BOSTON — For all of the highly entertaining tales of beer and fried chicken that have hit Red Sox Nation in the last two months, you could argue that, had Jonathan Papelbon simply converted a save on Sept. 28, we never would've been served this soap opera.
That the 2011 Red Sox, having come so close to making the playoffs before completing their historic collapse, needed simply to shake off the hurt and return to the baseball operations model that served them very well over the course of the prior nine seasons.
In hiring Bobby Valentine to be their new manager, however, the Red Sox have validated the panic crowd. They have lent credence, perhaps justifiably, to the notion that this team needed a major shakeup.
Because you don't hire Valentine, anyone in baseball would tell you, to maintain the status quo.
"I think that's a plus," Red Sox principal owner John Henry said Thursday, in response to this assertion, at the Fenway Park news conference to introduce Valentine. "I don't think people realize that Tito (Terry Francona, Valentine's predecessor) is a strong personality as well. . . . (Valentine) may be a little more hands-on in some of the fundamental aspects of the game. I think that'll be great."
Valentine may well be great in his first Major League Baseball managing gig since the Mets dismissed him after their 2002 nightmare. Count me among the pro-Valentine crowd. He's tireless, highly intelligent and open to new ideas.
Yet in hiring Valentine, and in the way they did so, the Red Sox created the impression of front-office instability and indecision. They attempted to clean up that mess Thursday; their explanations didn't pass the smell test.
Ben Cherington, the rookie general manager filling the large shoes of Theo Epstein (who took off for the Cubs), said, "That's just not true," when asked if his superiors pushed the Valentine hire on him. Then Larry Lucchino, the hands-on team president and CEO, admitted that he was the one who introduced Valentine's name into the managerial mix, when he arranged for a meeting between Valentine and Cherington in early November.
"From the outset, as Ben said, we wanted a battle-tested manager with significant experience," Lucchino said.
From the outset, however, here was the list of public candidates for the job: Sandy Alomar Jr., Gene Lamont, Torey Lovullo, Pete Mackanin and Dale Sveum. Of that group, only Lamont — the official runner-up — has been anything more than an interim manager.
Confronted with that, Lucchino responded, "I was giving my preference from the outset."
Valentine didn't emerge as a public candidate until after Cherington brought Lucchino, Henry and chairman Tom Werner to meet with Sveum in Milwaukee during the general managers' and owners' meetings in Milwaukee. Lucchino admitted the group didn't want Sveum, and shortly after that meeting, Valentine became a public candidate.
"We felt that, because of the position he was in at ESPN, the sort of public forum he had, and I guess knowing a little about my own style, that maybe it would take me a little longer, including him in a public way at that point might be difficult for everyone involved," Cherington said. "Then I got to know him better at that first meeting. That's when I started doing more work on it."
Sorry, but does that make any sense? Not to me.
Of course, Valentine and the Red Sox will ultimately be judged not on how they got here, but what they do from here. Will the Red Sox allow for Bobby V.'s occasional, inflammatory sound-bites? His public challenges of Red Sox players, in a manner that Francona never did? The private, intense debates?
They say they're up for it, after eight seasons in which Francona thrived on maintaining the peace. Valentine will test his superiors. If they pass that test? This venture could very well pay off.
Kev Davidoff is a columnist for McClatchy Wire Services