One of my leisurely summer reads has been David Halberstam's "October 1964," a book that chronicles the collapse of the mighty New York Yankees dynasty that dominated the baseball universe from the late 40's to the early 60's.
1964 was the Bronx Bombers last hurrah for a number of years and Halberstam sets the table of the book by discussing the Yankee managers--in fact baseball managers and owners--for in 1964 the team was just a couple of years removed from Casey Stengal.
One of the reasons I enjoyed the author's analysis regarding the front office and the guys at the helm was that I always wondered why it seemed the same old recycled guys kept popping up managing one team, then another, and then another with very little in the way of ultimate success.
Mind you I turned 12 after the 1964 Series, but even then I was aware that the likes of Alvin Dark and Birdie Tibbets and Johnny Keane and Leo Durocher had all had multiple gigs managing at the big league level. Plus, I knew there were a lot more guys like them, and though it was that some of these gentlemen did not have their success, it still seemed strange to me that rarely was a new face introduced into what seemed like a secret club.
Well, times and players and salaries and mores have indeed changed since 1964--and Halberstam again sets the tone for this noting salaries and attitudes were changing, making it tough for a player from the 30's to relate to a player of the 60's--and there has been much better movement in baseball managers. And, I think that is for the better.
So, though I sort of understood the canning of Terry Francona at the end of last season, I was pretty much flabbergasted by the team's signing of Bobby Valentine to the managing slot.
First, I guess it is true that the team ran amok in 2011; however, it was Francona who guided the Sox to not one, but two titles, putting the Curse of the Bambino firmly in the franchise's collective rear view mirror.
Second, I cannot believe that Theo Epstein--newly departed for Chicago--would have made the move. Oh, he may well have cut ties with Francona, but no way he would have hired the volatile Valentine.
But, even more to the--and Halberstam's point--Valentine has not been a very good major league manager, with a career won/loss of 1176-1138 (.508) with just one pennant to his name with the Mets in 2000, over 16 years.
Further, he is much like Halberstam's assessment of the likes of Eddie Stankey and Solly Hemus of the 60's: solid enough players of the 40's who thought the way to motivate a team was to be adversarial and a disciplinarian. And, well, with today's players and salaries and system, that just does not work.
That does not mean a manager cannot be firm, for that is appropriate and necessary no matter what the discipline, for employees always need to know who is in charge, plain and simple.
And, it is not like this year's underachieving Sox are all on Valentine's shoulders, for certainly injuries to Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury among others certainly contributed to the bad year. But, back to management in general, the terrible trade for Andrew Bailey did not help either.
Still, just Valentine's handling of Kevin Youkilis says it all to me, for Youk had trouble producing for Valentine (.233-4-14 and a .315 OBP over 146 at-bats) and while his average is not what we are used to with Chicago, the numbers are way better at .246-11-34 over 171 at-bats with a .368 OBP. Oh yeah, an .835 OPS for the Pale Hose as opposed to the .692 for Boston suggesting Youk still had something in his stick that Valentine could not reach.
And, that is the manager's job, to bring out the best of his or her empolyees no matter the environ.
Well, Bobby does not do that, and were he successful more often than not it could be excused.
But he is not. Rather, he is an opinionated loud mouth much better suited to make stupid comments from the press box second guessing managers who actually know what they are doing.