Blackhawks

Red Sox make surprising choice for new manager

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Red Sox make surprising choice for new manager

From Comcast SportsNet
BOSTON (AP) -- 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 2 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."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.