Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Youkilis’

Enough, Already—Bobby Valentine Needs to Go; Yesterday, if Possible

It’s come to this. The other team who collapsed almost as monumentally as the Red Sox did a year ago gets credit for not doing what the Red Sox did, letting an incumbent and decent manager fall on his sword and hiring Bobby Valentine in his place.

The Red Sox collapse spared the Atlanta Braves the ignominy attached to the Red Sox, never mind that nobody accused the Atlanta rotation of spending more time with chicken and brewskis than with pitching charts and sliders on the black down the stretch. And the Braves should probably be grateful not to have had imposed upon them what was imposed upon the Red Sox.

Cover boy . . . (Sports Illustrated image)

“Even as the Braves tease/torment us with the possibility (remote though it would seem) of another epic collapse,” writes Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “we can take solace in this: As frustrating as they can be, they’re not the Red Sox. Because the Red Sox took their own E.C. of last September and proceeded to destroy themselves.

“They changed general managers. More to the point, they changed managers and hired the absolute worst man for the job, and not a day passes that Red Sox Nation isn’t given a new reason to realize that any organization that employs Bobby Valentine is doomed.”

That, too, was prompted by Valentine’s ghastly appearance on this week’s Sports Illustrated cover. Not to mention Valentine’s unconscionable radio rant a day or so earlier, when he threatened to punch out one of two radio interviewers who dared to question whether Valentine, who hasn’t exactly kept secret his own disenchantment with this season, had “checked out” on it at last.

It would have been hilarious if it hadn’t been so disgusting. And no amount of backpedaling that he was only kidding around has cauterised the impact yet, if ever it will.

Practically anyone who heard the exchange on the air has written that Valentine in that moment sounded anything like a man going for a laugh. Here is the transcript from WEEI, to whose host Glenn Ordway he directed his fumes, after Ordway asked him directly, if not maliciously, “Have you checked out?”:

What an embarrassing thing to say. If I were there, I’d punch you right in the mouth. Ha, ha. How’s that sound? Is that like I checked out? What an embarrassing thing. Why would somebody even, that’s stuff that a comic strip person would write. If someone’s here, watching me go out at 2 o’clock in the afternoon working with the young players, watching me put in the right relief pitchers to get a win, putting on a hit-and-run when it was necessary, talking to the guys after the game in the food room — how could someone in real life say that?

Apparently, it’s just fine for Valentine to ask whether a Kevin Youkilis has checked out, metaphorically speaking. Valentine in April threw the first match into the natural gas leak that already was the Red Sox clubhouse when he was foolish enough to question since-departed Youkilis’s heart in hand with the first baseman’s physical health. Valentine may have lost just enough of his clubhouse right then and there. Now, knowing Valentine hasn’t exactly been demure about his own frustrations lately, someone had the temerity to question Valentine’s heart. And Valentine went Hiroshima.

Imagine if Youkilis in mid-April had been asked in a radio interview about his manager’s original comment and told the questioner, “What an embarrassing thing to say. If I were there, I’d punch you right in the mouth.” What would you consider the odds of Youkilis surviving without taking a beating from the rest of the press or from his own bosses? Who’s to say he wouldn’t have been run out of town sooner than he finally was?

Just when you thought, as I did just a day or so ago, that it was safe to bear even a modicum of sympathy for the man, Valentine drops Little Boy and makes yet another big stink. Compared to him, Ozzie Guillen is beginning to resemble a diplomat.

It got even better when Valentine, parrying an inquiry into his late arrival at the ballpark, dragged Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon into it, saying Maddon sometimes gets to the park even later than Valentine “once” did. To his credit, Maddon refused to let Valentine make a beard out of him. “Apologies to the writers for being late to today’s pregame session,” he tweeted post haste. “My pedicure appointment ran a little late.”

It’ll take more than a pedicure to settle Valentine’s and the Red Sox’s hash. Bradley isolates the point rather well.

No wonder this man’s smiling . . .

Some Braves fans who were so disenchanted with the user-friendly Fredi Gonzalez last September that they took to AJC.com message boards to lobby for a hard nose with a flair for tactics—a man, in sum, like Bobby Valentine. Trouble is, nobody who plays for this “tactician” can ever be troubled to do as he asks: They’re all too busy hating their manager’s guts.

The Red Sox serve as both case study and object lesson: They failed spectacularly last season and overreacted, and today they’re one game out of last place in a five-team division and have taken to selling off assets in the hope they might get a little better somewhere down the road. The Braves stayed the course and are again positioned to make the playoffs. Sometimes we around here criticize the Braves for being too passive, but whenever we look toward Boston we should be reminded that motion for motion’s sake is never a good idea.

