BOSTON — Sixty-one days after Terry Francona’s reign as Boston Red Sox manager came to an unsavory end, Bobby Valentine rode into town as the 45th manager in franchise history.

Just who are the Red Sox getting in Valentine?

“I think it’s a perfect hire. He’s exactly what they need,” said Tom Grieve, who was the first general manager to hire Valentine as a manager back in 1985 with the Rangers. “I applaud them for having the courage to hire him.”

Courage generally isn’t viewed as a trait that goes into a managerial hire. But then again, Valentine comes to the Red Sox with enough baggage to stretch from Boston to his last managerial stop in Japan. He’s polarizing. He spars with players, with brass and with the media. He’s candid to a fault, and opponents love nothing more than beating his team.

But several players who have played for Valentine spoke glowingly about him.

“You talk about Mr. Baseball. He is Mr. Baseball,” said former Red Sox Benny Agbayani, who played parts of nine seasons under Valentine with the Mets and with the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan. “He has a love and passion for this game. He studies this game.”

“I’m thankful that I did get a chance to play for him,” said Brian Sikorski, who suited up for Valentine’s Marines in 2008 and 2009. “He has a lot of baseball knowledge. It’s always great to play for a manager like that.”

One thing everyone can agree on is that Valentine will do the seemingly impossible by bringing even more intrigue to baseball in Boston. Most every analysis of his hiring has concluded with a coy acknowledgement that, at the very least, he won’t be dull. Valentine has never shied away from the spotlight — many would accuse him of seeking it out — and he doesn’t mind using the media to send messages to his players.

During his managerial career, Valentine’s style, depending on your perspective or the day of the week, has vacillated between utter chaos and complete harmony. It has worked more often than not, with a record just above .500 and one National League pennant to show for it.

“He’s a pretty straightforward man. If you screwed up, he would let you know,” Agbayani said. “Some players, they didn’t like that. Some players did. They just came to play.”

Grieve thinks Valentine’s reputation as a manipulator within the clubhouse and an organization is unearned.

“I know that that’s (his reputation), but a lot of the reasons that I see for it, when people get to know him, they’ll find out that those reasons aren’t really valid,” said Grieve. “…. To me, he’s the ultimate team player.”

Grieve and others considered Valentine’s in-game acumen and attention to detail as his strengths as a manager. Joe McEwing, currently the third-base coach for the Chicago White Sox, attributed much of what he learned as a coach to his playing years with Valentine.

“He doesn’t miss a thing. He’s a stickler to detail,” said McEwing. “Once that game starts, he’s always thinking three or four innings ahead. He’s very well-prepared on and off the field. I definitely enjoyed playing for him and learned a lot from him.”

Grieve had effusive praise for a man he once had to fire in Texas.

“He knows the game better like nobody I’ve ever met in the game,” said Grieve, now a television analyst for the Rangers. “There will be no one in the Red Sox organization that works harder than he does; there will be no one in the organization that wants to win more than he does.”

Valentine has long been able to draw the best out of players like Agbayani, McEwing and Sikorski. He gave Agbayani a shot to be an everyday player on a team that eventually went to the World Series. He maximized McEwing’s versatility as a super-utility player. He started using the right-handed Sikorski against lefties, and even taught him the one-seam changeup that helped him succeed in that role.

Agbayani, for one, thinks Valentine will play well in the Red Sox clubhouse, as a veteran manager accustomed to overseeing veteran players.

“One thing he carries with himself is discipline. He knows how to push everybody’s buttons,” he said. “He’s always had veteran players. He knows how to deal with them.”

And so Valentine rides into town with a complex history and to an already complex reception. Two full months without a manager tends to get the fan base on edge. Even now, though, the Red Sox and all of New England don’t know exactly who they’re getting as a manager. It seems that only one thing is clear.

At the very least, Bobby Valentine won’t be dull.

 


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