In perhaps the most bizarre baseball managerial hiring since Ted Turner employed himself, the Boston Red Sox tapped Bobby Valentine to be their manager for the 2012 season. No one doubts Valentine's impressive baseball IQ and charismatic people skills, but there is a reason the former Mets skipper hasn't worked a Major League dugout in a decade. In fact, according to the Elias Sports Bureau there have been 85 managerial changes since Valentine last had an MLB job in 2002. The problem with Valentine isn't baseball smarts. It's, as USA Today writer Bob Nightengale put it bluntly, “You love him, or hate him; there's precious little in-between. He's unafraid to say what's on his mind, and doesn't particularly care what you think of his opinion." Valentine is that charming type-A personality well-known in coaching circles: the people person who hates people. With these types, it never ends well and it never ends quietly. He says however that he’s changed and is now a mellower Bobby V. As he said recently, "What really matters is adaptability and how that person fits into his new environment.''
For a sneak preview of Valentine's tenure in Boston, don't look at his volatile stints heading the Texas Rangers and New York Mets. He says he's changed since those days and we can take him at his word. Instead look at Valentine’s recent tenure as Director of Public Safety in Stamford Connecticut. Yes, you just read correctly. Last January, Stamford's Republican Mayor Mike Pavia appointed Valentine to the position for which he had no background because he was looking for someone who could be, as he said without irony, “a good manager.” Valentine, a dyed-in-the-wool Republican was born in Stamford and owns a restaurant in town (where he claims to have invented “the sandwich wrap.”) Presumably this qualified him to handle the negotiations of city contracts for Stamford's fire fighters, police officers, and public safety workers.
His time as “manager” of a city of 120,000, however, reveals a Valentine who hasn’t become the mellow consensus builder but the deeply polarizing figure Valentine was during earlier stints. He was tasked with managing the cities budget and Valentine chose to do it on the backs of the workers with the toughest most dangerous jobs in town. Stamford, located in Fairfield County, is the richest county in America where many Wall Street executives live, but this didn’t stop Valentine from pulling a Wisconsin style attack on the city's public sector workers.
Currently, the city of Stamford is demanding 65 different concessions from its public safety workers including a wage cut of $1.20 an hour, cuts in overtime pay, higher health care costs, the elimination of pensions for new hires, and the right to privatize any public service. United Electric Workers Union Northeast President is Peter Knowlton claims that the city of Stamford has engaged in illegal bargaining by presenting ten regressive concession demands after bargaining had concluded and the contract was sent to arbitration. The union has filed unfair labor practices charges with a trial scheduled for January 26th in front of Connecticut State Board of Labor. Knowlton said, “Hopefully, Bobby Valentine has a better record for the Boston Red Sox than he has for the public safety workers of Stamford, where he has been part of a team that has pushed massive concessions on worker, violated labor law, and was MIA during Hurricane Irene.”
“This is the ultimate 1% percenter town, this is where a lot of Wall Street bankers live” says Jeff Dinnan an auto mechanic for the city’s police department who is President of UE Local 2222 sublocal 82. “Stamford doesn’t have a revenue problem. Stamford is doing very well.”
Dinnan is right. The corporate headquarters of Xerox, GE Capital and as recently announced, NBC Sports all call Stamford home. The megabank UBS has its corporate headquarters in Stamford where it just constructed the largest trading floor in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Not to be outdone, the Royal Bank of Scotland announced it was going to move its North American headquarters to Stamford and open an even bigger trading floor.
In addition to pushing for massive concession, public safety workers in Stamford say that Valentine was completely missing during the largest natural disaster in Stamford’s history – Hurricane Irene. Hurricane Irene left 60 people sleeping in a High School gym, causing millions in damages. Where was Valentine? He was in Texas that weekend broadcasting a game for Sunday Night Baseball. “Here we are responding to this huge situation and the guy is off in Texas broadcasting a baseball game, it just really said something about his priorities” says Dinnan.
Bobby V’s choice as Red Sox skipper is a puzzling many in the baseball world. But few are happier about it than those tasked with public safety in Stamford, Connecticut. They can tell the fans in Boston that they better get used to drama over results.
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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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