Valentine has rebuilding to do in clubhouse
Boston manager dealing with backlash of criticizing Youkilis
BOSTON -- If you thought you were having a bad day, you should have walked a mile in Bobby Valentine's shoes on Monday. You would have gotten into a public spat with one of your most respected players. Your clubhouse would have turned on you. You would have left your young starting pitcher in just long enough to lose a game. Finally, you would have gotten booed loudly by the home fans.
That's Bobby V.'s Monday in a nutshell.
For one of the few times in his life, Valentine seemed genuinely humbled. He either didn't mean to pick a fight with Kevin Youkilis or misjudged the reaction to it.
Maybe Valentine thought things were getting a little quiet around Fenway Park and that he needed to shake things up. OK, I see you're not buying that one. I had a tough time selling it to myself, so never mind.
What if Valentine thought questioning his most respected player's commitment would light a fire under him? After all, Youkilis is hitting just .200 and hasn't homered. You're not buying that one either, are you?
I could use some help here, because there has to be an explanation for why a really smart man would say something really silly. It makes no sense that Valentine would pick a public fight with a player so respected for working hard and caring about the right things.
The Red Sox have had concerns about Youkilis through the years, but those concerns were usually about him being too intense. Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona worried that if Youkilis kept smashing bats and helmets, it was only a matter of time until he broke a bone or tore a ligament. Francona came to understand that Youkilis used those moments of rage to blow off steam and get a bad at-bat out of his system.
Besides that, Valentine broke the most important rule of managing a Major League team. Players want a manager who is competent and honest and prepared. But most of all, players want a manager who has their back. If a manager has to deliver bad news, he absolutely must do it in private. Did you ever hear Joe Torre or Bobby Cox criticize one of their players?
They surely had players they were frustrated with, but they understood there was nothing to be gained by torching them in public. Even if Valentine wanted to say something critical of Youkilis, there's no excuse for not taking it up with the player first.
"I think Bobby wishes he had expressed the sentiment to Kevin first," Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said.
I'm guessing Valentine realizes this. He reacted quickly Monday morning upon hearing the reaction to an interview in which he said Youkilis wasn't "as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past."
Over the next few hours, Valentine met with Youkilis at least twice and then went around the horn in sessions with Dustin Pedroia (who criticized Valentine for criticizing Youkilis), Cherington and probably others.
Valentine said the words were taken out of context and that he never meant to criticize Youkilis. Regardless, once the words were out there, Valentine found himself in the middle of a firestorm.
"I think an apology was appropriate even though it wasn't Bobby's intent [to criticize Youkilis]," Cherington said.
For his part, Youkilis said he was "confused."
In the home clubhouse, the Red Sox rallied around their teammate.
"I don't really understand what Bobby's trying to do," Pedroia said, "but that's not the way we go about our stuff around here. I'm sure he'll figure that out soon."
From first baseman Adrian Gonzalez: "We all know that Youk does give 110 percent every time he goes out there."
If you're thinking that the Red Sox knew what they were getting when they hired Valentine, you're wrong. Valentine has a long track record of being smart, opinionated and at times a little full of himself. He once feuded with a general manager. He has had spats with umpires, reporters and talk-show guys.
But in 15 years with the Mets and Rangers, Valentine has almost never criticized his own players. There might have been one small incident with Todd Hundley years ago, but who's counting?
Valentine had such a bad day that by the time he left Daniel Bard to issue Evan Longoria a bases-loaded walk for the only run scored at Fenway Park on Patriots' Day, he seemed to know he'd gotten himself into a mess.
"They thought what I thought," Valentine said when asked about the booing. "Should have taken him out earlier. They're good fans. They know what's going on."
If there's a true silver lining, it's that there are 152 games remaining, and Valentine has plenty of time to rebuild the trust that was broken between him and his players. One of the oldest and truest cliches in sports is that winning cures everything. The Red Sox will have the next five months to prove it.
On the other hand, plenty of successful teams have despised their manager. They've either tuned him out or used him as a particular kind of motivation. Let's hope that's not where this thing is headed. Stay tuned.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.