I know it was something called “Patriots’ Day” and three-quarters of the city was drunk (the rest were running a marathon), but yesterday the people of Boston fed the stereotype of being an over-sensitive, reactionary, trigger-happy fan base. This time poor Bobby Valentine was the target, and the Boston media, fans, and players were, and continue to be, the assailants.
It all started with a question about Kevin Youkilis, who is off to a slow start this season after having a sub-par, injury-plagued 2011, on Valentine’s appearance on WHDH’s Sports Extra talk show. The interviewer presumably asked Valentine about why Youkilis is struggling, to which he replied:
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, his on-base percentage up higher than his batting average, which is always a good thing, and he’ll move on from there.
Somehow this became material for the NESN headline, “Bobby Valentine Questions Kevin Youkilis’ Commitment, Both Physically and Emotionally” and the frenzy began. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that NESN was the only culprit here. But the not-so-subtle choice to throw in the buzzwords “questions” and “commitment” put this story in the sensationalist Hall of Fame. Questions about journalistic integrity aside, I’m not sure where you even get a questioning of commitment from Valentine’s comments.
When asked about a player’s struggles, managers often use a phrase that we’ve all come to know and understand: “He’s in a funk right now.”
I’m not sure what the dictionary definition of “a funk” is, but I’m positive it’s pretty damn close to “not as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past.”
Managers also commonly say that a player is struggling with his “timing” or “mechanics.” Isn’t that the same as struggling “physically”? And, as anybody who follows baseball knows, slumps are just as often mental as they are physical. So if Bobby V. had said that Youk was struggling “mentally” instead of “emotionally,” would this be a story?
Valentine may have chosen somewhat ambiguous phrasing, but you don’t need to be a Yale English major to see that he was just trying to say that Youkilis isn’t quite right at this point in the young season. If he would have chosen a different way to express his opinions, he might not be in this mess. But that’s the danger of coaching in Boston, New York, Chicago, or any other city that puts it’s managers under a constant electron microscope.
The fans obviously ate this story up. Why wouldn’t they? They had already hit the panic button after an 0-3 start to the season. They were looking for a reason as to why their team was “struggling” to start the year, and Valentine, the new guy, is the obvious target. Just take a look at the first couple comments on the NESN article:
It’s clear that these fans were just waiting for Valentine to say something that they could get fired up about, and this was their chance to jump on him. But they’re fans. It’s their job to overreact to things, no matter how absurd.
The players, on the other hand, have no excuse.
The posterboy for the player reaction was gritty, gutty, pesky second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who would easily win the Boston mayoral race if he decided to run. He gave his opinion to the Boston media yesterday before their game with the Rays in what quickly became the newest wrinkle in the story:
I have no problem with Pedroia coming to the defense of his teammate, but how about coming to the defense of his manager? Isn’t he part of the team too?
Pedroia could have gotten his point across by simply saying, “I’m not sure where the comments are coming from or if there was some misunderstanding, but Youk plays hard every day and everyone on this team knows it. Now if you don’t mind I have a game to prepare for.”
Instead he went the extra mile by throwing his manager under the bus, saying “I don’t really understand what Bobby’s trying to do, but that’s really not the way we go about our stuff here,” and taking a cheap shot about his Japanese coaching experience.
Real classy, Dustin.
I get it. There’s the whole, “what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse” philosophy that pervades the sports world, especially baseball, and the fact that Valentine seemingly questioned Youkilis’ commitment publicly probably got Pedroia fired up more than anything (I’m still not sure if Pedroia heard the actual quote before responding).
But if that’s the case and team issues are meant to stay within the team, then shouldn’t have Pedroia been the first one to shut his mouth and say, “we’ll handle this as a team?” If he was truly worthy of being named captain, as NESN suggested today in response to his comments, he would have refrained from calling out his manager in public.
I’ve also heard the question, “why would Valentine go after Youkilis? He’s a notorious hard-worker and over-achiever, and the fans love him.”
Well I can answer that question pretty easily: because that’s who the radio interviewer asked him about! Bobby V. was simply responding to the question he was asked and, thanks to a poor choice of language, is now in the hot seat.
And of course yesterday’s game, just hours after this mess broke out, essentially boiled down to one managerial decision. The baseball gods sure have a morbid sense of humor.
With the bases loaded in the seventh inning, Valentine elected to leave in his starter, Daniel Bard, who had yet to allow a run but was clearly tiring. Valentine left him in, Bard walked the batter, and the Red Sox lost, 1-0.
The loss was clearly Valentine’s fault, as will be everything negative that happens with the Red Sox from here on out.
That is, of course, until he’s fired.