The Boston Red Sox started off this season in miserable fashion, dropping 5 of their first 6 games, displaying atrocious pitching, and losing MVP candidate Jacoby Ellsbury to injury. Things didn’t look good heading into last weekend, but the team somehow rallied and put together an impressive 3 game winning streak against the formidable Tampa Bay Rays. Unfortunately, their momentum may be short-lived because Bobby Valentine, as he often does, decided to mix things up and cause a stir in his own clubhouse. It remains to be seen what his motivations were and how this may impact the team moving forward.
On Sunday evening Valentine appeared on WHDH-TV’s SportsXTra and was asked about third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who has gotten off to a slow start of the season. Valentine speculated, "I don't think he's as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason. But [on Saturday] it seemed, you know, he's seeing the ball well, got those two walks, got his on-base percentage up higher than his batting average, which is always a good thing, and he'll move on from there.”
Predictably, Valentine’s comments immediately went viral in the Boston area. Youkilis expressed surprise and confusion, while ESPN reported his agent, Joe Bick, as saying, "I will not dignify his quotes by responding to something that is so far off base on so many different levels." Valentine immediately issued a public apology, but that doesn’t un-ring the bell. Desperately needing to earn the trust of Red Sox players and fans shocked by last year’s collapse and the crumbling demise of the Terry Francona and Theo Epstein eras, Valentine instead has dashed about like a bull in a china shop.
Youkilis is probably one of the last Red Sox players who should ever be called out. After David Ortiz, he is the second-longest tenured player on the team and has developed a reputation as a hardnosed grinder who plays with his heart on his sleeve. Not only has he played through a variety of injuries over the years, but his playing style is so in your face and abrasive that he was famously asked by teammates several years ago to tone it down for the sake of their sanity and the coolers in their dugout. Youkilis is also one of the more beloved players in Boston, was never implicated in any way to last year’s questionable clubhouse behavior, and has only scuffled for the first week; not exactly a lengthy slump. Choosing him to call out on to the carpet was a curious choice by Valentine.
The fallout from Valentine’s remarks has already extended beyond Youkilis. ESPN also reported Dustin Pedroia telling reporters on Monday that "I really don't know what Bobby is trying to do. That's not the way we go about our stuff around here. He'll figure that out. The whole team is behind Youk. We have each other's backs here."
While Pedroia’s comments may be just as treasonous as Valentine’s, the fact that he felt comfortable going on record with them just 9 games into the season indicates that the club is far from embracing their new manager in the way they did Francona. Pedroia may issue a public apology like Valentine did, but it will be just as hollow and do nothing to dispel the appearance that there is a serious lack of trust between the players and the manager. It’s a big problem to overcome because an “us versus them” mentality is a quick recipe for a toxic clubhouse.
If Valentine is going to succeed in Boston, he will need to put aside his need to make good copy and become the story. By virtue of simply being on the major league roster, the majority of Red Sox players earn regional hero status the moment they don a uniform. This may grate on Valentine and his desire to control everything and everyone, but it is a reality he is not going to change. He must adapt his style to his new environment. He has been driven out of other jobs before for insisting to do things “his way,” so he needs to seriously evaluate how he is to proceed if he hopes to stay in Boston for any length of time.
You can follow me on Facebook by going to http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Baseball-Historian/138174109591660 or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew