Valentine Fiddles While Fenway Burns

NEW YORK — Bobby Valentine said he doesn't read it and he doesn't listen to it.

Surely, he smells it.

Surely, he smells the rot from a locker room where too many of his players run to ownership to point fingers and too few of them run to the mirror to take a serious look at themselves.

Surely, he smells all that money, the nearly $180 million foolishly burnt on the third highest payroll in baseball. For what? A 58-62 record? And 25 losses in the past 41 games?

And surely, he smells that metallic odor of his own blood spilling on the dugout steps.

Proclaimed safe by ownership for the final 42 games of the 2012 season, Valentine surely knows his chances of returning for 2013 are roughly equivalent to those of the Red Sox making the postseason.

And if that sounds a little too negative to Larry Lucchino, who has been crying about the "cynical, jaded" media being partly to blame for the Red Sox problems, at least Valentine had the good humor and good sense Friday to shoot down that notion.

"It's always the media's fault," Valentine said, laughing. "What? Are you kidding? Partly? I think he was totally incorrect.

"No, the media had nothing to do with the season."

There was something both a little foolish and a little pitiable Friday about Valentine's pre-game media session and his weekly paid appearance on ESPN New York Radio. Told by Michael Kay that Mike Lupica said earlier that he looked as if he had aged 15 years in five months as Red Sox manager, Valentine chuckled.

"I think I look really good," Valentine, 62, said before Franklin Morales went out and surrendered four home runs in a 6-4 loss to the Yankees. "I thought I was looking younger every day. This has been exciting for me. It has been an adventure. I like adventures."

And Quint loved hunting sharks until he got eaten in "Jaws."

Last November, I wrote that hiring Valentine was a bad idea. I'm no genius, but you could see 100 potential problems 100 miles away. They started with new GM Ben Cherington wanting to hire Dale Sveum to replace Terry Francona, while Lucchino wanted his Valentine. And what Larry wants, Larry gets.

The move, of course, left the door open for the players to pull an end around baseball management and go to principal owner John Henry with any complaints. This is the same John Henry who answered the players' moaning about scheduling last year by treating them to a players-only outing on his yacht and $300 headphones. Valentine ostensibly was brought in to bring the law and order lost in 2011. Only the new sheriff was never allowed to use his guns except to occasionally shoot himself in the foot.

From his stupid remark about Kevin Youkilis' emotional commitment to his wise-guy "nice inning" one-liner to Will Middlebrooks to volunteering that Kelly Shoppach had come to him to discuss lack of playing time, Valentine must embrace the fact his divide-and-conquer modus operandi sometimes just divided. Yet the larger truth is that withouot ownership backbone, the clubhouse culture isn't going to change.

The drama has gone on for months. And although Valentine said it was old news to him, Yahoo! Sports broke it to a complete scream earlier this week with a report that 17 players went to ownership the last time the team was in New York, some reportedly calling for Valentine's ouster. While the players and owners have spun the story from hyperbole to inaccurate, it's also highly doubtful that Valentine was telling the full truth Friday when he said he told the owners he would embrace any input they got from players, coaches media or fans that they felt would help the club. Down 13 1/2 games to the Yankees and 6 1/2 gamesbehind three teams in the expanded wildcard, this is a stinky scene, Red Sox fans, and it's only getting stinkier.

"Whatever is going on out there," Valentine said of the media and fan uproar he purports to know little about, "I'm getting a lot of emails, texts and phone calls from a lot of people who are really worried about me. I don't want them to be worried. I'm fine."

Dustin Pedroia, obviously riled over reports of his role in all this, blew past reporters after the game, leaving Morales and Carl Crawford to do most of the talking.

"Very disappointing," Crawford said of the past few weeks.

Let's be clear: Valentine is no victim. His role in the daily drama predictably eroded support in the clubhouse, and his gallows humor aside, this will end in a spectacular flameout. Valentine is going to go at the end of the season. And the hard truth is that at this point, he has to go.

Yet his dismissal also will not get to the root of the problem.

Henry, who showed up in Baltimore on Thursday night with Lucchino and Tom Werner for a one-night show of support, has to fully empower Cherington to run baseball operations. He gave him the job. He has to let him do it. Lucchino has to get out of the way.

And before a pitch is thrown in anger in 2013, Josh Beckett has to be gone. The rot started with that brusque crew of starting pitchers last year, and the Red Sox made a mistake letting them all back this year. Jon Lester can return to winning form. He's young. And getting him away from Beckett will be a positive. It's far past time to pull the plug on Beckett, no matter how much of his contract has to be eaten.

The players rallied around Lester after Valentine left him in a game for 11 runs. Texts to ownership were sent. Valentine said Friday he was happy the players stuck up for Lester, but he also said Lester didn't complain; he understood the bullpen situation that game and has pitched much better since.

"His arm didn't fall off," Valentine said.

Yet somewhere along the line in the past couple of years, this team's heart did. Yes, the Red Sox have been stung by an ungodly string of injuries. According to STATS, their 25 players on the DL this season is the most in the majors since 1987. Still, other teams have been stung with the loss of premier players and didn't dissolve into the cast of "Mean Girls."

And now everywhere Valentine doesn't look, he's not reading and not hearing about the trouble he is in and what a mess his team is. When he showed up in New York, he didn't read Post baseball columnist Joel Sherman pushing for Jason Varitek to replace him. The right choice, of course, is John Farrell, but the Blue Jays aren't releasing him.

And when asked whether it bothered him that Lucchino said he could not assure that Valentine will be back for 2013, Bobby V. didn't hear him say that, either.

"I don't think that they're not going to pay me for next year," Valentine said.

That was a joke. Bobby V has to laugh because he knows he will pay every day for the rest of the 2012 season. The final 42 games are going to be hell, but then again, so have the past 41.