Imagine pulling back the shower curtain and seeing this face. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Bobby Valentine is the wrong manager with the wrong team, but he probably has that in common with the rest of the human race.
In light of yesterday's confirmation of internecine squabbling on the Red Sox, at least Bobby Valentine can say that he never had to confront Lou Piniella in the bathtub.
On July 14, 1977, as public criticism of New York Yankees manager Billy Martin by both his players and owner George Steinbrenner reached a discordant crescendo, veteran players Lou Piniella and Thurman Munson met with Steinbrenner in a Milwaukee hotel room. The defending AL pennant winners had recently slipped from first place to third. The message they delivered: "If you're going to fire [Martin], then fire him. If you're not, leave him alone and let him manage."
The message was apparently a bit different than the one allegedly delivered to Red Sox ownership on July 26. According to Yahoo's Jeff Passan, "some players stated flatly they no longer wanted to play for Valentine." Piniella and Munson were more equivocal. They didn't care if Martin was fired as long as the manager was left alone.
None of the three knew that Martin, whose room was next door, had returned from his nightly sojourn in the hotel bar in time to overhear the argument. Busting in on Steinbrenner like a cuckolded husband, Martin found Steinbrenner alone. Undeterred, he threw open the bathroom door and found his designated hitter and catcher-in some accounts, crouching in the bathtub behind the shower curtain.
This brings to mind an old gag by the 1960s comedian Myron Cohen. A man, thinking his wife is having an affair, bursts into his bedroom. Seeing the Missus alone in bed with rumpled sheets, he goes to the bathroom, throws back the shower curtain, and finds a man standing in the tub. "What are you doing there?" he shouts.
"Everyody's gotta be someplace," the man replies.
It is Bobby Valentine's misfortune that every manager has to be someplace as well, even if that someplace is a hostile environment where his every decision, right or wrong, is going to be magnified and picked apart.
Player rebellions are nothing new. Even the ur-managers Connie Mack and John McGraw claimed they had teams quit on them, using that as a rationale to clean out the clubhouse. Prominent players on the 1940 Cleveland Indians demanded that manager Ossie Vitt be fired, finding themselves labeled "Cry Babies" when word got out. When Leo Durocher suspended Bobo Newsom in 1943, it led to a backlash that cost the club the services of future Hall of Famer Arky Vaughan. Joe DiMaggio led a not-so-quiet cabal against Casey Stengel in 1949. The 1964 Yankees seemingly spent as much time undermining manager Yogi Berra to general manager (and former manager) Ralph Houk as they did trying to win games. The Astros of the late 1960s spent their off hours singing song parodies mocking manager Harry Walker. Closer to the present day, Terry Collins famously lost the Angels clubhouse in 1999, leading to his resignation from that team.
That a group of 25 players can sometimes clash with the man placed over them shouldn't be news to anyone who has ever held a job. Sometimes a boss just doesn't fit well with his charges, and his skill set doesn't apply to his present circumstances. For Mack and McGraw, they were co-owners of their club so it was the players who changed rather than the manager. That may be what ultimately happens in Boston, where management has expressed confidence in Valentine. More often, though, it's the manager who needs to move on. In Brooklyn and Boston, Stengel found that platooning two bad players didn't make one good one, but in New York, platooning two good players made the good players better and the roster deeper. Joe Torre's amiability didn't help him make good decisions in three stops prior to the Yankees, but made him the perfect foil for George Steinbrenner in an organization where the owner needed more management than the roster.
Valentine is a brash manager with a strong personality who joined the Red Sox with far more than the minimum three strikes against him: he hadn't managed in the majors in ten years, which increases skepticism and increases the chances of alienation from fast-evolving clubhouse and strategic cultures; at 62 he is old for his job -- despite many famous geriatric managers over the years, most succeed earlier in their careers, not later, when the generation gap between they and their charges is narrow; he is an intense, critical type taking over for a player's manager; he inherited a set-in-their-ways roster of veterans; and finally, he joined a successful organization, one with two championships in recent memory and a postseason appearance as recently as 2009. Why adopt someone else's methods when your own, however problematic they have become recently, have proved successful? Winning has reassured you even of the validity of your own vices.
The Red Sox have had enough injuries this year that any manager would have been thwarted, and the pitching staff might have been doomed even if the lot had remained healthy. Winning cures many ills, although many of the managers listed here were confirmed winners in other times and places -- bad chemistry will not be mollified by a few victories. It's likely that, given the totality of circumstances, no manager could have succeeded in appeasing the Red Sox players this year. In short, everybody's gotta be someplace, but it's possible that no one should have been in Boston.