"My Funny Valentine" ceased to be funny to the rest of the American League East yesterday when the Boston Red Sox segued from the final dysfunctional season of unfocused manager Terry Francona to the brilliant baseball mind and firm hand of Bobby Valentine.
It was like replacing a 40-watt bulb with a halogen searchlight. Not that Francona didn't have some bright moments at the helm of the Red Sox, including their only two World Series titles since owner Harry Frazee decided the best way to launch a career as a Broadway theater mogul would be to sell Babe Ruth to the Yankees.
Francona lost his clubhouse last season and the fallout of a divided clubhouse almost always piles up between the white lines.
On a short list of the sharpest baseball minds I have encountered in 46 years, Bobby Valentine ranks near the top. And "sharp" encompasses much more than just running a ballgame and flipping the right switches. That's the easy part.
It extends to adroitly managing the hearts, minds and abilities of the 25 diverse, gifted, ethnically disparate and often difficult personalities on the other side of the office door.
That list, in no particular order, also includes Walter Alston and his polar opposite, Tommy Lasorda, Jim Leyland, Whitey Herzog, Davey Johnson, Danny Murtaugh and, yes, Charlie Manuel. Chaz might not have Gene Mauch's computer mind, but his detractors do not include the 25 guys in the big room.
Lasorda, for all his Verdi opera posturing and Dodger Blue hyperbola, had the knack of getting well-compensated, grown men to play like a college team for 162 games.
Valentine was a Pacific Coast League MVP for a Lasorda team that included Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes and Bill Russell. But he failed to excel as a Dodger and was traded to the Angels, where his career was severely compromised by a double compound leg fracture.
His fascinating managing resume includes being sacked by Rangers owner George W. Bush and back-to-back wild-card finishes with one pennant as skipper of the Mets. There was lots of controversy, on and off the field. After Texas, he managed the downtrodden Chiba Lotte Marines to a second-place finish in the Japan League.
Back in New York, there were those memorable seasons but the Mets fired him in 2002 in the wake of an ugly dispute with soon-to-be-fired-himself GM Steve Phillips. Ironically, Valentine replaced Phillips for a stint as an ESPN analyst. Valentine returned to Japan in 2004, and in 2005, the Lotte Marines won their first title since Emperor Hirohito was in short pants.
So, fasten your seat belts, New England. It's on with Bobby V. No more fried chicken and beer breaks in the seventh inning. Valentine is aesthetically a National League manager, so the running light will be on in Foldway . . . Sorry about that, Big Papi.
The usual suspects
Back in the day, the Phillies would add mostly younger players they wanted to look at to their list of nonroster spring-training invitees. Now, it looks more like an early roster for the annual March Oldtimers Game. The Phils announced an Ancient Eight yesterday. Many will wind up giving Lehigh Valley the kind of veteran stability that helped manager Ryne Sandberg make the International League playoff finals.
The average age of the Viejo Ocho that will report to Clearwater in February will be 32. The youngest is veteran minor league catcher Tuffy Gosewisch, 28. The oldest is 6-7 righthander Scott Elarton, 35.
Credence Clearwater Ballparks Revival
The Phillies have one of the best spring-training setups in major league baseball - a minor league complex with outstanding facilities next to state-of-the-art Bright House Field. The brilliant ballpark with the same basic footprint as The Bank, but with more sunshine, has played to more than 100 percent of capacity 2 straight years. Clearwater and the adjacent Gulf beaches are awash with Phillies fans throughout the entire month of March. They travel well and spend big.
In spring 2013, the Carpenter Complex and Bright House will be even better. City Council is expected to approve a $2.9 million upgrade of the $34 million ballpark it helped build with the Phillies and the state of Florida. The appropriation would go toward a 20,000-square-foot training center with six air-conditioned batting tunnels, a weight- and cardio-training gym, locker rooms, office space and a staging and video room. New batting tunnels also would be built beneath Bright House Field. Work would begin after spring training. Hurry. The lads really need those air-conditioned batting tunnels . . .
Trivia name game continues
Tough question last week: 11 U.S. presidents with no big-league players bearing their names were Polk, Fillmore, Arthur, McKinley, Roosevelt, Taft, Coolidge, Eisenhower, Truman, Reagan, Obama.
This week: Name an MLB player named after two presidents; an MLB player bearing the name of two rivers; an MLB player who carried the name of a nation and a beer; an MLB player answering to the names of two lakes.
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