The Red Sox thought it’d be a good idea to throw the smarmy Bobby Valentine into a combustible clubhouse, and today the flagship team of New England is in ashes. And we learn yet again that actions do have consequences.

So does partial action. So does inaction. The Red Sox are learning about both the hard way, too. It’s no longer possible to hang most or even some of it on the players, with maybe one or two exceptions. Sure, they’ve still had a season in hell on the field. But those who were considered Valentine enemies, actual or alleged, are gone now. The season in hell continues apace, and Valentine keeps putting torches to the fires and his foot in his mouth. All the way to his ankle.

The longer the Red Sox leave him where he is, the deeper runs the perception that this is a management that either wouldn’t know a clue or couldn’t care less. All things considered, it probably should have happened immediately after The Big Deal. But Valentine needs to go. Yesterday, if possible. For the sake of the Red Sox, and just maybe for his own sake, too.

Sobering Up with the Red Pox

Remember when Idiots weren’t bad things?

In the wake of the 2004 World Series, I wrote, for a since-defunct publication, “[S]omething seems not quite right about the literature of the Boston Red Sox turning toward triumph and away from tragedy.” Specifically, I was reviewing Faithful, Stewart O’Nan’s and (yes, that) Stephen King’s collaborative, end-to-end chronicle of viewing that year’s extraterrestrial Red Sox. And I was trying to say this: A near-century’s literature of transcendental disaster, usually upon the brink of the Promised Land but not necessarily exclusive to it, could only become a literature of transcendental triteness, now that the Red Sox had won a World Series, in my lifetime and every other Red Sox Nation citizen’s.

What I should have added, but couldn’t have had the foresight to see, was that it would all depend upon the attitude, if you will, within the Red Sox following that conquest. None would have faulted them for resting on a laurel too hard earned and too long coming. But—even knowing the Red Sox’s yin-and-yang history—few including myself dared to ask whether such an engaging gang as had stood history (and the New York Yankees, while we’re at it) squarely on its head could go, from there, to become anything, at any time, equal to the worst of the Red Sox’s yin.

Valentine’s day may yet arrive . . .

The question became only somewhat more delayed when, defying the gods yet again, the Red Sox picked up from the near-misses of 2005 (a division-series sweepout by the eventual World Series winners, the Chicago White Sox) and 2006 (a third-place American League East finish, underwritten by a small but profound rash of injuries and a 9-21 August), to win a second Series, again in a four-sweep. But then came another pair of early postseason exits, and the collapse of September 2011, with all the subsequent revelations in fact, in fancy, or in fustian, followed by the 2012 disaster from which the team only begins to recuperate at this writing.

The season now starts chugging to a finish that can’t come too soon for either the Red Sox or their Nation. While the Gonzalez-Crawford-Beckett swap to the Los Angeles Dodgers has eradicated what once seemed a terminal illness, even if the Red Sox in their hearts of hearts may not really have wanted to surrender Gonzalez, if they could have helped it, it seems apparent now that the days are numbered for manager Bobby Valentine. It is fair to write that Valentine may not really have had a prayer coming in. But it is fair concurrently to write that he certainly did see his clubhouse afire and, when asked for water, gave it gasoline, too soon to afford himself any reasonable chance at clearing the toxins that remained to poison it deeper.

Some think the Weekend Wipeout between the Red Sox and the Dodgers means Valentine actually has a chance of surviving the season and managing for the second and final year of his contract. Try not to bet too heavily upon it. Unfortunately, Valentine’s reputation does precede him. And when the Red Sox enter the offseason, eyeing further trades or possible free agency signings, be not surprised if some of the targets decide it would be less taxing upon their sanities to play boccie with a shot put.

Valentine questioned Kevin Youkilis’s heart when the sole question was his body, and probably lost the clubhouse then and there. But it would be Youkilis who’d be shipped onward, to the Chicago White Sox. He betrayed to the press a confidence from reserve catcher Kelly Shoppach, who had not intended his question over playing time to go public. In due course Shoppach would be shipped onward, to the New York Mets, with the followup going-away present being implications that he had written the infamous message that led to a (some) players’ sit-down with upper brass sometimes known as Textgate. He may have praised Gonzalez publicly as a solid player and citizen after Weekend Wipeout. But it was Gonzalez’s cell phone through which the original Textgate message was sent. And it would be Gonzalez dealt to the Dodgers in due course, perhaps only partially because it was the only way to convince the Dodgers to take Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford.

