A team – no, make that a platoon – of psychiatrists could have a field day with Bobby Valentine. They could make a career of analyzing him and his bizarre behavior.
When the Boston Red Sox hired Valentine as their manager last December after disgracefully firing Terry Francona, some fans and members of the news media asked “can Valentine change?”
The point of the question was that Valentine had acted so bizarrely in his previous managerial jobs in Texas and New York that people wondered if they would see the same old Bobby V. or a different, more mature and human and dignified Valentine, who could treat the Red Sox with intelligence and class.
Valentine didn’t leave the questioners in suspense long. Less than two weeks into the season, he pulled out one of his favorite old tricks and publicly questioned one of his veteran players.
The manager questioned Kevin Youkilis’ desire, criticizing one of the fans’ favorite players.
“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 a television interview.
Youkilis said Valentine’s comment confused him, and Valentine subsequently said, after the Red Sox traded him to the Chicago White Sox, that Youkilis was at fault for not letting their differences die.
“I think the comment I made early, he made a big issue out of, and I don’t think he ever wanted to get over it,” Valentine told Boston reporters before the Red Sox hosted the White Sox in a weekend series.
So let’s try to understand this Valentine version of reasoning.
Valentine makes an unprovoked and unnecessary comment about a player, and the player is supposed to accept it without retort. Furthermore, the player should just forget the manager made the comment and never bring it up.
That’s the way Valentine would like it, but that’s not the way the world works, especially the sports world, where professional athletes feel empowered to speak when not spoken to. And does Valentine really think anyone is going to believe that the fault for any continuing differences between Valentine and Youkilis lies with Youkilis?
One issue that Valentine has not raised, to his credit, but that might have played a significant part in the Youkilis scenario is the beer-and-fried-chicken flap of post-season disclosure.
Before he was traded June 24, Youkilis was outed as being the primary suspect as the source of the Boston Globe story. The Globe naturally has not identified Youkilis as such but has basically confirmed it by omitting any mention of the source in the face of other reports.
It’s not known if the incident influenced Valentine’s April remark about Youkilis. Valentine hasn’t acknowledged knowing about Youkilis being the suspected source. When ESPNBoston asked Valentine if he knew Youkilis had been accused of being the source, it said he replied vaguely.
“I don’t know if I heard any of that stuff,” he said.
The best I can say for that answer is it’s a good evasion of answering the question honestly. I don’t think it was an honest answer because I don’t see any way the Red Sox could hire a new manager and not alert him to the clubhouse beer-and-fried-chicken fiasco that led to one of the worst September collapses in baseball history.
But if somehow Larry Lucchino and his fellow executives overlooked that item in their interview with the prospective manager, you can be certain that Valentine learned what he needed to know from holdover coaches, players or clubhouse attendants.
And while Valentine was learning about the involvement of Josh Beckett and his beer-guzzling and chicken-munching compatriots, he was also learning about the suspected role of Youkilis in their outing.
The question that arises from what Valentine presumably knew is did he use what he knew in forming his criticism of Youkilis in April? That we don’t know, but knowing Valentine, one could easily conclude that he did use it, knowing that it would help facilitate Youkilis’ departure.
Valentine wanted Youkilis gone to eliminate the likelihood of clubhouse strife and distraction. By questioning Youkilis’ desire, Valentine was making it easier for general manager Ben Cherington to trade the popular player.
For now, Youkilis has benefited from the trade (as have the White Sox), whether he wanted it or not. With the White Sox, he has regenerated his season, driving in 18 runs in 19 games after knocking in 14 runs in 42 Red Sox games.
What makes it even better for Youkilis is he is producing offensively for his new team while being paid primarily by his old team. To induce the White Sox to make the deal, the Red Sox agreed to pay $5.6 million of the $8.1 million left in Youkilis’ contract.
There is a larger issue in the Youkilis matter that is more philosophical than balls and strikes.
In being banished by the only team he had played for in his eight-year career, Youkilis seems to come out smelling as the bad guy for allegedly squealing on the beer-and-chicken guys. But should he be viewed as a rat?
The old clubhouse cautionary warning says “what you see here, what you hear here, stays here.” It’s also not considered proper to tell tales on your teammates.
But who is wrong here? The guys who committed the acts or the guy who told about the guys who committed the acts? If Beckett and pals created an environment that helped produce the September swoon, was it wrong for Youkilis or anyone else to disclose their role?
Whistle blowers aren’t popular in any industry and are often treated with disdain, but they serve a valuable purpose. If Youkilis or someone else had blown the whistle when the beer and fried chicken first made an appearance in the Boston clubhouse, maybe the Red Sox could have created a September song instead of a September swoon.
But that’s old news, and the Red Sox have moved on. They have a new manager and a double-digit number in the games-behind column, and they have no reason to fear another September swoon.
The way they’re playing under Valentine, he’ll be able to cater beer-and-chicken parties at Fenway Park every night in September. The beer and the chicken, of course, will come from Bobby V’s Sports Gallery Café in Stamford , Conn.