miffed over a backchannel move to dump him in St. Louis—in fact, the Cardinals were considering a wholesale housecleaning in mid-1964, when they looked to be out of the pennant race, which included dumping general manager Bing Devine, who was close to Keane, in mid-season.

At about the same time, with rumours that owner Gussie Busch—who may or may not have been prodded that way by broadcaster Harry Caray—was thinking about unloading Keane in favour of then-Dodger coach Leo Durocher at season’s end. Keane may have let the Yankees know, just as informally and just as quietly, that he would be interested in managing the Yankees if he was going to be out in St. Louis and Yogi was indeed going to be out in New York. A Daily News writer and Berra biographer, Joe Trimble, suggested then-Yankee general manager Ralph Houk (who’d been kicked upstairs after managing the Yankees from ’61-’63, after his predecessor Roy Hamey decided unexpectedly to retire) was planning to dump Berra even if the Yankees won the 1964 Series in four straight.

Yogi Berra (r.) congratulated Johnny Keane on the Cardinals’ ‘1964 World Series conquest—bless his heart, Yogi didn’t know the machinations that would end with his dumping and Keane’s succeeding him within 24 hours . . .

Keane then stunned Busch, when Busch called a press conference to announce the manager would be re-upped. Keane dropped his resignation on Busch as the Yankees were sending Yogi to the electric chair, and took the now-vacant Yankee job. (Berra would join the Mets—and his former manager, Casey Stengel—as a coach for 1965.)

It’s open to debate which man had it worse—Berra trying to step into Ralph Houk’s shoes, or Keane trying to step into the Yankees’. He lasted until the Yankees opened 1966 with a 4-20 record and sat in tenth place in the pre-divisional American League. Keane was hobbled by a veteran team who didn’t respond to Keane’s station-to-station game strategy (“We were used to going for the big inning,” first baseman-outfielder Joe Pepitone would remember) and, apparently, his penchant for “sacrificing a season to win a game,” as pitcher Jim Bouton would remember it. 

The real reason Keane failed in New York—other than his game style and sacrificing seasons to win games approach—was that the Yankees were aging, often injured, and parched on the farm; they’d unloaded a few too many solid prospects following the end of the Stengel era, especially when then-owners Dan Topping and Del Webb were trying to sweeten the deal as they pondered and consummated selling the team to CBS during 1964. Bouton also believed, on the record, that the stress of trying to manage a team whose dissembly he couldn’t comprehend, even as he held the team in awe, may have contributed to Keane’s shocking death of a heart attack in January 1967, just a month or two after the Angels hired him as a scout. At 55. 

As for Yogi, he’d end up managing another pennant winner—after seven seasons as the Mets’ first base coach, where he was just as popular a figure as he’d ever been with the Yankees, Berra found himself named to succeed Gil Hodges as the Mets’ manager . . . after Hodges suffered a fatal heart attack in spring training 1972. (Even worse a stress manager than Keane, Hodges died at age 48.) A year later, Yogi skippered the Mets to another miracle, winning the National League East after they’d started September at rock bottom, then winning the pennant in a thriller of a League Championship Series against the burgeoning Big Red Machine, before coming up a game short of overthrowing the Oakland Athletics in the World Series.

Over a decade later, of course, Berra would be another on George Steinbrenner’s merry-go-round of throwing out the first manager of the year, Steinbrenner dumping Yogi when his 1985 Yankees broke out of the gate too slow for the ever-so-patient Boss . . . and dispatching Clyde King to give Berra the news, causing a rift between Yogi and the Yankees that lasted until 1998.

Throw the Switch on Valentine; Then, Start Rebuilding

Once upon a time, George Scott, an ertswhile Red Sox star, moved to the Milwaukee Brewers (he was part of the deal that also made ex-Red Sox out of Jim Lonborg, Ken Brett, and Billy Conigliaro), had a conversation with the Brewers’ one-time co-owner, Edmund Fitzgerald. No, silly, not the wreck about which Gordon Lightfoot wrote a certain ancient song hit, however the Brewers weren’t doing at the time. “You know, Mr. Fitzgerald, if we’re gonna win,” the big man called Boomer said, “the players gotta play better, the coaches gotta coach better, the manager gotta manage better, and the owners gotta own better.”

Two days ago, feeling the heat, after a Yahoo! Sports story cited him as one of the two inspirations behind a big sit-down between some Red Sox players and the team brass in New York, Dustin Pedroia said damn near the same thing, while trying to tell reporters he didn’t think Bobby Valentine deserved a trip to the guillotine just yet. “When I spoke [at the New York meeting],” Pedroia said, “I said we all need to be better. That includes owners, Bobby, coaches, and especially the players.”