And what was Textgate, really, if not a camel’s broken back after Valentine, almost inexplicably, left Jon Lester in to take an eleven-run beating from the Toronto Blue Jays in latter July before finally finding relief for Lester, who clearly didn’t have his best going into the game?

They’ve purged Beckett (a malcontented pitcher, whose injuries and inconsistences probably didn’t help his disposition, a far fall from his triumphant 2007) and Crawford (whom we know now to have been obstructed by injuries from the moment he turned up in Red Sox fatigues). They dumped a pitching coach (Bob McClure) who did not see eye to eye with Valentine. But while they rushed to fill the void in the interim with a Valentine preference (Randy Niemann), they still hold coaches (Tim Bogar, Dave Magadan, Gary Tuck) who are not necessarily Valentine allies.

Valentine’s style was the absolute last thing needed in a Red Sox dugout and clubhouse rent by a pennant race collapse, tales of actual or alleged malfeasance in the thick of it, and physical fissures in the bargain that didn’t end with those of Youklis that provoked merely his first verbal pratfall. Perhaps the Red Sox administration now comprehends it wasn’t the brightest idea to supplant a becalmed people’s manager (Terry Francona, who jumped before he could be pushed) with a man who confuses division and conquest for reasonable discipline.

Valentine may be looking respectable enough today, with a few young Sox playing well, an apparently repaired relationship with Dustin Pedroia (who called him out over Youkilis), and a fine relationship with David Ortiz. That’s today. His history suggests too many chances for another misstep. Another verbal pratfall. Another wrongly-alienated player. Another betrayed confidence. Another tactical mishap.

The rumours suggest a deal in the works to bring Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell, a former Red Sox pitching coach, home to take the Boston bridge. Other speculation has reached out to touch such different bridge prospects as longtime team captain Jason Varitek (who retired before spring training); or, recently-purged Houston Astros manager Brad Mills, formerly the Red Sox bench lieutenant as they broke the actual or alleged Curse at last.

Dr. Strangeglove; or, how he to learned to stop worrying, love the bomb, and torpedo his manager . . .

Meanwhile, a question nags: Considering the bristling writings about this year’s model, is the 2012 edition the absolute most distasteful Red Sox aggregation of any wearing the fatigues of the Olde Towne Team? Each to his or her own. Here might be previous considerations that might—might—make this year’s Red Sox seem none too terrible in comparison:

1963-64—Johnny Pesky is undermined by complacent veterans and a general manager who seems bent on making certain his greatest strength (as a teacher and mentor) doesn’t stand a prayer, no matter how many good-looking young players he has to work with. Perhaps the main example: power-hitting first baseman Dick Stuart, who might get some laughs in the clubhouse but who actually causes a few teammates to seethe, with both his chronic undermining of Pesky’s authority and his refusal to concentrate on any facet of his game other than hitting the ball over the fence. Pesky would be executed before 1964’s end; Stuart would be dealt away after the season. It won’t help all that much.

1968-69—Losing his best pitcher to a knee injury in a skiing accident after the 1967 Cinderella season, convinced his players came to spring training 1968 with less obvious desire, Dick Williams graduates from mere drill sergeant to none-too-benevolent dictator. He rides his players like a steamroller over fixable mistakes; he pits player against player based on their relationships with the team’s stars, particularly with Carl Yastrzemski; he refuses to think of himself as fallible; and, he overmanages himself out of the job, barely two years after he skippered a miracle pennant and got to within a game of winning a World Series.

The Can’s Film Festival was the least of Johnny Mac’s post-1986 troubles . . .

1987-88—First, the Red Sox enter spring training under weight of revelations that most of the team tried to stiff the clubhouse and stadium workers when it came time to divide the World Series gold. Then, Oil Can Boyd gets bagged when he forgets to return a small pile of videocassettes to a rental store, and many turn out to be of, shall we say, an “adult” nature. Wade Boggs’ chicken comes home to roost, when his long-enough-time mistress reveals some less than savoury details, actual or alleged, about the future Hall of Famer. Then, Margo Adams helps blow up that portion of the clubhouse manager John McNamara’s dubious strategies don’t. McNamara really earns his stripes when he insists on a none-too-ready Pawtucket callup, the kid gets shelled, McNamara tells reporters, “My people in Pawtucket told me he’s ready,” and his people in Pawtucket swear the next such comment will get them to call their own press conferences. Boggs’ marriage will survive a lot longer. (And, still does.)

