The Boston Red Sox‘s eventful off-season got even more interesting this week with the hiring of Bobby Valentine as the new team manager.
Valentine, 61, will be introduced by the team this afternoon, December 1, at a Fenway Park press conference. He previously had managed in Japan and worked as an ESPN analyst after being fired as New York Mets manager in 2002.
The courtship and marriage of the sometimes-controversial, always-opinionated Valentine and the talented but recently underperforming Red Sox has created a buzz throughout baseball. Their pairing continues what has been a tumultuous two months for the franchise.
Valentine must try to win over the rabid fan base known as Red Sox Nation that watched the team blow a nine-game Wild Card lead and miss the postseason for a second consecutive year.
The collapse led to the departures of manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein, who left to become team president of the Chicago Cubs. The two were key figures in bringing the first world championship to the Red Sox in 86 years in 2004 followed by another title in 2007.
However, the front office shake-up came amid revelations of players drinking beer during games and a lack of leadership in an unruly clubhouse.
The September freefall and subsequent fallout led the team to lose favor with some fans. Ownership no doubt hopes the high-profile hiring will have an impact at the turnstiles in 2012, when Fenway celebrates its 100th anniversary. The team aims to continue its record sellout streak at the historic ballpark.
“I think it’ll be good for the team. It needs some personality and experience after the debacle of last season,” said Jim Holzman, owner of Ace Ticket in Boston, a broker that has a partnership with the team. “I think he’ll help sell some tickets. He’ll get fans excited about the upcoming year. From a marketing standpoint, the team can say, ‘Every day is Valentine’s day.'”
In contrast to the low-key Francona, Valentine is no stranger to controversy.
The brash, former Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder clashed with Mets players and management in New York from 1996-2002. He was fined and suspended after famously returning to the dugout in a disguise following his ejection from a game.
The man known as “Bobby V” helped guide the Mets to playoff appearances as a Wild-Card team in 1999 and in 2000, when they lost the World Series to the New York Yankees in five games. He won a championship in Japan in 2005.
Still, detractors point out that his eight years as manager of the Texas Rangers and seven with the Mets never yielded a first-place finish.
His hiring in Boston doesn’t come without contention. Reportedly, Valentine wasn’t on new Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington’s list of candidates. He is seen by some observers as the choice of team president and CEO Larry Lucchino and an example of Lucchino undermining his new GM in what became a drawn-out search process.
Sox owners John Henry, Tom Werner and Lucchino hope an experienced, attention-getting voice in the clubhouse will help continue the team’s success at the gate.
The Red Sox announced last month that they would not raise ticket prices in 2012. Fenway, Major League Baseball’s oldest ballpark, also has its smallest maximum seating capacity at 39,067.
For years the team has had the highest average ticket price in baseball ($53.38 in 2011), and Fenway also ranked first last season in Fan Cost Index at $339.01, according to Team Marketing Report. The index computes the cost of attending a game for a family of four.
Despite the high prices, the Sox’s April 13 Opening Day game against the Tampa Bay Rays will mark the 712th consecutive sellout at Fenway, a major league record.