SALEM — The day after lightning-rod Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine was fired after a miserable 2012 season, he held an impromptu press conference on the street, wearing a bicycle helmet just before an afternoon ride.
A month later, the setting was a little more formal at Salem State University, in front of about 1,400 people during the school’s annual speaker series at the O’Keefe Center last night.
A dapper Valentine, seated across from legendary baseball writer and television analyst Peter Gammons, answered Gammon’s queries with his usual snarky wit and often rambling opuses, touching on the 2012 Red Sox; his days managing in Japan, Texas and New York; and even his philosophies on life and hitting. He was animated and engaging, if not always on topic.
“I don’t know how I got on that tangent,” he said after breaking down what a hitter’s mind must process in the 0.4 seconds it takes a baseball to travel from the pitcher’s hand to home plate.
Valentine actually seemed to enjoy himself, a rarity during the contentious season just concluded in Boston — and seemed genuinely disappointed when it was time to leave.
“I didn’t have much of a chance to rattle on like this during the season,” he said, in spite of the roughly 400 press conferences a Red Sox manager is subjected to in an average season. “They (management) wanted a tamer, quieter Bobby V, and it didn’t suit me very well. I like talking.”
One thing Valentine didn’t talk about much is what he’s up to a month after his firing and what the future holds.
In a press conference before the event, a Salem News reporter asked if he still has the passion to manage, or if his mug might end up back on ESPN, where he worked as a television analyst.
“Whatever opportunity knocks, I’ll listen,” he said. “I know I’m going to be happy. I have a passion for happiness.”
Asked for specifics, he said there are lots of specific offers, but none he’s divulging.
“If I were a civilian, I’d say it’s none of your business, but I won’t say that,” he said.
Gammons opened up the dialogue by asking Valentine about his failed Red Sox tenure and what he might have done differently in retrospect. Valentine isn’t one to reflect.
“The page has turned, and I move on. I wake up in the morning and think, ‘This is going to be the best day of my life.’ That’s what I did this morning, and that’s what I’ll do tomorrow,” he said to applause. “Things didn’t work out the way I wanted them to, or the way you wanted them to. But every day I gave the best damn effort I could and I did everything I could.”
Print, television and radio media hounded Valentine last year, and the skipper was all too willing to oblige them with ill-timed quips to reporters, unconventional in-game decisions and bizarre outbursts — like the time he only half-jokingly told a radio host, “If I were there right now, I’d punch you in the mouth.”
That Valentine wasn’t able to pick his own coaches when he started was also an often-discussed talk radio topic.
“When you pick your coaches, make sure they speak your language,” Valentine said were words of advice he once received. “The coaches (on the Red Sox) had their own ways. Hitting coach Dave Magadan didn’t like having me around the batting cage because we spoke different languages.”
Valentine also took veiled swipes at Red Sox brass, saying attitude should filter down from the top, but not every scrap of information, implying that very well could have led to much of the contention and controversy last year.
“Not everyone needs to know everything,” he said, adding that he was baffled by some of the players complaining that he didn’t fill out his lineup card early enough in the day. “The culture here in Boston is people feel like they have to know everything — they don’t. ... Is four hours enough time to mentally and physically prepare to play? I think it is.”
The problems on the Red Sox, however, came down to basics.
“We didn’t hit well, we didn’t pitch well, folks,” he said. “I never saw leads evaporate like they evaporated.”
The Sox finished the season in last place in the American League East with a 69-93, their worst record since 1965. Last month, the Red Sox hired their former pitching coach John Farrell to replace Valentine.
“John Farrell, I wish him the best. Everyone tells me he’s a pretty good guy, that he gets along with the media and the owners,” Valentine said, waiting several beats before adding, “That’s a pretty good start.”
Picking on the Sox notorious computer program, dubbed Carmine, which the brass use to analyze players, Valentine said he brought it down to the dugout during a crucial point in the season to take advantage of her sage advice.
“I asked her probably six times, ‘What do you think should happen now?’ he said. “All six times, it said, ‘Fire the manager.’”
Valentine ended the evening by repeating a message he said he told the players after the last game of the disappointing season.
“That group of guys should never as individuals or collectively be defined by their record as a team,” he said, praising the efforts each player gave during the season.
He then lamented that he could never get across to that collection of players what he called the three ‘R’s’: responsibility, respect and reality.
“I’m hoping this group will get that next year,” he said, turning that lesson to society as a whole. “The only way we can co-exist with each other is if we deal with those three R’s.”