1989—Manager Joe Morgan (no relation to the Hall of Fame second baseman), who ended 1988 with a dazzling winning attitude, tussles with too many players who have their own agendae. When Red Sox pitcher Mike Smithson brushes back Rafael Palmeiro after too many Texas Rangers dug in deep on him, only one Red Sox player—pitcher Joe Price—comes out of the dugout to stand with him as Palmeiro and the Rangers pour onto the field. Late in the season Devon White steals three bases in one inning on Price, who tells Morgan, who asked what happened, “Go [fornicate] yourself!”

Kerrigan, saving Everett in, shall we say, less contentious hours . . .

2001—Ugueth Urbina and Trot Nixon brawl on a flight out of Tampa Bay. Bench coach Gene Lamont (thought to be on the Red Sox’s post-Francona managerial radar, at first) shrugs a suggestion that they just be left to kill each other. Enough of the team tunes manager Jimy Williams out over his incessant lineup tinkering, until Williams gets dumped in August over a small slump for pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. With the Red Sox barely far behind in the division race. Outfielder Carl Everett, whose customary targets usually seemed to be umpires, almost assaults Kerrigan post-9/11—to which post-attack relief efforts the Red Sox couldn’t even agree on how much to donate as a team. Both Kerrigan and Duquette won’t be around for 2002 . . . and neither will the Red Sox ownership, selling after foolish sales process delays to John Henry and company.

Say what you will about this year’s Red Pox. But Josh Beckett never told either of his two Red Sox managers to perform anatomical impossibilities upon themselves after anyone stole even one base on him. No Red Sox player this year ever just sat on his hands while his pitcher’s brushback triggered a rhubarb. Neither the departed Adrian Gonzalez nor Carl Crawford got anywhere near trying to hand Bobby Valentine his hat (or choicer portions of his anatomy) before they departed. I haven’t heard of any in-flight brawling among 2012 players. (Yet.) Nor have I heard of any 2012 Red Sox mistress preparing to sue her incumbent or ex-man for palimony, never mind telling tales to, ahem, adult magazines. (Yet.)

Conversely, alas, none of those other toxic Red Sox clubs could boast (if that’s the right word for it) that, among them, only four incumbent players deemed worthy of their presence the funeral of a franchise icon. Who probably loved the Red Sox over his entire life far more than these Red Sox love themselves.

Throw the Switch on Valentine; Then, Start Rebuilding

Once upon a time, George Scott, an ertswhile Red Sox star, moved to the Milwaukee Brewers (he was part of the deal that also made ex-Red Sox out of Jim Lonborg, Ken Brett, and Billy Conigliaro), had a conversation with the Brewers’ one-time co-owner, Edmund Fitzgerald. No, silly, not the wreck about which Gordon Lightfoot wrote a certain ancient song hit, however the Brewers weren’t doing at the time. “You know, Mr. Fitzgerald, if we’re gonna win,” the big man called Boomer said, “the players gotta play better, the coaches gotta coach better, the manager gotta manage better, and the owners gotta own better.”

Two days ago, feeling the heat, after a Yahoo! Sports story cited him as one of the two inspirations behind a big sit-down between some Red Sox players and the team brass in New York, Dustin Pedroia said damn near the same thing, while trying to tell reporters he didn’t think Bobby Valentine deserved a trip to the guillotine just yet. “When I spoke [at the New York meeting],” Pedroia said, “I said we all need to be better. That includes owners, Bobby, coaches, and especially the players.”

You might prefer George Scott’s flair for rhetoric but you can hear the same sentiment in the Red Sox’s incumbent captain-in-everything-but-name. And if you agree with Scott and Pedroia and about half a score of analysts, since the Red Sox’s toxins have swollen to nuclear fallout levels, then the owners who gotta own better could—should?—take step one by admitting and correcting their biggest 2012 mistake.

Not at the end of this season. Not at the end of next season. Now. Or, at least, after the Red Sox and the Yankees get finished with each other this weekend. For the Red Sox’s sake; and, for Valentine’s, too.

“Of course Bobby Valentine should be fired,” Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports writes. “Some rival executives say the Red Sox should have fired him as manager two weeks ago, when they had a better chance of salvaging their season.”

The Red Sox were toxic enough before team president Larry Lucchino, who’s believed only too widely to have done so, overruled general manager Ben Cherington and a few other Red Sox brass and—contradicting those people’s assurances, including to enough players, that Valentine wasn’t even a topic—bringing Valentine aboard to succeed the ill-fated Terry Francona.

