February 2, 2012
BASEBALL/POLITICS: Newtie V
While I write a lot about baseball and politics, I generally try to avoid mixing the two. But once this analogy occurred to me, having lived through both of their tenures as a Mets fan and Republican in the 1990s, it was irresistible:
Bobby Valentine is the Newt Gingrich of baseball managers.
Think about it. Both are essentially relics of the 1990s who have spent a good deal of the past decade as TV pundits, and have had to overcome the initial instinct to laugh at the sudden re-emergence of a once-controversial figure so long out of power. Both are restlessly intelligent, talkative to a fault, energetic to the point of being a whirlwind of activity, devious (in the "what will he think of next?" sense of being constantly alert for ways to exploit opportunities and gaps in the rules), prone to conflict with peers and occasional mutinies among their subordinates, and often overly impressed with their own intelligence. Both have that odd Kermit the Frog lump-in-the-throat tone to their voices, yet are nonetheless compelling speakers. Both had their first go-round ended by George W. Bush, more directly in the case of Bobby V (who Bush fired, rather than just stepping into a power vacuum he left behind). Both have been mostly successful throughout their careers, yet are back pursuing the largest prize that has evaded them. Both need to overcome the creeping suspicion that they're better suited to being scrappy insurgents than frontrunners.
The parallels are not perfect, of course. Valentine lacks Newt's command of history and his ugly marital record; Newt lacks Valentine's family connections (as Ralph Branca's son in law) or his status as a former phenom felled by misfortune (in 1970, Valentine hit .340/.389/.522 as a 20 year old shortstop in the Pacific Coast League, winning his second straight league MVP award - 39 doubles, 16 triples, 14 homers, 29 steals - but was just getting his sea legs as a 23 year old in the majors when he suffered a gruesome leg injury). But once you think about it, the similarities are obvious.
Time will tell which of them ends up with more to show for their return to the arena.
Bobby V was also recruited by USC to be the back to replace OJ Simpson. Newt never killed any women but, as far as I know, is closer to OJ in the ladies department than Bobby V.
Color me a little less than excited for the impending Bobby V era. Going from easily the greatest Red Sox manager in my lifetime to somewhat of an ego-maniac and the occasional gasbag does not sound that compelling. We'll see but Bobby V has never impressed me from the outside looking in.
The biggest similarity to me is that they are both generally hated by many people who have worked closely with them. On the other hand, Bobby V. was a very successful Mets manager. Tremendously slow. If you see the roster he had to work with, and see just by how much he outmanaged Dusty Baker (which in retrospect was not a great feat), and got a fairly mediocre team to the playoffs and even the World Series, it's a pretty good job. I don't think Newt ever did his job that well.
Francona was a great manager Jim, and he's going to be hard to replace. I am not sure you will like Bobby after a couple of years (he will get angry with the press), but it will take someone with his ego and ability to pull it off (Leyland could do it, but he's already got a great job. Leyland is a GREAT manager).
I'll try to ignore the Newt comparisons because they defame Valentine.
I think he is what that clubhouse needs. He is a very smart baseball man who will be unafraid to get in the face of players not thinking team. I'll miss Tito and will forever be thankful for the two titles -- especially the first one -- but he really did seem spent at the end of the year. Luchino's treatment of him on the way out was despicable, but par for the course for him.
If Fox would finally put McCarver out to pasture and replacre him with Francona, we would all be better off.
I think this is a situation that could a) go horribly, horribly wrong b) go splendidly for the short term and deteriorate over time c) go marginally well and the turn into a dumpster fire. I'm okay with this if this is truly a short term (say 3 years) maneuver to groom, say, Jason Varitek to take over. I don't think there are tons of guys that can deal effectively with being the BoSox manager and all the BS that comes with the job. I think the last couple years really sapped Tito who is truly a great baseball man (and an enormously engaging color guy). Bobby V thru sheer will and massive ego should be okay if not in any way my first choice but the Leylands and Sciosias of the world are locked up. If this is a short term move I'm okay but the Sox front office is shaky right now, we have bad contracts and are doing strange things (like trading avery effective starting shortstop for a back end of an NL rotation guy) so I am nervous about what is going on and John Henry's state of mind.
I keep waiting for some qualified psychiatrist to point out what to me seems fairly probable. Newt, like me I think, is afflicted with Attention Deficicit Disorder, or ADD. Its now recognized that ADD and ADHD fall under the same umbrella diagnosis, but manifest themselves differently, as most middle school teachers and child psychologists could tell you. As it happens, ADHD is the more recognized condition and as has often been said has a tendency to be readily recognized and even overdiagnosed and treated in many cases. Fortunately, ADHD almost always disappears as kids leave the teenage years, thankfully. ADD, sans the hyperactivity, tends not to get noticed so much, and those afflicted with it can usually muddle through school, classified as underachievers due to our above average intelligence coupled with difficulties with procrastination, difficulty on maintaining focus and completing assignments, and a tendency to, well, be short on attention. ADD, unlike ADHD, does frequently continue on into adulthood. I don't want to detail all of the typical symptoms here, but suffice it to say that Newt, to me is an obvious candidate for the condition which most psychiatrists consider to be consideraby underdiagnosed particularly in adults. I'm curious if Newt has been diagnosed as such or has gotten any help.