Boston Red Sox fans are still angry about the team’s monumental collapse at the end of the 2011 season, and new manager Bobby Valentine hasn’t done much to restore the fans’ faith in 2012. On April 15, Valentine dug his own grave a little deeper by inexplicably questioning the physical and emotional motivation of third baseman Kevin Youkilis.
In a Sunday morning interview for WHDH Sports Xtra that was aired on Sunday night, Valentine was asked about Youkilis’ slow start to the season. As reported by Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com, the exchange went like this:
Questioner, off-camera: “Kevin Youkilis, his bat has come to life here in the last two games, but he was off to a surprising start for Kevin Youkilis. Seven games, seven strikeouts, has only walked twice. Very un-Youkilis-like. What are your eyes telling you?’
Valentine: “The walks came yesterday. He’s had a couple of big at-bats where he’s really gotten into it. I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason, but yesterday it seemed like he’s seeing the ball well. He got those two walks, he got his on-base percentage up higher than his batting average, which is always a good thing, and he’ll move on from there.”
Youkilis hit a career-low .258 last year in an injury-plagued season and has suffered through a 6-for-30 spring training and a 2-for-20 start to the regular season. Nevertheless, the versatile player who entered the 2012 campaign with a .289 lifetime average, 129 home runs, 550 RBIs, two World Series championship rings, three All-Star selections, and a Gold Glove was understandably taken aback.
“Everyone here knows I go out and play with emotion,” Youkilis told reporters on Monday morning, according to Edes. “The only time there has ever been a question is because I’ve been too emotional.”
“I know he plays as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen in my life. I have his back and his teammates have his back,” Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “I really don’t know what Bobby’s trying to do, but that’s not the way we go about our stuff around here. He’ll figure that out. The whole team is behind Youk.”
The timing couldn’t have been worse. Red Sox Nation was just starting to feel a little better about things after the Sox swept a three-game series from the Tampa Bay Rays, outscoring the visitors 31-11 in front of the home crowd. The memory of last year’s September collapse, when Boston lost 20 of 27 games and missed the playoffs, was starting to subside a little bit with the three-day trouncing of a good Rays team.
Valentine, however, has managed to drag the black cloud of doom right back over Fenway Park.
Ironically, in the Tampa Bay series, Youkilis batted .400, scored six runs, and registered three RBI.
Valentine claims that his comments were not intended to motivate Youkilis, but instead were simply an answer to a question and were misinterpreted. Ian Brown of MLB.com reports that Valentine offered the following explanation to the media on Monday:
“I think the question [from the TV reporter] was like, ‘This is not Youk-like the way he’s playing.’ I think that was the question I answered,” Valentine said. “I should have explained that his swing isn’t what he wants it to be, the physical part of his swing is frustrating. Frustration leads to emotion. I haven’t seen him break as many helmets as I saw him break on TV, so, you know, it just seemed different.
“At the end of the thing, I said, ‘I don’t know what the reason is, because I haven’t been here long enough.’ I don’t know why his swing isn’t exactly the way he wants it to be and why he’s not throwing as many helmets. I thought it was rather innocuous. As a matter of fact, it seemed like they were trying to bang him, and I think I started it by saying how good his at-bats were that day, his two walks.”
Valentine’s reasoning comes across as a feeble attempt to cover his hindquarters after firmly placing his foot in his mouth and alienating at least two of his star players. Attempting to paint himself as the martyred superhero who was simply attempting to come to the rescue of his veteran in distress and who is being punished for a good deed rings hollow and makes Valentine look like a schmuck. He has a long history of criticizing his players through the media, and nothing seems to have changed.
Valentine is already a target of Boston boo birds, and this latest gaffe certainly won’t make him any new friends or influence any of his players. His first MLB managerial job since he was fired by the New York Mets in 2002 may come to an end a lot sooner than he expected.