Right then and there, there should have been red flags run up the flagpoles, and not merely because of Valentine’s major league rap sheet, which was considerable enough. What manner of management allows some of its people to assure players they won’t be hiring a certain individual, then overrides the man who’s supposed to have that authority (Cherington, succeeding Theo Epstein, who must have known something like this would be coming, if Francona walked before he could be strapped to the guerney) and hires that individual anyway?

And what manner of management, even removing the former observation from the equation, would think that, whatever animated the September 2011 collapse, the Red Sox—who probably needed a certain kind of disciplinarian to help them right themselves—needed a man whose history, too much repeating itself this season, indicates he doesn’t obey the line between mere discipline and playing with matches in the middle of toxic fumes?

The players aren’t even close to blameless. Let’s say it unequivocably. The Red Sox aren’t the only team wracked by the disabled list; it isn’t just the injuries that have produced their inconsistent-to-impossible play. There do remain a few clubhouse cancers among them. But how brilliant an idea could it have been to hire a manager who wouldn’t have needed a knife and fork to attack the clubhouse chicken spread because, as Johnny Carson once said of a once-fabled Hollywood gossip reporter, he cuts his food with his tongue?

There’s something almost nobody’s been thinking about all that much in the middle of the hoopla. I noted it a few days ago, and it bears a revisit. It was what Valentine said, to the Boston Herald, when the Yahoo! Sports story broke and the madness ramped up to, ahem, fever pitch. “I hear a lot of (players) say, ‘Why doesn’t anybody talk about this other team like that? Why don’t they talk about anyone else?’ I just say, ‘It’s just because this is who we are. We’re the Red Sox.’ And maybe it’s because of who I am, too. They have to understand, I’m here. There’s going to be a lot of bullets thrown my way, and they can become collateral damage.

You don’t have to look too hard to discover managers past who took no crap, called players to public account, but drew the line at letting their players become collateral damage for their bluster or bristle.

An otherwise high-flying bunch of early 1980s Phillies got fed up with Dallas Green’s whip-cracking public floggings but not even the most disgruntled Phillie accused Green of being reckless enough to leave the undeserving in the firing line, too. A collection of 2011-2012 Mets have a manager who takes no crap, calls players to public account, but not even the most disgruntled among the very few disgruntled Mets have had any reason to accuse Terry Collins of leaving them to be collateral damage. No early-80s Phillie or 2011-12 Met has yet accused either Green or Collins of agreeing to talk privately about one or another concern only to have either manager fink to the press about it, so far as I know.

One of the twists is that Collins, who once helped to blow up a pair of Show clubhouses with high-strung, high-anxiety management, as in treating every single act in a game as though it were life and death, actually learned from his mistakes. Valentine, by every indication, hasn’t.

Valentine took the Mets to a pair of postseasons (including a World Series) during his earlier reign there. But in 2002, when the Mets began to collapse more profoundly, his act—specifically, ginning up conflict with particularly popular players, playing certain members of the press against others, and using private concerns to rip players publicly in short order—finally got him run out of the job.

Maybe nothing could have stopped the Red Sox high command from overreacting after the September shrinkage. Still, the Atlanta Braves collapsed practically even-up with the Red Sox, but the only thing they did afterward was change hitting coaches. The Red Sox let Francona resign, after he’d only been the most successful manager—and maybe the best—in franchise history, so they wouldn’t have to throw the switch on him. They let Epstein walk in favour of Cherington. (Epstein made a couple of mistakes with a couple of dubious contracts, but was that enough to think about life without him?) Then, they all but stripped Cherington of power enough to leave room for a duplicitously-done Valentine hire which, considering Valentine’s history, shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

It left room for Valentine to question since-traded Kevin Youkilis’s heart in hand with his physical maladies when the season was barely underway. It left room for Valentine to betray since-traded Kelly Shoppach’s private, off-the-record complaint about playing time. To betray Clay Buchholz’s private, off-the-record request for one extra day’s rest, implying a no-heart tag upon the Red Sox’s most consistent starting pitcher this season. To admit to a smartass remark to Will Middlebrooks over one bad inning when he should have kept his mouth shut about it in the first place. To leave Jon Lester in to take one of the worst beatings a starting pitcher without his best stuff on a day can take (which prompted the New York sit-down in the first place, apparently), with, apparently, nobody else willing to stand up and take one for the team. (Wonder why?) To betray Carl Crawford’s wrist soreness, after the outfielder came out of a game late, before allowing Crawford himself a chance to talk about it. Among other things.

