Les Miserables of Boston baseball are back from what was by any measure a disastrous nine-game West Coast trip — one on which they made more noise on the radio than they did with their bats. They open up a three-game set against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park on Friday.
It’s entirely possible that by the conclusion of the series the Sox will be inhabiting the basement of the American League East. But that won’t be the low-water mark of this September. Nope, that came Wednesday afternoon, when manager Bobby Valentine took to the radio airwaves and took on his critics — and WEEI cohosts Glenn Ordway and Michael Holley — in a bizarre and epic philippic that included fighting words, literally.
The cringe-inducing interview, which included Valentine calling his first season managing the Red Sox “miserable,” was most notable for him responding to Ordway’s question about whether he was punching the clock with the same dedication these days by sardonically offering that he should punch Ordway in the face. It was the type of pluck and fight you wish Valentine had instilled in his team, losers of eight of their last nine and 13 of 17.
The road trip to nowhere and the contentious radio interview proved that Valentine and the Red Sox are bringing out the worst in each other now. The sooner they end their mutually destructive relationship, the better. The longer this goes, the more awkward and unbecoming it becomes for all involved. Riding out the final 24 games isn’t proving anything except that both sides are willing to spite themselves to spite (in Larry Lucchino’s words) the “cynical, jaded media.”
Both management and the manager are displaying Josh Beckett-like obstinacy in not simply severing ties. Valentine is too proud to quit. The Sox don’t want to backtrack on their public edict that Valentine will finish 2013, so we get a team running on a treadmill of dysfunction.
This is not the type of environment in which the Red Sox want to rear youngsters Ryan Lavarnway, Ryan Kalish, and Jose Iglesias. It’s not a flattering picture of the organization for prospective free agents and 2013 managerial candidates. (It would be the sports equivalent of “Dewey Defeats Truman” for Valentine to return next season.)
Meanwhile, Valentine is merely providing fodder for the naysayers who said his self-aggrandizing personality in Boston would lead to self-combustion. A talented strategist, he waited 10 years to return to major league baseball as a manager. Outbursts like Wednesday’s make it less likely that another team will overlook the chaos of the Red Sox and give him another shot.
The blame for this Red Sox season doesn’t fall on Valentine. His missteps with players and distrust of his coaching staff are not among the team’s primary problems. As owner John Henry told Sports Illustrated for this week’s cover story dissecting the Sox’ demise, “What appeared to be an outlier month in September 2011 turned out to be a harbinger instead.”
Connie Mack and Casey Stengel couldn’t have managed the Sox to the playoffs this year, not with the injuries they’ve suffered, the malcontents they’ve harbored, the mutiny they’ve fostered, and the pitching they’ve lacked.
But Valentine was the Missouri Compromise of managers — an ill-advised, short-term solution to a deep-rooted problem that was doomed to fail from the outset.
It was on Aug. 6 that Henry issued his e-mail missive in support of Valentine. That night, the Sox defeated the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park, 9-2. That will go down as the last day this season the Sox were at sea level (55-55). Since then, the Sox are 8-20. Every Sox fan knows that is painfully close to the 7-20 stretch during last September’s suds-up and studs-up ruination.
No one expected the Red Sox to play .600 baseball after The Trade on Aug. 25 and David Ortiz’s return to the disabled list two days later. However, a team of middle-class veterans, hungry young talents, and scrappy wannabes, mixed with a few stars, was supposed to be exactly the type of team Valentine would be able to get the most out of.
Instead, it seems they’ve taken the most out of him, with Valentine answering questions in Oakland with the insouciance of a teenager taken on a family vacation against his or her will (”Who cares?” “What difference does it make?”).
Kudos to Valentine for defending his work ethic and his integrity, even if his recounting to the Boston media contingent in Seattle of how many days off he has had since he took the job echoed Beckett’s infamous retort about getting only 18 off days a year. His point was that effort wasn’t his issue.
Valentine had a right to defend himself if he felt the portrayal of his later-than-usual arrival for a game last week in Oakland was unfair or incomplete, especially because it involved his son.
But he did himself no favors in his pregame presser Wednesday, when he explained some of his nebulous answers to questions about why Scott Podsednik was batting third and how the season has made him feel by placing the blame on the media for not asking follow-up questions, opining, “I don’t think everyone in the room is smart enough to figure out what I mean, and that’s not my fault.”
If you leave answers open to interpretation, then you can’t complain when the interpretation was not the one you intended.
It’s hard to say that Valentine has gotten a fair shake here. But we’re beyond the point of whether that matters or not. In his words, “What difference does it make?”
All that matters is that the radio rantings were yet another sign that the marriage of manager and team has become a dead-end relationship.
The Sox and Valentine have proven that misery does indeed love company.Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.