You might prefer George Scott’s flair for rhetoric but you can hear the same sentiment in the Red Sox’s incumbent captain-in-everything-but-name. And if you agree with Scott and Pedroia and about half a score of analysts, since the Red Sox’s toxins have swollen to nuclear fallout levels, then the owners who gotta own better could—should?—take step one by admitting and correcting their biggest 2012 mistake.

Not at the end of this season. Not at the end of next season. Now. Or, at least, after the Red Sox and the Yankees get finished with each other this weekend. For the Red Sox’s sake; and, for Valentine’s, too.

“Of course Bobby Valentine should be fired,” Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports writes. “Some rival executives say the Red Sox should have fired him as manager two weeks ago, when they had a better chance of salvaging their season.”

The Red Sox were toxic enough before team president Larry Lucchino, who’s believed only too widely to have done so, overruled general manager Ben Cherington and a few other Red Sox brass and—contradicting those people’s assurances, including to enough players, that Valentine wasn’t even a topic—bringing Valentine aboard to succeed the ill-fated Terry Francona.

Right then and there, there should have been red flags run up the flagpoles, and not merely because of Valentine’s major league rap sheet, which was considerable enough. What manner of management allows some of its people to assure players they won’t be hiring a certain individual, then overrides the man who’s supposed to have that authority (Cherington, succeeding Theo Epstein, who must have known something like this would be coming, if Francona walked before he could be strapped to the guerney) and hires that individual anyway?

And what manner of management, even removing the former observation from the equation, would think that, whatever animated the September 2011 collapse, the Red Sox—who probably needed a certain kind of disciplinarian to help them right themselves—needed a man whose history, too much repeating itself this season, indicates he doesn’t obey the line between mere discipline and playing with matches in the middle of toxic fumes?

The players aren’t even close to blameless. Let’s say it unequivocably. The Red Sox aren’t the only team wracked by the disabled list; it isn’t just the injuries that have produced their inconsistent-to-impossible play. There do remain a few clubhouse cancers among them. But how brilliant an idea could it have been to hire a manager who wouldn’t have needed a knife and fork to attack the clubhouse chicken spread because, as Johnny Carson once said of a once-fabled Hollywood gossip reporter, he cuts his food with his tongue?

There’s something almost nobody’s been thinking about all that much in the middle of the hoopla. I noted it a few days ago, and it bears a revisit. It was what Valentine said, to the Boston Herald, when the Yahoo! Sports story broke and the madness ramped up to, ahem, fever pitch. “I hear a lot of (players) say, ‘Why doesn’t anybody talk about this other team like that? Why don’t they talk about anyone else?’ I just say, ‘It’s just because this is who we are. We’re the Red Sox.’ And maybe it’s because of who I am, too. They have to understand, I’m here. There’s going to be a lot of bullets thrown my way, and they can become collateral damage.

You don’t have to look too hard to discover managers past who took no crap, called players to public account, but drew the line at letting their players become collateral damage for their bluster or bristle.

An otherwise high-flying bunch of early 1980s Phillies got fed up with Dallas Green’s whip-cracking public floggings but not even the most disgruntled Phillie accused Green of being reckless enough to leave the undeserving in the firing line, too. A collection of 2011-2012 Mets have a manager who takes no crap, calls players to public account, but not even the most disgruntled among the very few disgruntled Mets have had any reason to accuse Terry Collins of leaving them to be collateral damage. No early-80s Phillie or 2011-12 Met has yet accused either Green or Collins of agreeing to talk privately about one or another concern only to have either manager fink to the press about it, so far as I know.

One of the twists is that Collins, who once helped to blow up a pair of Show clubhouses with high-strung, high-anxiety management, as in treating every single act in a game as though it were life and death, actually learned from his mistakes. Valentine, by every indication, hasn’t.

Valentine took the Mets to a pair of postseasons (including a World Series) during his earlier reign there. But in 2002, when the Mets began to collapse more profoundly, his act—specifically, ginning up conflict with particularly popular players, playing certain members of the press against others, and using private concerns to rip players publicly in short order—finally got him run out of the job.

