The Red Sox are down to just two candidates in their search for a new manager. How do the two stack up, and can we please get some more options?
From a pool of five men, the Red Sox are down to just two in their hunt for a manager-one of which wasn't even mentioned in the initial bunch. First, there's Bobby Valentine, the controversial ESPN analyst and former manager of the Mets and Rangers whose name has brought new levels of enthusiasm from some, and complete terror from others. His competition is Gene Lamont, former skipper of the Pirates and White Sox who took home Manager of the Year honors in 1993. Originally brought in as an experienced foil to the otherwise fresh candidate list, it seems that Lamont convinced Ben Cherington and the Red Sox of the worth of a history in management.
Now can he convince them that his experience is more desirable than Bobby Valentine's? Let's take a look at the two managers' history:
In 15 years with the Rangers and Mets, Bobby Valentine is a combined 1117-1072.
In eight years with the White Sox and Pirates, Gene Lamont is 553-562.
That, of course, does not tell the whole story. A manager does not have a major impact on most teams, after all, compared to the actual players on the team. Bobby Valentine's Rangers were turned around by the revamping of the rotation and the addition of Scott Fletcher at shortstop. His Mets were aided by the arrival of players like John Olerud and Rick Reed. Gene Lamont, on the other hand, inherited a successful team with the White Sox before having it turned upside-down by the '94 strike. His stint with the Pirates...
Well, they're the Pirates.
So instead of looking at the total picture, let's look at what little we can see off the manager's strategy.
The most obvious bit of strategy employed by managers that can hurt a team is the bunt. It's been known for many years that a bunt is only a good choice in the most specific of situations. With Bobby Valentine we see that his teams were very middle-of-the-road in that regard with respect to their leagues. On the one hand, he should get some credit for having so many of his bunts with the Mets come from the offensively inept Rey Ordonez. On the other hand, that he used Scott Fletcher-one of his best on-base threats-so often is a knock against him.
Gene Lamont, on the other hand, takes a big hit from his record with the White Sox. Ranked second to the Red Sox (who weren't exactly on top of the world at the time), Lamont bunted regularly, with some very decent hitters like Ray Durham. While his record with Pittsburgh is more middle-of-the-road, it's hard to overlook what we see in Chicago.
Then there's stealing. Under Terry Francona, the Red Sox were a very conservative team on the basepaths, leading to low steal totals but a solid success rate of 75%. That's well over the threshold needed to make things worthwhile for the team.
Bobby Valentine's Rangers, on the other had, come out on the wrong side of the break even point at 65%. Notably, players like Jerry Browne, Pete Incaviglia, and Scott Fletcher were allowed to run relatively free despite racking up nearly as many outs as successful swipes-hardly a recipe for success. His record with the Mets is even worse, with all sorts of players who had no business straying off the bag being caught and throw out in nearly equal amounts.
Here Gene Lamont grades out much better. His teams are both well over the line and even approach Francona's numbers, with an absence of players trying 50 times with 30 successes-the real danger sign of a team being allowed to run freely when it should not. Of course, there's more to in-game strategy than just bunting and stealing, but things like bullpen management are hard to judge without having been there ourselves, actually watching the games.
So where does that leave us? Frankly, with two mediocre options. We've got free-running Bobby Valentine vs. buntin' Gene Lamont. Neither really shines through as someone completely in tune with the way a modern club should be playing baseball, but let's move outside that box of in-game to the places where Bobby Valentine takes the biggest hit.
You see, Gene Lamont doesn't exactly stand out in a crowd. He was released after a poor start to the 1995 season and a typical Pirates year in 2000, but he wasn't ever really run out of town. He gets positive comments from his coworkers to this very day, and seems to be the sort of guy who could slip into the position without too much difficulty.
Then you've got Bobby Valentine, who Murry Chass (as much as I may hate to link to the man) just called the most disliked man in baseball. The perception is not one limited to Chass, or to the insiders of the baseball world, either, as Valentine has so alienated the baseball world with his time on ESPN broadcasts that the second word of his candidacy leaked, the internet lit up with a mix of fear and disgust unheard of for the initial five candidates.
There's also the matter of how Valentine has been shown the door. Both with the Mets and the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan, Valentine had a hugely contentious relationship with management. The general manager of the Marines sent him packing after one year due to personal differences, Steve Phillips wasn't terribly pleased with him in New York, and when he went back to the Marines not even a championship kept the club's president from chasing him away.
If that's not bad enough, there's the similarities between Bobby Valentine's last year with the Mets and Terry Francona's last year with the Red Sox, with each seemingly losing the clubhouse and failing to crack down on the worst vices of players.
Neither man seems like the ideal candidate, but it's hard to get past the idea that Bobby Valentine is some kind of disaster waiting to happen. After their 2011 collapse, complete with clubhouse issues, the 2012 Red Sox are a team in need of a firm hand, yes. But there's a difference between being firm and being volatile. Gene Lamont doesn't exactly make anyone excited, but at least he doesn't inspire terror.