Plan for the post-Beckett future . . .

Such a shame that it didn’t leave room for the Red Sox powers to seize the moment, and unload Josh Beckett when the Rangers were willing to bring him aboard, with Beckett’s reputation in tatters and the righthander still thought to be unrepentant in his actual or alleged defiance. (Beckett has 10-5 rights and a no-trade clause, but he’s also a native Texan who might have enjoyed going home to pitch.) Moving Beckett at the non-waiver deadline might not have stanched the bleeding, but it might have sent a message that, yes, we made a big mistake bringing aboard the human chemical leak to manage this team but no, we’re not going to suffer any other fools gladly any longer.

You think Valentine non-chalantly shrugging that his players might have to accept that he’ll leave them as collateral damage should have jolted the Red Sox powers bolt upright? You should have heard what he told a radio station in the middle of the latest hoopla: From what I gather it’s common, it’s what happens here. One of the things I was discussing with one of the players was that all this noise is one of the reasons players don’t like to sign here. You know, they don’t have to deal with it in other markets. They don’t have to worry about the drama of the day; they can just go out and play baseball.

Good luck getting coming or future free agents to sign on for that. I can think of no more delicious translation that that of Gordon Edes, longtime Boston Globe columnist, who’s been an ESPN writer since 2009:

So, there you have it, the raw material for future recruiting pitches by general manager Ben Cherington. It’s bad enough that 2012 has been a disaster. Might as well pay it forward, too.

Boston: You Sure You Want to Play Here? No One Else Is.

Boston: The Noise Will Drive You Nuts.

Boston: A Place Only a Drama Queen Could Love.

It’s time for the Red Sox to think about blowing up 2012 once and for all. Even if—unlikely as it may seem today, as opposed to, say, 2004, or 2007—they spend the weekend sweeping the Yankees, who are no strangers to off-field toxins but who still manage to field a team of absolute professionals. (On the other hand, maybe Red Sox Nation should think seriously about rooting for the Empire Emeritus—as distasteful as the prospect normally might be—to wax the Red Sox in a sweep and hasten Valentine’s trip to the chair.) Write 2012 off as the unmitigated disaster it is.

. . . and let the GM be the GM . . .

Next, clear their throats to swallow the rest of Valentine’s contract. Now. Lucchino may have assured one and all that Valentine will survive the season, but it looks more and more as though the Red Sox won’t survive him. Lucchino’s bosses can convince him it’s the right move, before Valentine pours another can of gasoline on another fire. And, before the alienation of three valuable holdover coaches (bench coach Tim Bogar, bullpen coach Gary Tuck, batting instructor Dave Magadan), who seem to care for Valentine about as much as he seems to care for them, which is barely if at all, prompts one or all of them to think about walking.

Then, finally, start reshaping this roster. Start planning on a post-Beckett future and find a trading partner who’d be willing to take on some of Beckett’s salary through 2014. (The Rangers might still be a viable candidate, considering Ryan Dempster might walk into the free agency waters at season’s end.) Secure yourselves with a core of Pedroia, Buchholz, Jon Lester, and Jacoby Ellsbury; they’re still young enough, and under friendly-enough deals, that they can recover once the Valentine toxin is purged. Unless, of course, the only way to purge Beckett and bring in valuable return might be to include Ellsbury in the deal, as painful as that might be. (The Rangers may have had just that in mind at the non-waiver deadline.) And, while you’re at it, let it be known to one and all in that clubhouse that Ellsbury was no wimp, the way some of those characters accused him of being when he missed so much of 2010 with back trouble, pointing to his trying to play when still not recovered quite all the way from another injury this year.)

Let nothing and no one stand in the way of the emergence of lefthander Felix Doubront, third baseman Will Middlebrooks, and shortstop comers Jose Iglesias and Xander Bogaerts. And, if John Lackey returns successfully enough from Tommy John surgery in 2013, don’t be shy about yielding him to that year’s non-waiver trade deadline.

Spend 2013 if you must as a rebuild year. But rebuild in earnest. If you want people to take the rebuild seriously, including your own players, you can’t wait to send Valentine to the firing squad. You could let bench coach Tim Bogar take the team to play out the string. You can let Cherington be the general manager in more than just job title. And, you could explore a couple of managing possibilities for 2013 in advance.

