When Terry Francona left the Boston Red Sox, he said they needed “a new voice” in the manager’s office.
They’ve certainly chosen a brash one.
Two months after a record collapse kept them out of the playoffs, the Red Sox picked Bobby Valentine to be their next manager. The sides were working to complete a contract, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press on Tuesday night.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcement had been made. Several media outlets in Boston, citing anonymous sources, reported earlier in the evening that Valentine would be the team’s new manager.
An announcement could come by Thursday.
“He’s got it. I just spoke to him a little while ago,” Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda, who managed Valentine in the minors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, said in a telephone interview with the AP.
Blunt, cocky and sometimes controversial, Valentine is quite a departure from Francona, a player’s manager who rarely went public with criticism of players or internal team problems.
As manager of the New York Mets from 1996-2002, Valentine clashed with general manager Steve Phillips. In April 2000, he criticized the team’s front office and some players, including Bobby Bonilla and Rickey Henderson, while speaking to students at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.
And famously, after being ejected from a game in 1999, he returned to the dugout wearing a fake mustache and sunglasses. Major League Baseball fined him $5,000 and suspended him for three games.
More recently, the 61-year-old Valentine has been working as an analyst for ESPN, where he has commented on several Red Sox players, saying pitcher Josh Beckett should work faster and left fielder Carl Crawford should close his stance.
Valentine’s style can be abrasive, sure, but few question his baseball acumen. He guided the Mets to consecutive playoff appearances, culminating in a trip to the 2000 World Series, where they lost to the New York Yankees. He went to Japan and managed the Chiba Lotte Marines to a championship in 2005.
“He’s matured, and I think managing in Japan helped him a great deal,” Lasorda said. “Becoming the manager of the Red Sox, that’s a privilege and an honor, and I’m sure he’s going to do a great job.”
Valentine also managed the Texas Rangers from 1985-92. His last big league managerial job was with the Mets, and he managed in Japan from 2004-09.
He was in Japan this week and said he was about to take off on a flight when he sent the AP a text message at 9:48 p.m. Tuesday saying he had no comment on “the Red Sox situation.”
The manager’s job has been vacant since Francona parted ways with the Red Sox on Sept. 30, saying he wasn’t getting through to the players. The team didn’t pick up his option for 2012.
That ended an eight-year run in which Francona led the Red Sox to World Series titles in 2004 and 2007.
They led the AL East for much of last summer but went 7-20 in September, wasting a nine-game lead in the wild-card race and finishing out of the playoffs for the second straight year, one game behind Tampa Bay.
That was followed by reports of starting pitchers drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games in which they weren’t scheduled to pitch instead of staying on the bench to support their teammates.
“I trusted them explicitly and things weren’t getting done the way I wanted it in the end,” Francona said at the news conference where his departure was announced, “and I was frustrated because of that. If that’s letting me down, maybe it is.”
With a fresh, forceful voice at the helm, maybe the players will become better listeners.
Valentine interviewed on Nov. 21 with general manager Ben Cherington and other members of Red Sox management.
Asked at a news conference that day about his philosophy of discipline, Valentine said, “Discipline is not 30 whacks with a whip these days. But I think everyone likes discipline. I think everyone likes structure. Everyone likes to be acknowledged when they do things properly. Discipline and rules and things like that — it’s just about right and wrong.”
Not since Kevin Kennedy left as manager after the 1996 season have the Red Sox had a manager who seems to enjoy the spotlight as much as Valentine. Jimy Williams, Joe Kerrigan and Grady Little followed Kennedy and preceded Francona.
A native of Connecticut and a former roommate of Bill Buckner’s, Valentine wasn’t on the Red Sox original five-man list of candidates. That group included Gene Lamont, Dale Sveum, Torey Lovullo, Pete Mackanin and Sandy Alomar Jr., all major league coaches.
Sveum was hired as manager of the Chicago Cubs by former Boston GM Theo Epstein.
Lamont was the only one in that bunch who had managed extensively in the majors, and the Red Sox expanded their search to include Valentine.
On Nov. 3, he and Red Sox president and part owner Larry Lucchino took part in Hartford in a program put on by the World Affairs Council on the global rise in the popularity of baseball.
At the time, both said they hadn’t discussed the job with each other.
“He’s a great man and a great manager and he has a colorful and successful history, so his name inevitably comes up in this day and age,” Lucchino said then.
After his interview 2½ weeks later, Valentine said if he got the job, “I would feel like it is Christmas.”
The son-in-law of former major league pitcher Ralph Branca, Valentine has a 1,117-1,072 record as a big league manager but has never finished in first place in 15 seasons.
He could have a chance to do that in 2012 with a team that was a popular preseason pick to reach last season’s World Series.
“I’m happy for him,” Lasorda said. “I think the Red Sox got themselves a good manager. In all my years, I’ve never seen a guy prepare a team for a game like he does. That’s what makes him unique.”
AP Baseball Writer Ben Walker and AP Sports Writers Ronald Blum and Mike Fitzpatrick contributed to this report.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.