Maybe nothing could have stopped the Red Sox high command from overreacting after the September shrinkage. Still, the Atlanta Braves collapsed practically even-up with the Red Sox, but the only thing they did afterward was change hitting coaches. The Red Sox let Francona resign, after he’d only been the most successful manager—and maybe the best—in franchise history, so they wouldn’t have to throw the switch on him. They let Epstein walk in favour of Cherington. (Epstein made a couple of mistakes with a couple of dubious contracts, but was that enough to think about life without him?) Then, they all but stripped Cherington of power enough to leave room for a duplicitously-done Valentine hire which, considering Valentine’s history, shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

It left room for Valentine to question since-traded Kevin Youkilis’s heart in hand with his physical maladies when the season was barely underway. It left room for Valentine to betray since-traded Kelly Shoppach’s private, off-the-record complaint about playing time. To betray Clay Buchholz’s private, off-the-record request for one extra day’s rest, implying a no-heart tag upon the Red Sox’s most consistent starting pitcher this season. To admit to a smartass remark to Will Middlebrooks over one bad inning when he should have kept his mouth shut about it in the first place. To leave Jon Lester in to take one of the worst beatings a starting pitcher without his best stuff on a day can take (which prompted the New York sit-down in the first place, apparently), with, apparently, nobody else willing to stand up and take one for the team. (Wonder why?) To betray Carl Crawford’s wrist soreness, after the outfielder came out of a game late, before allowing Crawford himself a chance to talk about it. Among other things.

Plan for the post-Beckett future . . .

Such a shame that it didn’t leave room for the Red Sox powers to seize the moment, and unload Josh Beckett when the Rangers were willing to bring him aboard, with Beckett’s reputation in tatters and the righthander still thought to be unrepentant in his actual or alleged defiance. (Beckett has 10-5 rights and a no-trade clause, but he’s also a native Texan who might have enjoyed going home to pitch.) Moving Beckett at the non-waiver deadline might not have stanched the bleeding, but it might have sent a message that, yes, we made a big mistake bringing aboard the human chemical leak to manage this team but no, we’re not going to suffer any other fools gladly any longer.

You think Valentine non-chalantly shrugging that his players might have to accept that he’ll leave them as collateral damage should have jolted the Red Sox powers bolt upright? You should have heard what he told a radio station in the middle of the latest hoopla: From what I gather it’s common, it’s what happens here. One of the things I was discussing with one of the players was that all this noise is one of the reasons players don’t like to sign here. You know, they don’t have to deal with it in other markets. They don’t have to worry about the drama of the day; they can just go out and play baseball.

Good luck getting coming or future free agents to sign on for that. I can think of no more delicious translation that that of Gordon Edes, longtime Boston Globe columnist, who’s been an ESPN writer since 2009:

So, there you have it, the raw material for future recruiting pitches by general manager Ben Cherington. It’s bad enough that 2012 has been a disaster. Might as well pay it forward, too.

Boston: You Sure You Want to Play Here? No One Else Is.

Boston: The Noise Will Drive You Nuts.

Boston: A Place Only a Drama Queen Could Love.

It’s time for the Red Sox to think about blowing up 2012 once and for all. Even if—unlikely as it may seem today, as opposed to, say, 2004, or 2007—they spend the weekend sweeping the Yankees, who are no strangers to off-field toxins but who still manage to field a team of absolute professionals. (On the other hand, maybe Red Sox Nation should think seriously about rooting for the Empire Emeritus—as distasteful as the prospect normally might be—to wax the Red Sox in a sweep and hasten Valentine’s trip to the chair.) Write 2012 off as the unmitigated disaster it is.

. . . and let the GM be the GM . . .

Next, clear their throats to swallow the rest of Valentine’s contract. Now. Lucchino may have assured one and all that Valentine will survive the season, but it looks more and more as though the Red Sox won’t survive him. Lucchino’s bosses can convince him it’s the right move, before Valentine pours another can of gasoline on another fire. And, before the alienation of three valuable holdover coaches (bench coach Tim Bogar, bullpen coach Gary Tuck, batting instructor Dave Magadan), who seem to care for Valentine about as much as he seems to care for them, which is barely if at all, prompts one or all of them to think about walking.

Then, finally, start reshaping this roster. Start planning on a post-Beckett future and find a trading partner who’d be willing to take on some of Beckett’s salary through 2014. (The Rangers might still be a viable candidate, considering Ryan Dempster might walk into the free agency waters at season’s end.) Secure yourselves with a core of Pedroia, Buchholz, Jon Lester, and Jacoby Ellsbury; they’re still young enough, and under friendly-enough deals, that they can recover once the Valentine toxin is purged. Unless, of course, the only way to purge Beckett and bring in valuable return might be to include Ellsbury in the deal, as painful as that might be. (The Rangers may have had just that in mind at the non-waiver deadline.) And, while you’re at it, let it be known to one and all in that clubhouse that Ellsbury was no wimp, the way some of those characters accused him of being when he missed so much of 2010 with back trouble, pointing to his trying to play when still not recovered quite all the way from another injury this year.)