You can think about Gene Lamont, who was on your minds before you went for Valentine and is probably better than his previous teams allowed him to be. You can think about asking the White Sox for permission to talk to Joe McEwing, once a hustling utility player (Tony La Russa admired the hell out of him) who’s made an under-the-proverbial-radar reputation for game knowledge and hustle managing in their system. You can think about asking the Phillies for permission to talk to Ryne Sandberg, since the Cubs, insanely enough, didn’t want him for all the work he put in in their system to prove himself, and Charlie Manuel isn’t about to take the fall for the Phillies’ deflation this season.

Before the players can play better, the owners gotta own better. The same ownership who built two World Series winners in four seasons can start a fresh rebuild by dropping the blindfold and the cigarette on Valentine. Now.

The Whistlers

Today, I’d rather think about Barry Larkin and Ron Santo going into the Hall of Fame, Tim McCarver going in as the Frick Award recipient, and Bob Elliott going in as the Spink Award recipient. Thank Murray Chass for putting that to one side for now. Chass, himself a Hall of Fame baseball writer (longtime New York Times reporter and columnist whose specialties included acute analyses of the business side of the game), has uncorked yet another in his periodic series which could be called “Valentine’s Day,” considering that Bobby Valentine has been a particular bete noire of Chass’s since Chass was still a Timesman and Valentine was the manager of the New York Mets.

Did he suffer no whistleblower gladly?

Now, Chass has amplified what was merely suspected: the possibility that Valentine threw Kevin Youkilis under the proverbial bus in April in a bid to make it that much easier for the Boston Red Sox to purge the popular third baseman. You may remember (you should remember) Valentine pronouncing about Youkilis, “I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason.” Chass thinks many see ulterior motives and that those folk aren’t quite right.

Physically, Valentine was probably right, though one notes Youkilis having something of a renaissance with the Chicago White Sox since he was dealt there, for a pair of no-names, in late June. Mentally, of course, Valentine was wrong. And when the White Sox visited Boston recently, Valentine couldn’t resist yet another shot at Youkilis, saying outright that Youkilis wouldn’t let the April issue 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.”

Not so fast, says Chass:

[L]et’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?

I don’t believe it, either. And I suspect as Chass does, that perhaps the real reason Youkilis was unloaded was that he proved a whistleblower. Whistleblowers are no more popular in baseball than they are in the corporate world, or in government, or in just about anyplace you can think of. You don’t unload a clubhouse leader and teacher for two non-entities without (you think) a good reason. And I don’t think anyone bought into any idea that the Red Sox were swapping Youkilis for parts of a future.

Youkilis may have been the Red Sox player who exposed the backstory of last year’s September collapse, the clubhouse and dugout indulgences of practically their entire starting rotation, Josh Beckett and company munching chicken and pounding brewskis while the Red Sox flamed out. The Boston Globe, which wrote the story shortly after the regular season ended, never named Youkilis as the primary source, but as Chass notes, the Globe “has basically confirmed it by omitting any mention of the source in the face of other reports.”

The collapse led to manager Terry Francona basically jumping the ship his rats did their best to sink before he could be made to walk the plank. The backstory exposed the capable Francona as having lost control of a clubhouse he usually policed by letting his veterans play the cops. Valentine may not have let that play into his thinking in April, and (Chass makes a point of noting this) he surely got the skinny from holdover coaches and other personnel. But Valentine has a history of tangling with popular players. (Todd Hundley on the Mets was only the most egregious example, perhaps until now.) Or, at least, trying to undermine players with problems he can’t quite process. (Valentine was particularly nasty about things when one-time Met pitcher Pete Harnisch suffered clinical depression, accusing Harnisch of lacking guts.) It leads you to wonder seriously whether whistleblowing is something else he can’t wrap around.

He wouldn’t be the first who couldn’t. And he probably won’t be the last. You can probably stock a roster with baseball whistleblowers, or those thought to be such, who may have learned the hard way about any kind of whistling.

Did questioning the Little League in print hurt him in the Show?

Joey Jay was the first Little League alumnus to make it to the Show, as a bonus-baby Milwaukee Brave. While with the Braves (who had to keep him on the major league roster his first two years, under the bonus rule of the time), Jay wrote a magazine article urging parents to think carefully before letting their kids play Little League ball: Jay had suffered when Little League officials tried barring him because he was rather tall and large for his age.  Nobody knows for dead last certain whether that Little League critique had a hand in it, but Jay never really got a chance to crack the Braves’ rotation, though his talent was always apparent. (His best season as a Brave was 1958, but he had to miss the World Series with a broken finger.) The Braves finally traded him to Cincinnati for the 1961 season . . . and Jay practically meant the pennant for the ’61 Reds. He reeled off back-to-back 20+-win seasons (1961, 1962; he was Cincinnati’s first 20-game winner since Ewell Blackwell in 1947) before he hit his downslope to stay. It was enough to make you wonder whether his earlier writing about the Little League experience didn’t harm Jay in the majors.

