BOSTON — On Wednesday, Bobby Valentine filled out his lineup card under the assumption that the Red Sox would be facing a left-handed pitcher. Shortly thereafter, he learned that the not-yet-immortal Liam Hendricks of the Twins is right-handed. Valentine changed the lineup.
Upon such kindling are bonfires of outrage built, at least in Boston.
If the Red Sox had been in first place instead of last on Wednesday, the goof would have made a quirky addition to the story of the man in the process of rescuing the Sox after the shame of last September, when all true Sox fans began exploring ways to die.
Instead, the lineup gaff, which Valentine corrected hours before it would have meant anything, becomes further evidence for those who think he’s the wrong guy for the job.
Maybe he is. And maybe at this point, anybody but a player-manager capable of winning 25 games and hitting .500 with men in scoring position would be the wrong guy.
Through no fault of the manager, the Red Sox have lost Jacoby Ellsbury to injury. Among the other matters over which the manager has had no control are the relative incompetence of the bullpen he did not assemble, the inconsistency of the starters he did not hire, and the slow start of the third baseman about whom Valentine said nothing that would be considered controversial anywhere but in the press box at Fenway Park and on Boston sports call-in shows.
Valentine is an especially easy target for critics because he’s flamboyantly extroverted and, unlike some baseball lifers, he has lots of interests outside the game. He’s a ballroom dancer. He’s a world traveler. According to the website of the eateries he fronts, he’s been in the restaurant business for 31 years, and sometimes he prowls his joints in disguise to see how everything’s going.
He has apparently said “yes” to everybody who’s invited him to be in a local TV commercial. When the Sox stink, somebody this eclectic, somebody given to this degree of self-promotion, is bound to be criticized for ignoring job one.
People in this dodge are expected to make predictions. Pressed to do so, I’d say you’re safe making plans for October that don’t involve the Red Sox. I would say this if the manager was Tony LaRussa, or Ozzie Guillen, or the reincarnation of Connie Mack. Since last fall, the teams that Boston would have to beat in the A.L. East seem to have gotten better, and the Red Sox don’t seem to have done that. In that context, eliminating Terry Francona and adding Bobby Valentine doesn’t constitute getting better; it’s just getting different.