Let nothing and no one stand in the way of the emergence of lefthander Felix Doubront, third baseman Will Middlebrooks, and shortstop comers Jose Iglesias and Xander Bogaerts. And, if John Lackey returns successfully enough from Tommy John surgery in 2013, don’t be shy about yielding him to that year’s non-waiver trade deadline.

Spend 2013 if you must as a rebuild year. But rebuild in earnest. If you want people to take the rebuild seriously, including your own players, you can’t wait to send Valentine to the firing squad. You could let bench coach Tim Bogar take the team to play out the string. You can let Cherington be the general manager in more than just job title. And, you could explore a couple of managing possibilities for 2013 in advance.

You can think about Gene Lamont, who was on your minds before you went for Valentine and is probably better than his previous teams allowed him to be. You can think about asking the White Sox for permission to talk to Joe McEwing, once a hustling utility player (Tony La Russa admired the hell out of him) who’s made an under-the-proverbial-radar reputation for game knowledge and hustle managing in their system. You can think about asking the Phillies for permission to talk to Ryne Sandberg, since the Cubs, insanely enough, didn’t want him for all the work he put in in their system to prove himself, and Charlie Manuel isn’t about to take the fall for the Phillies’ deflation this season.

Before the players can play better, the owners gotta own better. The same ownership who built two World Series winners in four seasons can start a fresh rebuild by dropping the blindfold and the cigarette on Valentine. Now.

Got Melk—Under Drug Testing Program, That Is

This is just what the San Francisco Giants don’t need, though it probably did the Washington Nationals—who just squared off against the Giants in San Francisco—a small favour: Melky Cabrera, the MVP of this year’s All-Star Game, suspended fifty games for a positive testosterone test.

The announcement came practically on the heels of the Giants announcing contract talks with Cabrera would go on hold until season’s end. Cabrera, of course, was enjoying a very respectable walk year, with a .906 OPS and a National League-leading 156 hits, 51 of which came in May alone (tying Randy Winn’s team record for any month, and breaking Willie Mays’ team record for May, since the Giants came to San Francisco in the first place), a significant factor in the Giants at this writing sitting tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for first place in the NL West.

Got melked by a positive testosterone test . . .

Cabrera’s suspension begins at once. If the Giants get to the postseason, those games will be included as part of Cabrera’s suspension. If they don’t, Cabrera will finish serving the sentence at the open of the 2013 regular season.

Give Cabrera credit for this much: He ducked nothing and manned up at once when handed his sentence. “My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used. I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Program and I will try to move on with my life. I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants organisation, and to the fans for letting them down,” he said in a formal statment.

The Giants landed Cabrera in the off-season in a swap that sent Jonathan Sanchez (P) to the Kansas City Royals. He signed a single-year deal with the Giants rather than go to salary arbitration.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .

CONTINUING THE CUB SHUFFLE—Theo Epstein’s work on remaking/remodeling the Cubs continued Wednesday with the execution of Oneri Fleita as vice president of player personnel. “All of us with the Cubs owe Oneri a debt of gratitude for his tremendous service to the organization over many years. Oneri has impacted countless people here in a positive way, and we wish him well as he continues his career elsewhere,” said Epstein in a statement. Fleita had been in the Cubs’ organisation since 1995; he was actually given a four-year contract extension in 2011, before Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer were brought aboard. The Cubs also canned manager of baseball information Chuck Wasserstrom, who’d been with the Cubs for 25 years; and, reassigned statistical analysis manager Ari Kaplan to become a consultant to owner Tom Ricketts.

THE BOSTON BRISTLE, CONTINUED—Boston Red Sox principal owner John Henry says none of the players who wanted to meet with the brass in that July New York sit-down actually called for manager Bobby Valentine’s execution. Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports—whose colleague, Jeff Passan, wrote the article that launched this week’s  hoo-ha over the meeting—argues that, whatever you do or don’t think about Valentine’s style vis a vis a rickety Red Sox clubhouse, Henry must tell one and all that Valentine’s his man through the end of his contract (it expires after 2013, specifically) at least, “that employees do not fire managers.”

Tell everyone this isn’t working because bad contracts and worse attitudes have fouled the place, but will not any longer. Tell them that it will be addressed this winter, that the talented [general manager Ben] Cherington is under orders to see to it, no matter the cost in discarded mistakes and malcontents. Now what? Tell them none of this will be tolerated any longer. 

