Disappointing years put Bobby V., Ozzie under fire
Walk up to Bobby Valentine and the first thing that gets you is the smile. Then, he begins to talk baseball and you're captive.
Say what you want about Bobby V., but don't ever question his passion for the game or his knowledge of the sport.
Those traits are probably what sold the Red Sox on hiring him as their manager -- a solid choice, they thought, to fix the problems that arose last season when Boston coughed up a seemingly certain playoff berth.
Today, as the Red Sox stand as a dysfunctional mess -- the biggest disaster in the American League -- it is clear Bobby V. was a poor choice. His exit seems to be only days away.
In Miami, as finishing touches were being put on the Marlins' long-awaited new stadium and owner Jeffrey Loria was spending millions to build a National League East contender, Ozzie Guillen was the perfect choice to direct the team.
With all the hoopla of the futuristic ballpark, the Yankees in town for an exhibition preview and the World Series champion Cardinals on tap a day later for the nationally televised opener, the Marlins were one of baseball best stories.
It was so enticing, Showtime produced a documentary series on the franchise.
Only Mike Scioscia and Ron Gardenhire had more wins since 2004 than Guillen among active managers. Wherever Ozzie goes, he attracts a crowd, a dream for reporters. His remarks are often absurd, bizarre and abrasive, but he is always entertaining. Guillen doesn't know how to keep his mouth shut.
When the Marlins lost their home opener to St. Louis, it turned out to be a bad omen. And hours later, Ozzie opened his mouth about Cuba and Fidel Castro, causing many offended fans to demand he be fired. Guillen was even summoned back to Miami from Philadelphia in the middle a series with the Phillies to apologize for his remarks.
As the season winds down, two of the most publicized managerial hires of the offseason have gone sour. The Red Sox are on pace for their worst season since 1966, and the Marlins seem destined to duplicate 2011's last-place finish in the NL East.
Today, the Red Sox and Marlins are last in their divisions, and you have to wonder what went wrong. Given the personalities of both Valentine and Guillen, it's easy to point fingers, to say they are key reasons for their team's failure.
It became obvious the seasons for both teams were lost when high-priced premier players from both teams were traded away.
In an August blockbuster, the Red Sox sent first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, injured outfielder Carl Crawford and pitcher Josh Beckett to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The deal cut more than $250 million from the Red Sox's payroll.
The Marlins, notorious for unloading salary, traded infielder Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers, shipped pitcher Anibal Sanchez and infielder Omar Infante to the Tigers and sent first baseman Gaby Sanchez to the Pirates weeks earlier.
Valentine should take some of the blame for what are now the stripped-down Red Sox, a team Boston general manager Ben Cherington admits "is hard to watch."
When Valentine arrived, with last September's collapse still fresh on everyone's minds, his mission was to change the clubhouse culture. Terry Francona, who produced two World Series championships and was portrayed as a players' manager, had lost control and was ousted. Valentine was the newcomer, and players who were attached to Francona and his managerial methods never came aboard with Bobby V.
Plus, there were widespread reports that he wasn't Cherington's choice, but favored by principal owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and team president/CEO Larry Lucchino.
Valentine was given only a two-year contract, and not permitted to hire any of his own coaches except for third-base coach Jerry Royster.
The hiring of Valentine reminds me of when Larry Bowa managed the Phillies. He was a fan favorite because of his playing days in Philadelphia, but many of the players didn't like his demanding, intense approach to the game. He was fiery and outspoken in the Valentine mold.
When Bowa was fired, the Phillies brought in mild-mannered Charlie Manuel, who has become the winningest manager in the franchise's history.
Injuries, especially to the pitching staff, hurt Valentine's effort to produce a contender. He's really suffered from being in the undertow of the 2011 collapse and the firing of Francona. Lately, Bobby V. has sounded like a manager ready to be fired.
Recently, during an interview on a Boston radio station, he threatened to punch host Glenn Ordway in the mouth when Ordway asked whether the manager already had "checked out." He also said his first year as Red Sox manager was "miserable."
Henry, after flying to Seattle for what he called a "fact-finding" trip that included a meeting with some players and breakfast with Valentine, said the manager would keep his job at least for the remainder of the season.
Cherington told reporters, "When the manager is in the middle of it and he's the one who has to answer the questions after every game, it's hard. I feel for him. I'm sure, at times, frustration comes out. It's not easy to write out a lineup as he thought it would be in Spring Training. That would be frustrating for everyone."
I don't think the underachieving Red Sox players ever felt Valentine had their back. And he probably didn't help the situation to rid the clubhouse of its chaos.
Lucchino says Valentine will be evaluated after season and that a decision on his status for 2013 will be made then.
"This is what I chose to do," said Valentine. "I think it's been miserable, but it's also been part of my life's journey. You learn from misery."
From the outside looking in, it appears the Marlins were never able to make the offseason additions of Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Heath Bell work. Bell was ineffective as the closer and lost his role. Reyes struggled early and hasn't been the explosive player everyone expected. Buehrle is a pedestrian 12-12. On a brighter note, outfielder Giancarlo Stanton has a brilliant future ahead, and one-time pitching ace Josh Johnson seems to be returning to his pre-injury form.
As for Guillen, whose contract extends through 2015, team president David Samson said Ozzie's first year was "disappointing."
Asked about whether Guillen would return in 2013, Loria said: "I'm not going to comment on that. I just don't want to get drawn into that until the end of the season. There's good and bad with every situation."
Bottom line: Figuring out what went wrong in Boston and Miami will be no easy task, and even more difficult to fix.
One thing is certain: The analysis will start with Valentine and Guillen.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.