Hours after the original story appeared at Yahoo! Sports, and after the Boston Red Sox collapsed 7-1 against the Baltimore Orioles in Camden Yards Tuesday night, Dustin Pedroia spoke about the now-notorious 26 July meeting between a number of players and team brass in New York. Depending upon your point of view, the second baseman either clarified what Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan reported—citing unnamed inside sources—or backpedaled.
Passan’s story, reported with reasonable meticulousness and a sober lack of malice, implicated that the players who did buttonhole the brass in New York, including Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez, were a contingency of players fed up with Valentine’s apparent divide-and-conquer managing style. After early followup reports disclosed that Gonzalez and Pedroia might have become reluctant to talk to the press too much the rest of 2012, Pedroia did talk.
He didn’t exactly give Valentine a ringing endorsement, but neither did he suggest there should be a guillotine in or out of Fenway Park with Valentine’s name on it. If there can be such a thing as one of his team leaders giving Valentine a vote of confidence, Pedroia has given him one. Whether that proves what votes of confidence from the upper brass often prove to be remains to be seen.
“I don’t think Bobby should be fired,” Pedroia told reporters after the loss to the Orioles. “Listen, we haven’t played well. That’s the bottom line. I’m not going to blame anything on Bobby. It’s on the players. Last year wasn’t on [former manager Terry Francona]. I know he took it hard. We all did. It’s on the players, man.”
Pedroia has been known, since he arrived in Boston in the first place, as a stand-up player whose first and foremost concern has always been the cohesion of the team. He denies ripping Valentine during the meeting with the brass, though he admitted he spoke up during the sit-down. “When I spoke,” he continued, “I said we all need to be better. That includes owners, Bobby, coaches and especially the players.”
Some could take that to mean Pedroia didn’t exactly give Valentine a ringing endorsement. But then neither, necessarily, did principal owner John Henry and general manager Ben Cherington, when they issued Valentine votes of confidence a fortnight after the New York sit-down.
Pedroia went on to acknowledge he had one individual, one-on-one meeting with the manager early in the season. He added that that meeting might have been contentious—could it have tied to Pedroia’s public dismay (“That’s not the way we take care of our business here”) over Valentine’s public rib of Kevin Youkilis?—but that his own relationship with Valentine since has been rather on the fine side.
I went into the office and talked to him like a man. And he talked to me like a man. We’ve been great. We’ve had a great relationship. That’s all I could really say about it. I’ll go out there and play for him every day of the week. It’s unfortunate that all this stuff comes out. I know we lost last year and we had big, huge signings and all that stuff, but we’re trying to play the game the right way and have an organization that does things right and play winning baseball. It’s tough when all this stuff comes out that everyone’s trying to get the manager fired. That’s not the case, man.
One feels for Pedroia, who seems clearly enough to be trying to make a workable peace, or at least clear a path to survive the rest of a season that may or may not be lost. Since the New York sit-down the Red Sox have gone 8-10.
It seems to have been Gonzalez who put into an explicit text message to the brass what a lot of players were feeling at the time, outrage that Valentine had left Jon Lester in to take a ferocious, eleven-run beating from the Toronto Blue Jays a few days before they got their meeting. Gonzalez, too, has now tried to tone down the furies, calling the sit-down nothing much more than a chance for players and their employers to hash out about the team’s struggles.
And there seems as well to be forming a consensus that, whatever Valetine’s in-clubhouse critics think otherwise, the real problem seems to be that Valentine generally doesn’t know where the line is drawn between private remarks, private complaints, private concerns, and public airing of those private thoughts. It’s one thing to demand accountability, as Valentine and other managers do, but Valentine is re-earning a reputation he formerly had for violating player confidences, possibly as part of the kind of divide-and-conquer style that helped him alienate his players in previous terms in Texas and New York.
When backup catcher Kelly Shoppach—traded to the Mets this week—complained about a lack of playing time in May, despite Jarrod Saltalamacchia hitting well, Shoppach may have been thinking selfishly but, apparently, he brought it to Valentine privately and not to the press. It was Valentine who made the Shoppach complaint public, and there are those around the Red Sox who think Valentine did it to compel bringing up Ryan Lavarnway as the backup and to neutralise Shoppach entirely.
