Something had to change. The way the Boston Red Sox ended last season -- you know what I'm talking about, so don't make me go into detail, please -- they needed to make some moves. And they did.
Terry Francona was "let go" (a.k.a. fired), Theo Epstein departed for a better job with the Cubs and the team made a few roster moves. But the most important change came in the form of a new manager, and they hired Bobby Valentine to lead them on the road to recovery. Nine games into the journey, we already have our first pothole.
Valentine, who has been oft-criticized for his fiery managerial style, steered clear of trouble for the first week of his Sox tenure, but got himself into trouble with his latest comments. Valentine questioned the heart of one of his players, which in itself isn't a surprising thing for a manager to do. However, the player he chose to go after was. It was he of the funky stance, Kevin Youkilis.
"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 in the interview. "But [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. (via WEEI)
Naturally, this did not sit well with Youkilis, who was very confused about the comments.
Responded Youkilis: "That's not what I see. I go out every day and play as hard as I can. I take every ground ball in the morning, take every at-bat like it's my last. I don't think my game has changed at all. I still get upset with myself and still get mad. That's just not how I go about my game of baseball. Never have, never will."
Asked if the comments were upsetting, Youkilis said: "I'm more confused than anything, because I think everyone knows I go out and play the game as hard as I can. That's just my style of play. I never was blessed with the raw tools ... so I've always had to use playing the game as hard and with full effort my whole life. I don't know any better, so that's just the way I play." (via WEEI)
Dustin Pedroia weighed in on Valentine's comments, too, and he was also rather confused.
"I know that Youk plays as hard as anybody I've ever seen in my life,"Pedroia said. "I have his back, and his teammates have his back. We know how hard he plays. 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." (via WEEI)
Valentine has since apologized for his untimely remarks (quite a turnaround, since the interview happened on Sunday night on WHDH's Sports Extra) and attempted to explain himself.
"I answered the question, 'It's not Youk-like, the way he's playing.' That was the question I answered. I should've explained that his swing isn't what he wants it to be. The physical part of his swing is frustrating him and frustration leads to emotion, and I haven't seen him break as many helmets as I saw him break on TV. It just seemed different," Valentine began.
"Kevin came in this morning and I thought it was about his groin because it was sore after the game [Sunday]," Valentine said. "I said, 'Hey, how you doing, how's the groin?' He said, 'It's all right but what's going on?' When he said people called him and said I said things he didn't like, I totally apologized. I said, 'Geez, the last thing in the world I want you to think is I'm criticizing you.' I was giving an answer to a question. I should've been more specific. The physical is about your swing and your emotional is about not being happy when you don't hit a ball off the wall."
"I don't know if he accepted my apologies. It was very sincere and the last thing in the world I'd want him to think is this was anything but an answer to a question that seemed that the question was jabbing at him. I was trying to smooth it over and I guess I didn't." (via WEEI)
All of this, and we still have 153 games left on the schedule. Could it be true that Valentine was sincere and this was just an honest mistake? Certainly. Valentine insists he wasn't saying this to motivate Youkilis, and it was taken out of context. Take that for what it's worth.
Still, on the surface, this appears to be a lapse in judgment. It's one thing if you criticize a player on your team in late August or September, but we aren't even two weeks into the season. When making a comment like this, there are two results: the player gets motivated and starts producing or the player and the team start to tune you out. That seems like a very risky decision, considering that Valentine likely has very little credibility within this locker room given the circumstances.
Hopefully, Youk and the team can put this incident behind them. But if they can't, and that's absolutely a possibility, Valentine may have lost this team ... in April. If that's the case, he may very well not be the manager next season. He may not even make it to the end of this season.
Hope for the best, but if the players don't have short memories, we may be headed for disaster.