The Bobby Valentine Circus has arrived. Get your tickets now. When the Boston Red Sox decided to hire Valentine to replace the mild-mannered Terry Francona, I was skeptical. Valentine is out-spoken, brash and stubborn, just about everything Francona was not. Everywhere Valentine has managed, he has battled with players and front office personnel. Would that be the case in Boston?
To this point, there have been rumblings of discontent, from the reports of a “rift” between GM Ben Cherington and his new manager, to some comments from former Red Sox pitcher Curt Shilling about some players rolling their eyes at their new skipper’s approach, but there has not been any compelling reason to believer that Valentine was at odds with anyone in the organization. Then Valentine had to go and say this after being asked about Kevin Youkilis’ slow start:
“I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason,” Valentine said. “But [on Saturday] it seemed, you know, he’s seeing the ball well, got those two walks, his on-base percentage up higher than his batting average, which is always a good thing, and he’ll move on from there.”
At best, it is a poor choice of words. Valentine could easily have said, “Youk is off right, he is hasn’t found his stroke yet this season,” or any other dull line that acknowledged Youk’s struggles and did not attack his work ethic or commitment. He could have done that, but he is Bobby Valentine, so he decided to say sandbag his own guy and stir up a media frenzy.
Kevin Youkilis was surprised by his manager’s comments:
“I’m confused about that. For me, personally, everyone around here knows that I go out here and play with emotion. The only time my emotion has ever been questioned is because I’ve been too emotional about stuff. That’s just how it is.
I am nowhere near the clubhouse so I can’t speak to the accuracy of Valentine’s comment, but as some one who has watched Youkilis play for his entire career, it seems ridiculous to accuse him of not being “emotionally into the game” at any time, ever. Terry Francona has spoken about how he had to get Youk to tone down his emotional involvement at times. Youk lives and dies will every at bat and I find it extremely difficult to believe that he is not engaged in the game at a time where he is struggling so much.
One person who can speak to the accuracy of that statement is Dustin Pedroia and he isn’t buying it:
“I don’t really understand what Bobby’s trying to do. But that’s really not the way we go about our stuff here. I’m sure he’ll figure that out soon. We’ve got Youk’s back. He’s played his [butt] off for us for a long time …”
Dustin Pedroia is one the team leaders here in Bostonas well as being one of the top players in the game. If he doesn’t like playing under Bobby Valentine, the new manager won’t hold the job long and he won’t deserve to. There isn’t anyone who plays harder or puts more work in than Pedoria. When he says “that’s really not the way we go about our stuff here,” the new manager should hear him and show the humility he has rarely exhibited in the past by finally editing his comments to the media. It is one thing to question a player’s mechanics, the way Valentine did with Carl Crawford. It is another to question a veteran’s heart. If you are going to do that you better be right and you better have some evidence, because the Red Sox fans and players like Pedroia are not going to tolerate petty mind games.
These comments are probably not going to be a major issue for the team or the manger this season. Bobby Valentine has apologized to Youkilis and explained that he was referring to the lack of explosive behavior like breaking helmets and trashing the dugout, which Youk has been prone to. Hopefully, everyone puts this behind them and keeps playing great baseball. Valentine denies that the comments were meant to be motivational as well, saying “that’s not how that’s done.”
While this incident may not be a problem, the fact that Bobby Valentine can’t make better judgments when he has a microphone in front of him is going to be an issue all year long. Pedroia emphasized the idea of having each others back. That sounds to me like a message to his manager. Whether it is through carelessness or conceit, Valentine often appears to be hanging his players out to dry in the media. That needs to end. No one focuses on the game better when they have to answer questions about why their manager thinks they aren’t playing hard.