Few are Red Sox fans who forget the Bobby Valentine nightmare of 2012. Hired as the Red Sox manager following the September 2011 debacle, Valentine’s divide-and-conquer style toxified an injury-wracked, confidence-impaired team.
David Ortiz, publicly, anyway, was one of the few Red Sox who didn’t join up when others on or around the team questioned Valentine’s sanity. It turns out he had trouble away from the clubhouse and the field: his marriage was on the brink of divorce. It got as far as agreeing mutually on dividing their assets—Ortiz praises his wife for being gracious despite her attorney’s pushing her to exploit his celebrity (she wouldn’t)—and Ortiz struggled with how he would remain a present father to his children.
Barely a month after Valentine was executed at last, however, he threw Ortiz under the proverbial bus. In an interview with Bob Costas, Valentine used every word he could think of otherwise to call Ortiz a quitter:
David Ortiz came back after spending about six weeks on the disabled list and we thought it was only going to be a week. He got two hits the first two times up, drove in a couple runs; we were off to the races. Then he realized that the trade [the 25 August 2012 trade sending Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers] meant that we’re not going to run this race and we’re not even going to finish the race properly and he decided not to play anymore. I think at that time it was all downhill from there.
Everyone in baseball who still had eyes to see knew that, in the game Valentine referenced, Ortiz returned to the lineup a little earlier than he probably should have (he says he was about 60 percent recovered but anxious to play again) , and felt the Achilles tendon that disabled him in the first place acting up enough to be alarmed. Enough that he was advised medically to shut his season down.
Ortiz may have been the single most popular man in a Red Sox uniform until his retirement after last season, but even he has his limits so far as public humiliation is concerned. Having held himself back far enough since Valentine’s execution, Big Papi has struck back in his memoir, excerpted in Sports Illustrated:
Everyone I knew was unimpressed with Valentine, the new manager of the Red Sox. He was hired in late November 2011, and the negative reaction from my baseball friends was instant. There were the sarcastic “good luck” messages. There were ominous warnings to get ready. Some even suggested that, at 36 years old, I probably wanted to retire rather than play for someone like him.
I’m a person who has been able to get along with a range of personalities, pretty much everybody, so I tried to block out all the information I had. I tried not to think about the fact that the Red Sox never asked my opinion on players they were thinking about signing or managers they wanted to hire. I found out on the news, just like everyone else, that Valentine was our new manager. I did some research and learned that there was basically one person in the organization, team president Larry Lucchino, who really wanted to hire Valentine. That was it. One person. Still, I had to perform regardless of who was managing. How bad could Bobby V really be?
The drama began almost immediately in spring training. I remember fighting the thought, very early, We’re going to have an absolutely terrible year.
Ortiz runs down several of the incidents that indicated playing for Valentine on the 2012 Red Sox was tantamount to serving under the King of Hearts, lacking only the outright cries of “Off with their heads”:
* Valentine’s fury when infielder Mike Aviles, acting out of a habit practically every infielder in baseball might have, hollered, “I got it!” and made the play. (Bobby snapped. It was unlike anything I had ever seen in the majors. He went off on Aviles, cussing and verbally tearing him down in front of everyone. If it had been me, I would have gone up to him, right in front of the fans and dropped a punch.)
* After that and other incidents in spring training left enough Red Sox players believing the new boss was clueless, the Red Sox were swept by the Tigers to open the season. On the team flight after the final game, several players approached Ortiz: They were pissed. They said, “We want that mother—— fired before the airplane lands.” Ortiz demurred for the time being: I felt it was way too early in the season for that kind of takeover. He was aggravating as hell, arrogant and disrespectful, but I felt that we needed to try our best to support him.
* The Kevin Youkilis incident isn’t in the excerpt, but Valentine questioning the veteran’s heart along with his health only exacerbated the toxins in the Red Sox clubhouse further.
* By July, Ortiz was disabled and the Red Sox, as the old black humour song was titled, found themselves living in a place where the nuts hunted the squirrels: My teammates fought on without me on the field and fought against Bobby off it. There was a meeting with ownership in New York to get him fired. He was terrible, and everyone knew it. Even the owners. But we were told that no changes would be made until the end of the year.
That was the meeting several Red Sox demanded 26 July 2012, in the wake of Valentine leaving Jon Lester in to take a frightful, early, eleven-run beating from the Blue Jays, on a day he didn’t have his best stuff. The call for the meeting was said to have been sent from Adrian Gonzalez’s cell phone.* Second baseman Dustin Pedroia gave a half-hearted vote of confidence to the skipper while denying he’d ripped Valentine during the sit-down.
But Pedroia had also been the first Red Sox to demur over the Youkilis rip. “That’s not the way we take care of business around here,” he said then. With the foregoing and such other incidents as taking player confidences into the press without first telling the players in question, Valentine made Pedroia look like a liar.
* When Valentine ripped him as a quitter in all but name to Costas, Ortiz writes, he was stunned:
I watched the whole thing and was shocked when I saw him tell Costas that I had quit on him and the Red Sox. All season long I was the one who had defended him, who had tried to have his back, even when it was an unpopular stance to take as far as my teammates were concerned. But it was the right thing to do, and now he had the balls to go on national TV and suggest that I quit?
Days later, he tried to call me and apologize. I didn’t want to hear it. We had already made a trade with Toronto to bring back John Farrell to be our new manager. I knew him, kind of. Farrell had been our pitching coach when we won the World Series in 2007. When we traded for him, no one called or texted to say “good luck.” I figured we were in good hands.
“Good hands” is a polite way to put it. Farrell only calmed the troubled Red Sox waters—it sure didn’t hurt when Ortiz, addressing a city battered by the Boston Marathon bombing, hollered, “This is our f@cking city! And nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong”—and led them all the way to the 2013 World Series triumph.
Asked about Ortiz’s written comments on CBS’s Tiki and Tierney radio show, Valentine quipped, “Well, I wish he told me three weeks into the season instead of hugging me all the time when he saw me. Yeah, that was a weird situation. I don’t know how it could have been about me in spring training, but I’ve heard a lot of those general comments. But whatever. I hope he sells a lot of books. I hope I help him sell some.”
Valentine is still clueless. Ortiz barely needs him to help sell books. And overcoming the Valentine nightmare was nothing compared to Ortiz re-conquering his wife: after the Red Sox won the ’13 Series, with Big Papi winning the Series MVP, Tiffany Ortiz “told me something that I would never forget.”
She said, “As clutch as you were on the field, you did that and more to win me back and put our family back together.” Let me tell you, it was a miracle. I had been separated from my wife for a year, and I was an autograph away from being divorced. And it didn’t happen. That’s not how those stories usually end.
There are times when the good guys finish first, in more ways than one.
* The call turned out to have gone through Gonzalez’s cell phone—but may have been written in part and sent by backup catcher Kelly Shoppach. Gonzalez apparently agreed to let his phone be used because he’d tired of the grumblings. Shoppach would only tell Yahoo! Sports’s Jeff Passan, “Let me be very careful. I think, and maybe this is as far as I’ll go with it, too, there is a disconnect in communication between the players through the upper management.”
Shortly after the meeting, Shoppach—who’d been betrayed earlier that season when his private complaint to Valentine about lack of playing time was made public by Valentine without him knowing it would happen—was unloaded to the Mets.