Red Sox, Bobby Valentine look like fit

BOSTON -- Let's get the disclaimer out of the way. Bobby Valentine and I both work for ESPN. As the analyst on "Sunday Night Baseball," his job is a little more high-profile than mine.
Shoot, he might even have to take a pay cut to manage the Boston Red Sox.

So the perception of a conflict of interest is unavoidable. I understand. I'm kind of used to it. Came up once or twice when I worked at The Boston Globe, whose parent company owned 17 percent of the Sox at the time.

But that said, it was hard not to get the impression late Monday afternoon at the Fens, while Valentine was addressing the media, that we were looking at the next manager of the Red Sox.
Relaxed, confident, charming, low-key, soft-spoken, funny, smart, passionate. The 61-year-old Valentine has few equals at handling this part of the business.

It doesn't even matter, Valentine said, if he represents Plan B to the Red Sox, after the Dale Sveum courtship that ended with no offer.

"You know, if I was Plan B and I got this job, I would feel like it was Christmas and I was Plan A," Valentine said. "Luckiest guy in the world."

"I don't know about it," he said in reference to the Sveum business. "You know, it'd be cool. It's really kind of cool I'm sitting here, [even] if it goes no further."

There remains a possibility that this is as far as it goes. Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington winnowed the list of candidates a little further Monday, saying he had informed Sandy Alomar Jr. that he was out. The lack of dugout experience for Alomar, who has been a base coach but was just promoted to bench coach by the Cleveland Indians, was a factor, Cherington said.

That leaves two other candidates besides Valentine: Gene Lamont, who turns 65 on Christmas Day and has had two tours as a big league manager but none since 2000. Cherington said Monday that Lamont will be here in the "next day or two" to meet with owners.The other is Torey Lovullo, who has never managed in the big leagues and so far has not been invited for a return visit. Lovullo would seemingly be a bigger risk than Sveum, to whom, Cherington insisted Monday, the Red Sox were not going to be pressured into making an offer just because the Cubs did.

That's his story and he's sticking to it.

The story on Valentine's wooing by the Red Sox begins, as everyone expected, with Larry Lucchino, who asked that Valentine show up early in Hartford, Conn., for a panel discussion Nov. 3 in which both men were scheduled to participate. Lucchino had Cherington in tow for the meeting. If Cherington was blown away, he had a funny way of showing it. No formal interview was scheduled until this week, well after everyone on the public list had passed through and Sveum got his callback.

Even Valentine admitted he thought he wasn't a prime target.

"I didn't get a phone call for a few days," he said. "That made a situation that I was really happy that I only had told my wife I had talked to Ben and didn't have to explain to people why I wasn't getting a phone call."

But now we know, because Cherington said so, that even before his interview here Monday, Valentine had met with all three Red Sox owners in the interim, and thus won't need to be vetted a la Sveum before the Sox offer him the position, if it comes to that.

Even if Cherington was aware of it, it certainly looks as if the owners were hedging their bets by keeping the Valentine option open.

But will they pull the trigger? The safer course is to opt for a Lamont/Lovullo pairing, with the idea that the low-key, steady Lamont won't mess up a team built to win, while Lovullo will be groomed to take over in a couple of years.

Valentine? No one disputes the intelligence, the baseball acumen, the commitment, the depth of experience, the showmanship. Sabermetrics? Valentine was 35 and managing the Texas Rangers when he proclaimed himself a disciple of Bill James, and even back then worked with one of the first stats analysts, a guy by the name of Craig Wright.

The doubt seeps in when the clock is turned back to 2002, when the Mets, only two seasons removed from Valentine taking them to the World Series and only a year removed from one of Valentine's finest hours -- when he took a lead role in offering succor to a city devastated by 9/11 -- fell apart in a collapse that ultimately led to Valentine's firing.

There were stories of misbehaving players smoking pot, a night when a tearful Valentine claimed someone in the front office was spreading the story that he was trying to get himself fired, and a team that seemingly quit on its manager, tumbling to last place.

Sound familiar? Valentine said nothing was as bad as what the Sox experienced in September, which he called "a perfect storm of craziness."

OK, maybe not. But 2002 was close enough. But just as Terry Francona took a disproportionate amount of the blame for the Sox collapse, so too did Valentine. The man who orchestrated his dismissal, Steve Phillips, was axed himself the following June.

Valentine, meanwhile, eventually landed in Japan and took a perpetual loser, the Chiba Lotte Marines, to its first Japan Series title in 31 years. He became a national hero in Japan, where a beer was even named after him. (Don't get any ideas, Sox pitchers.)

Now, after spending the last three seasons as a broadcaster, Valentine is on the verge of one helluva last hurrah as a manager. He spent the better part of Monday's interview process trying to persuade Cherington and his staff that not only is he the leader they need, but also the team player the club so desperately wants.

Skeptics abound, but will the Red Sox buy it? For a team looking to clean up its image, with Bobby V there would be little doubt about who's in charge.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.