That’s a pretty point. But what do you say about a manager who, yes, walked into a fragile enough situation to begin with—and after assorted Red Sox brass, perhaps unaware of what other assorted Red Sox brass thought, told assorted Red Sox players last winter that the divide-and-conquer Valentine wasn’t even a blip on their managerial radar—chose almost from the outset to inflame rather than inspire his players?

Will John Henry’s hammer drop on Bobby V., his rickety clubhouse, or both . . .?

It wasn’t the players who threw Kevin Youkilis under the proverbial bus right out of the chute, questioning his heart in hand with his physical condition, possibly as revenge for Youkilis, supposedly, being the one who dropped the proverbial dime on the chicken-and-beer contingency of last September. (Enough say that was the precise moment Valentine lost much of his clubhouse.)

It wasn’t the players who filled out the wrong lineup card against the Minnesota Twins shortly after the Youkilis yak—though it was one player (catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia) who caught the blunder in time enough for its correction.

It wasn’t the players who made a starter out of setup man Daniel Bard only to learn the hard way Bard would be in over his head in that role.

It wasn’t the players who finked on now-traded Kelly Shoppach, who took his complaint about playing time to Valentine for a private discussion about it.

It wasn’t the players who took poor Will Middlebrooks’s “nice inning, kid” barb from Valentine public. (Though it may have been one player, post-Tommy John patient John Lackey, out for the season while he recuperates from the procedure, who took that remark to Henry privately. Emphasis on “privately.” Lackey may have his troubles otherwise, but he wasn’t looking to make a press pump out of it.)

It wasn’t the players who betrayed Clay Buchholz’s private request for an extra day’s rest and threw in a subtle implication that Buchholz’s heart, too, should be deemed suspect.

It wasn’t the players who decided Jon Lester absolutely needed to stay in, on a day he clearly didn’t have it, for an eleven-run beating from which no one could find anyone to step in for him before it got past a five-run first-inning flogging.

And it wasn’t the players who told the Boston Herald, ““I hear a lot of (players) say, ‘Why doesn’t anybody talk about this other team like that? Why don’t they talk about anyone else?’ I just say, ‘It’s just because this is who we are. We’re the Red Sox.’ And maybe it’s because of who I am, too. They have to understand, I’m here. There’s going to be a lot of bullets thrown my way, and they can become collateral damage.”

The Red Sox players aren’t quite innocent. But if Henry were to heed Brown and deputise Cherington to clean house, the housecleaning probably has to include the manager, too. If Valentine has a few too many of the wrong players to lead, high-priced or otherwise, a few too many of the right players (high-priced or otherwise) have the wrong manager to lead them. And what would make someone think that cleaning out the Red Sox clubhouse would give the divide-and-conquer Valentine a better shake at anything . . .  other than possibly blowing up a cleaner clubhouse, perhaps while shrugging that off as just a case of collateral damage from the “bullets” thrown his way?

Valentine has his talents as a manager. Unfortunately, they’re not suited for just any old place. And Boston, for better or worse, isn’t just any old place.

ABOUT THOSE TRADE-DEADLINE PICKUPS—In a word, says SweetSpot’s David Schoenfeld, they’ve been duds thus far, to a considerable extent:

Ryan Dempster—After all the hoopla about where he’d go (or want to go), before he finally consented to go to Texas, Dempster as a Ranger has been nuked for 19 runs in 17 1/3 innings in three starts, two of which saw him reached for eight runs each.

Anibal Sanchez—As a Tiger, he’s been a pussycat: 1-3, 7.97 ERA since going to Detroit, 19 runs in 20.1 innings, and by the way he got lit up Monday, too.

Zack Greinke—Until he beat the Indians Tuesday night, Greinke came off a five-walk game and the Angels hadn’t won in his previous three starts since joining them.

Hunter Pence—Struggling when the Phillies dealt him to the Giants in the first place, Pence through Tuesday had a .445 OPS.

Ichiro Suzuki—The good news: He’s been a better Yankee than Mariner this season. The bad news: He’s not exactly pushing the Empire Emeritus closer to the top.

Jonathan Broxton—In four innings with Cincinnati, he’s burped up four runs. Not to mention one loss and one blown save in one of his gigs.

The good news? Hanley Ramirez isn’t putting up a better OPS in Los Angeles than he did in Miami, but he has driven in eighteen runs since joining the Dodgers. Omar Infante (to the Tigers) and Shane Victorino (to the Dodgers) are doing well in their new environs. Chris Johnson also has eighteen ribs since joining the Diamondbacks. And Paul Maholm, not exactly the most glittering name on the non-waiver trade block, has allowed only three runs in his first two Atlanta starts, building himself to a total of eight runs in his previous eight starts.