Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Little love for Valentine

Bobby Valentine's criticism of Kevin Youkilis did not
go over well in the Red Sox clubhouse.
After the on-field debacle that accompanied the Boston Red Sox' celebration of Fenway's centennial, I figured Bobby Valentine's tenure as manager may be far shorter than imagined.

Then the Sox came to Minnesota, where they found that all-purpose cure that is the Twins' starting rotation.

Still, there are problems with the Crimson Hose, not all of which can be laid fairly at Valentine's feet, but problems nevertheless.

The Sox have a patchwork outfield right now, with both Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury on the disabled list. Their putative closer is injured, and the rest of the bullpen a shambles. Shortstop is being manned by a Kansas City washout (Mike Aviles), and Kevin Youkilis does not appear to have bounced back well from offseason surgery.

That's a lot for any manager to cope with. Valentine's job is complicated by two factors:

  • He wasn't the choice of the general manager;
  • He's expected to simultaneously change the clubhouse culture while relying on the veterans who set that culture.

Remember: He has the job only because the Red Sox had an epic collapse last September. After the Sox missed the playoffs, both general manager Theo Epstein and field manager Terry Francona left. Francona departed amid stories of slipshod discipline, and Epstein left saying he had planned to leave the job soon anyway and didn't think it fair to the organization to hire the new manager and then depart. Epstein assistant Ben Cherington was promoted to general manager, and he conducted a managerial search that appeared to focus on relatively obscure candidates.

And just as it appeared that Cherington had settled on Dale Sveum, ownership stepped in. No, they told Cherington, you need somebody who's managed in the majors before, someone who can handle big-market pressure. Someone like Bobby Valentine.

A Yankees fan trolls the Red Sox faithful
Saturday in Fenway Park.
Which is a legitimate point. Boston is a, shall we say, more intense environment than Minnesota. Playing or managing there is like dressing in a greenhouse. It would have done everybody a favor had ownership set out that requirement early in the process rather than let Charington stake out a direction and then get reined in. It undermined Charington, and it wasted the time of the candidates Charington was considering. (Epstein moved on to the Cubs, and hired Sveum there.)

Meanwhile, Valentine has rubbed his new team the wrong way. Some friction was likely to occur anyway; the new manager was bound to tighten the rules after the reports of beer and fried chicken during games. But  when Valentine told a Boston TV station that Youkilis wasn't "into the game physically or emotionally, for whatever reason," he drew a biteback not only from Youkilis but Dustin Pedroia as well: We don't do things like that here. Maybe in Japan.

That the players aren't used to it was part of the point in replacing Francona, but the lashback still left the always glib Valentine stammering and stumbling for words. He's managed long enough, and in enough places, to know that the absolute requirement for a manager is the respect of his players. He needs clubhouse figures like Pedroia and Youkilis to buy in. Instead, he appears to be alienating them.

Francona helped his players cope with the Boston environment by holding the reins loosely, and by his own account, when players took too much advantage of his light touch he couldn't (or wouldn't) find the way to get their attention. Valentine has, by and large, the same set of players -- and the need to, at least in public perception, not allow the inmates to run the asylum, while still getting them to perform.

It hasn't gone well so far. The Fenway chants last weekend of "We want Tito" are ample testimony to that.

1 comment:

  1. I don't see this relationship lasting more than the season. Living where I live (about 10 miles south of the Massachusetts state line), I can tell you that there have been plenty of local TV and radio pieces dissecting Valentine. Some already consider him on the hot seat, which is pretty crazy in my opinion.

    But then, as you mention, he doesn't do himself any favors singling out Youkilis.

    This will be good theatre, I have a feeling.