Managing in Boston

The Boston media is restless.  With the Patriots having recently destroyed their chief rival in primetime; the Celtics on an indefinite hiatus; and the Bruins still basking in their post-Stanley Cup victory glow, there isn’t a lot to discuss.  They’re bored, and have little to write about that hasn’t been covered ad nauseum over the past few weeks.  Naturally, the conversation has drifted back toward the Red Sox and their still unresolved managerial situation. 

Initially, the Red Sox focused their search on five inexperienced, albeit strong, managerial candidates.  When none of them turned out to be an ideal fit, management decided to regroup and expand their search.  Of course, this opened the club up to a tremendous amount of speculation and criticism from the media.  Rather than taking the search expansion for what it truly is (a desire to find the right manager), many resorted to expressing crackpot ideas and conspiracy theories. 

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, a long time admirer of Bobby Valentine, jumped into the mix this weekend during his “Sunday Notes” column when he proclaimed inexperienced managers are ill-equipped to manage in Boston.

“It’s not that an inexperienced manager can’t succeed in any market or in any situation, whether the team is rebuilding or in win-it-all mode.

The hiring of Dale Sveum with the Cubs, Robin Ventura with the White Sox, and Mike Matheny with the Cardinals indicates a trend toward youth and inexperience.

But this is Boston.

Boston requires a manager with some backbone, background, and one who won’t need on-the-job training. It’s common sense that in this situation you would have to be interested in Bobby Valentine or Gene Lamont or Larry Bowa. Those guys have seen it all.”

But this is Boston…  This is the same excuse I resort to when “because I said so” and “nah nah nah I can’t hear you” seem a little too played out.  I don’t care if I’m in Guam and discussing second century Chinese basket weaving.  If you disagree with my opinion, I’m going to drop my “But this is Boston” excuse, and effectively win our conversation.  Case closed.  End of story.  Period.

Seriously though, why is “But this is Boston” ever an acceptable reason for the managerial situation.  It comes across as not only incredibly lazy, but also reaking of self-importance.  I realize that Boston, New York, and even Philadelphia to an extent are different than most other towns in terms of sports coverage.  The fans are more rabid, and the media is relentless.  Still, I don’t see how that fact qualifies or disqualifies anyone for the position based on experience. 

I can understand and even sympathize with someone who wants a manager with “backbone, background, and won’t need on-the-job training.”  In this vein, a proven, successful manager like Bobby Valentine, although not a great fit, would make sense.  That said, the careers of Gene Lamont and Larry Bowa have been spotty at best.  Quite frankly, I don’t care if they’ve “seen it all.”  I want someone that has the skill set to be a successful manager with the club.  Experience is part of the equation, but it should never be the end all, be all.

Later in the article, Cafardo expands on his hypothesis.

“The Red Sox, meanwhile, are coming off a season in which they suffered a 7-20 collapse. The front office must have felt it was epic because the organization is undergoing a major makeover.

The underlying issue was discipline, or lack thereof. Is that a place for a young manager?

“Boston is the most unique situation in baseball. Everything from the ballpark, the scrutiny, the media, the fans,’’ said one National League GM. “Sure, you might come up with the next great manager if you go with a young, inexperienced guy, but if it fails there, it’s really ugly. Every failure is magnified that much more.’’

For instance, how did young Butch Hobson work out in Boston?”

Cafardo has a clear misunderstanding of the situation in Boston.  The underlying issue for the collapse was not discipline; although that was a part of it.  It was a mixture of injuries, poor performance, and plain bad luck.  John Henry, one of the most rational men in baseball, realizes this; as does his new General Manager.  The Red Sox were neither as bad as their 7-20 finish than they were as good as their 81-41 run from May through August.  Bringing in someone with a reputation for discipline doesn’t necessarily change anything. 

