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August 20, 2012

Out of Left Field

Bobby Valentine's Communications Problem

by Matthew Kory

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It’s no secret that there have been some problems with the Red Sox recently. Or, if it is a secret, whoops. Sorry. Cat’s out of the bag. So now you know if you didn’t already. There are issues in Red Sox land. Some have regarded those issues as holdovers from last season when things turned bad like cheese left out during a month long vacay to Maui. To others, the peculiar peccadilloes of this particular… uh, season, can be traced back to once single source: manager Bobby Valentine.

Valentine took over the team from Terry Francona, who was adept at handing the personal interaction side of managing in Boston. He was good with the players, he was good with the press. But those strengths belied a laissez faire attitude that permeated the Red Sox clubhouse, an attitude that some say led to the team’s downfall last September. That and also some incredibly awful baseball.

Bobby Valentine was hired to put a professional face on things, to be more a Manager (capital “M”) and less a friend. Because being friendly with players is a huge, huge problem and don’t ask why because duh you totally know.

Much was known about Valentine when he was hired. That he managed the Mets, that he managed a team in Texas before they moved to Washington, D.C. – bet you didn’t even know Texas ever had a team! – and that he spent significant time in Japan playing a sport similar to baseball while drinking beer named after himself.

But even back during Valentine’s interview with Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, there were hints that communication might be an issue.

Ben Cherington: Welcome to Boston, Mr. Valentine. Have a seat.
Bobby Valentine: [sitting] Please, call me Mr. Valentine.
Cherington: Uh, I did.
Valentine: Flying start then!
Cherington: I suppose so.
Cherington: So, we’re looking for someone who can come in and impose a bit of authority on the clubhouse. We’ve got a good veteran core but they’ve been coddled a bit. How would you assert your authority in the clubhouse?
Valentine: Oh, that’s an easy one. First, I’d find the hardest-working, most-respected guy in the clubhouse and then call him out in the press for being lazy and ill respected.
Cherington: Ha ha ha! Good one! I love a manager with a sense of humor.
Valentine: Ha ha ha!

Valentine got the job despite the hiccups, but things didn’t get much better during the introductory news conference.

Reporter: Mr. Valentine! Mr. Valentine!
Bobby Valentine: Yes? Idiot Stupid Face, is it?
Reporter: Ralph.
Valentine: Right! Ralph. Sorry about that.
Reporter: Uh, no problem… I guess. Can you explain some of your in-game strategies?
Valentine: My in-game strategies? Sure. [puts paper bag on his head] [stands up] [does little dance] [in sing-song voice] I like to bunt, but other times I don’t like to bunt! And I change relief pitchers whenever I want… La la la! [stops singing] [points to reporter]
Reporter: Me?
Valentine: [touches left arm] I’m bringing in a relief reporter. Hit the showers Idiot Stupid Face.
Reporter: Ralph.
Valentine: Ralph.

Then there was the Kevin Youkilis situation where Valentine told a reporter that Youkilis wasn’t physically or mentally into the game. That turned out well.

Valentine: Thanks, Kevin for agreeing to talk with me.
Kevin Youkilis: No problem. What’s going on, Bobby?
Valentine: Well I just wanted to sit down and be sure you and I are on the same page. I respect you as a ballplayer, Kevin, and if we’re going to win we’re going to need you to produce.
Youkilis: Oh, well thanks for saying so. Yeah, no problems here. Thanks for asking though. So, can I ask you a question?
Valentine. Of course. Shoot.
Youkilis: Why are you hiding under your desk?
Valentine: You haven’t seen the papers this morning I take it?
Youkilis: Nope, I haven’t.
Valentine: Oh, no reason then.

Sometimes Valentine got accused of leaving his pitchers in too long, well after they were clearly gassed.

Valentine: Good work, Lester. Nice job. How do you feel?
Lester: Thanks. I’m gassed, Bobby.
Valentine: That’s great news!
Lester: No, I mean I’m tired.
Valentine: Right! You go get ‘em, Tiger!
Lester: I think there’s a disconnect here. It’s been about 110 or so pitches and I’m losing it. My legs are tired. My arm is tired. I’m losing feel of my breaking stuff. It’s really hot out there. I don’t think I can go anymore.
Valentine: Gotcha.
Lester: Really?
Valentine: Yup. No problem.
Lester: Great. So I can sit down now?
Valentine: Sure! As long as you get up in three outs! [slaps Lester on the back] Have some fun out there!

Back-up catcher Kelly Shoppach was freshly outed as the sender of a mutinous text message to ownership claiming the team couldn’t play under Valentine any longer. Shoppach was subsequently dealt to the Mets for a minor league-pitcher who the Boston media is fond of telling us was on Baseball America’s top 100 list five years ago. Which is… well, nothing at all, really.

One of the problems Shoppach complained about during the meeting with Red Sox ownership in New York was that Valentine had problems communicating with the players. We here at OOLF HQ have managed to get a transcript of some of Shoppach’s examples. First there was a meeting with Carl Crawford that didn’t go well.

Bobby Valentine: Hey Carl, thanks for coming in. Have a seat.
Carl Crawford: Hey Bobby. What can I do for you?
Valentine: I just wanted to let you know that now that you’re back from the DL you’ll be the regular left fielder.
Crawford: Thanks, Bobby. Oh, I’m sorry, something in my ear. Did you say fielder?
Valentine: Right. Fielder.
Crawford: Right fielder?
Valentine: Right. Fielder.
Crawford: Are you serious?
Valentine: Of course I am.
Crawford: [storms out]

Then there was a meeting with Dustin Pedroia that could have gone better.

Valentine: I’m going to need you on my side, Petey.
Pedroia: No problem, Bobby.
Valentine: We’re in this together. We both want to win.
Pedroia: Yup. I’m there.
Valentine: This team can go a long ways, but we’re going to have to work together.
Pedroia: Absolutely.
Valentine: Excellent. I need you to bow to me every time I enter the room.
Pedroia: What?!
Valentine: Also, do you know how to peel grapes?

Valentine was however able to win some players over.

Lackey: burp
Valentine: burp
Lackey: BURP
Valentine: BURP
Lackey: BuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurRRRRRRRRP!
Valentine: BUUUUUuuuuuuuuuuuUUUUUUUUUUUrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRP!!!
Lackey: My liege!

Finally, there was the team meeting that Valentine conducted just last week.

Bobby Valentine: OK, guys, I called you all in here to reassure you mangle blop glurp nerpdy slurp herpty burb burb buuuuuuuuuuurp. Any questions? NOOOOO!!! [sprints out the door]

In the end, Bobby Valentine won’t sink or swim on his communication skills. Managers are defined by the way their players play. And the Red Sox haven’t played well. So, by Aristotelian logic, Bobby Valentine hasn’t managed well, whether he has or not. The way he’s related to his players, made them feel welcome in the locker room is fine, nice even, but it’s a distant second to injuries and under-performance by star players. Those are the real issues facing the Red Sox. Anything else is just made up.  

Matthew Kory is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matthew's other articles. You can contact Matthew by clicking here

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