In June, when Josh Beckett went on the disabled list, and Felix Doubront being skipped a turn, Clay Buchholz—who might have taken the turn on his regular rest—requested an extra day’s rest. It wasn’t Buchholz who took that one public, it was Valentine—who seemed unaware that Buchholz’s teammates might interpret the manner in which Valentine disclosed it as another instance of the manager questioning a player’s heart.
And, this past Sunday, when the Red Sox thumped the Cleveland Indians and Carl Crawford in particular had a big game, Valentine spoke out, unprompted, that he’d lifted Crawford late in the game because of a sore wrist. The only problem with that was that it wasn’t something Crawford was ready to advertise. Which is what the press learned the hard way, after they took Valentine’s comment to the outfielder himself, and Crawford seemed entirely surprised by his manager’s disclosure.
Pedroia may be trying to cauterise a situation that’s careened beyond his or, really, anyone’s control, other than that of the men who brought Valentine aboard in the first place. And even they were divided about that, you may remember. Why, front office sources were said to have taken pains to assure various Red Sox players that Valentine wasn’t even a topic. Until . . .
Ponder this: Until the Mets hired him in 2011, Terry Collins hadn’t managed a Show team for slightly longer than Valentine’s absence from the Show had been. Like Valentine, Collins’s previous image was that of an intense type whose intensity helped blow up a couple of Show clubhouses, too, in Houston and Anaheim. Like Valentine may have been now, Collins was the target of a player mutiny (in Anaheim). Like Valentine, Collins went to Japan and managed there, though he didn’t exactly become the icon there that Valentine became.
Valentine returned to become an ESPN analyst, a job he held earlier, after his firing by the Mets in 2002. Collins returned to become the Mets’ minor league field coordinator for 2010, getting to know the organisation intimately enough. There were still those who wondered whether Collins had come far from his overwrought Houston and Anaheim days when he took command in the Mets’ dugout.
The Mets haven’t had an easy time of things. They looked like contenders in the first half and deflated since the All-Star break; perhaps they really were playing over their own heads in the first half. But Collins hasn’t built a rep for playing contradictory head games. He hasn’t questioned his players’ hearts, even when holding them accountable for the net game results. No known contingency of Mets has felt compelled to buttonhole the brass complaining that Collins has inspired the clubhouse theme music to be “19th Nervous Breakdown.”
Collins, in other words, has been the manager the Red Sox only thought they were hiring when, however divided the brass might have been about it, they acquiesced and hired Valentine. There was a time this season when they talked of Collins in Manager of the Year terms. There have been too many times when they talk of Valentine in Manager of the Fear terms.
The Mets are all but gone from this year’s races by now, but nobody thinks Collins will face a firing squad at season’s end. He’s called for player accountability but gone out of his way, for the most part, to observe a line between demanding accountability and violating players’ trusts. This year’s Red Sox may be addled by underachieving and/or injured stars, but they’re addled even further by a manager who can’t navigate troubled waters without leaking oil.
It didn’t begin, either, with Valentine leaving Lester in to be nuked by the Blue Jays and, allowing for a bullpen emptying the night before and a coming twenty games over the next three weeks, finding no option—say, a starter on his between-starts throw day, who might have worked an inning or two before turning over to the pen?—to spell a pitcher who’d actually been pitching better than his inflated ERA suggested.
(What would it say, I wonder, if it should turn out that Valentine’s stock has fallen low enough in his own clubhouse that no Red Sox pitcher thought to volunteer himself, on a night Lester clearly didn’t have anything, to take one for the team rather than let Lester stay out there to be battered and embarrassed, the way the Blue Jays battered and embarrassed him, after outings enough—ten overall, to be precise—when Lester did pitch well enough to win but his team didn’t play well enough to win for him?)
If by some unforeseen juju the Red Sox find a way to stay in the races, Valentine will survive to the postseason, at least. Beyond that, nobody knows. If the Red Sox continue taking their lumps on the field, and fall out of even the wild card races, vote of confidence or no, it may be Valentine taking his lumps. Maybe even before the season ends.