Furthermore, the club isn’t undergoing a major organizational makeover because of the collapse.  They’re doing it because Terry Francona and Theo Epstein both chose to leave the Red Sox of their own volition.  We didn’t notice it at the time, but Francona appeared less engaged than he had in years past.  He seemed tired, stressed, and burned out.  Considering the problems he reportedly was facing both on the home front and in the clubhouse, it should come as no surprise that he was ready to leave.  Epstein, following the Bill Walsh career plan, had apparently already decided he was going to leave after the 2012 season.  With the Francona resigning and the perfect opportunity opening up in Chicago, he jumped at the chance to take that next step in his career a year early.  We can spin it all we want, but the “organizational makeover” is the result of factors that were primarily external to the Red Sox.

I don’t want to downplay the importance of picking a manager in Boston.  It’s an important decision; one that needs to examined very carefully.  Still, if the next manager fails, it will be a disaster whether the manager is young and inexperienced or a grizzled veteran.  It’s that simple.  Basing the decision solely on experience seems incredibly shortsighted.  Countless managers with spotty track records have received second (and even third) shots at managing a club based on their previous experience.  In most cases, they’ve either failed or been given mixed reviews.  Citing Butch Hobson’s turbulent tenure in Boston as a primary reason for not hiring a young, inexperienced manager is like saying, “Moneyball as a concept is crap because one time a ball hit a bird.”  It’s a non-sequitor argument that detracts from the issue at hand.

Regardless of a person’s managerial experience, there exists a great deal of risk in making a selection.  Management needs to select the best person for the job; not kowtow to any particular group.  And that includes the sabermetrically inclined community as well.

Categories: Boston Red Sox

After being slapped with a restraining order for stealing Nick Cafardo's mail, I was forced into retirement for a brief period of time. As fun as it was to lounge around the community pool and play shuffleboard with noted internet columnist, Murray Chass, I quickly felt a yearning to write again. Now in my second tenure with Fire Brand, I have set lofty goals of achieving world domination, ending the plight of the hipsters, and becoming BFFs with Mike Trout. I am fluent in two languages (Sarcasm and English, in that order); have an intimate relationship with M&Ms; firmly believe that Lucille is the best character on Arrested Development; and spend my spare time trolling select members of the Boston media. You can follow me on Twitter @Chip_Buck.

6 Responses to “Managing in Boston” Subscribe

  1. Gerry November 21, 2011 at 3:27 PM #

    Well put. Thank you for calming the waters.

  2. Mr Punch November 21, 2011 at 5:28 PM #

    Thank you. Everybody tends to want the big name, often someone who's a TV commentator — forgetting that there's a reason he's in that role.

    I am continually amazed at how many people old enough to know better insist that the answer to a late-season meltdown is to bring in a young Gene Mauch.

  3. A-Gon November 21, 2011 at 11:10 PM #

    Thank you for setting the record straight about September: It was a mixture of injuries, poor performance and bad luck.

    One other thing: It wasn't in God's plans for us to make the playoffs.

  4. Patrick November 22, 2011 at 1:54 PM #

    I for one can't help but be a bit nauseated by Nick Cafardo stumping for Bobby Valentine so shamelessly. I understand that's his preference- I understood it the first time he said it, now I'm tired of hearing about it. There are other managerial candidates who could do a fine job too, and who don't have a reputation for throwing their players under the bus, getting along poorly with their GM, and crediting themselves with inventing the wrap (which I equate to Al Gore inventing the internet). Bobby V would be an excellent choice for a lousy team, where the fans and the media need a little entertainment to soften the losses. Boston needs someone who's focused more focused on winning games than promoting himself. As mentioned above, there's a reason he's been working for in Japan and for ESPN for a while now, not managing in the majors.

  5. ChipBuckIsGay November 25, 2011 at 3:58 PM #

    Shut the f*ck up, Chip. You don't know jack sh*t about anything, you queer bait.

    • ChipBuck November 27, 2011 at 6:45 PM #

      I would just like everyone to know that the person who left this comment is Troy Nelson of the Giants blog 22 Gigantes. He's well known for being a plagiarist and all around asshole. If you'd like to see examples of his fraud, here are 20 of them.
      http://www.box.com/shared/us7e02alldrpkyusn082