“The hard hat who sued baseball . . .”

When Carl Furillo was cut by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1960, while on the disabled list with a torn muscle, the proud right fielder didn’t take it meekly. He sued the Dodgers, claiming the team released him wrongfully (his contract said he couldn’t be released when injured) to keep him from the higher pension a fifteen-year player would receive and to keep from paying his medical expenses. Furillo actually won the suit (he collected $21,000) but he went to his grave (he died at 66 in 1989) never really knowing whether he’d been blackballed out of future work as a coach or manager. (Roger Kahn—who caught up to Furillo when Furillo worked installing elevators in the World Trade Center; one can only thank God Furillo didn’t live to see the towers come down on 9/11—called his The Boys of Summer chapter on Furillo, “The Hard Hat Who Sued Baseball.”)

“A kooky beatnik . . .”

Jim Brosnan wasn’t exactly trying to blow whistles on wrongdoing when he wrote The Long Season and Pennant Race, arguably the first two from-the-inside looks at life in the Show. Brosnan also wrote frequent magazine articles from his perspective as a useful relief pitcher. He wasn’t even close to the sort of expositor Jim Bouton would prove a decade later, writing of feelings and inside technical knowledge rather than every daily detail, but it didn’t stop Joe Garagiola from calling him “a kooky beatnik.” As much a humourist as a diarist, Brosnan had written of one season when he transitioned from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Reds, and another as a from-the-inside look at the Reds while they were winning their surprise 1961 pennant. (Brosnan was one of that team’s two key relief pitchers, with Bill Henry.) When Brosnan was traded to the White Sox for 1964, he retired rather than accept the team’s management’s demand to send every article he might write to their front office for team approval.

No silence about a racial snub . . .

Earl Wilson refused to keep his mouth shut when he and a pair of white Red Sox teammates were denied service in a Florida bar in spring training 1966, after the server crowed, “We don’t serve niggers in here.” When Wilson took it to the team’s then-management, they warned Wilson to stay quiet, as though the incident never happened. Wilson fumed quietly, then took it to the press. It cooked the righthander with the Red Sox; he would be traded to the Detroit Tigers early in the season, for a middling relief pitcher and a fading outfielder who would, among other things, hit fewer home runs as a Red Sox than Wilson—a fine hitting pitcher—hit in his entire major league career. Wilson, for his part, would post a few fine seasons for the Tigers (he led the American League in wins in 1967) before retiring.

Published and perished . . .

Even Bouton wasn’t exactly trying to blow whistles on wrongdoing when he wrote Ball Four, necessarily, though he did expose some juicy details about the one-sided negotiating positions into which players in the reserve era were subject. Like Brosnan, Bouton kept a diary of his 1969 season between the Seattle Pilots and the Houston Astros. He merely recorded far more details of life on and off the field. But once the book was published, and Bouton’s candor raised a bigger uproar than Brosnan ever provoked, his major league days were numbered. Though his manager at the time swore Bouton was cut purely because he’d finally lost whatever he had left in his pitching arm (he’d been reduced to a junkballer by arm miseries that began in 1965), the timing probably made even Bouton’s enemies wonder whether it was his best-seller and not his hittability that ended his career. And no baseball commissioner tried actively to suppress Brosnan’s books or Jay’s article.

The needle and the damage done . . .

Curt Flood probably didn’t help his own cause by publishing The Way It Is at the height of his legal challenge to the reserve clause, even if former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, taking Flood’s case pro bono, may have done the most to assure Flood of losing before the high court. When Ken Caminiti went public (in Sports Illustrated) a year after he retired, and became baseball’s first player to admit having used actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances, there were published fears that he, too, would be blackballed from the game. (He’d worked as a spring instructor with the San Diego Padres, for whom he’d played a few seasons including his MVP season, and seemed to have a future as a full-time coach somewhere.) A troubled man who had already battled alcoholism and cocaine, Caminiti’s life spiraled further beyond control (his marriage collapsed; he lapsed back to cocaine) until his death of a drug overdose in 2004.

It isn’t impossible to think that Kevin Youkilis punched his ticket out of Boston, where he was popular and respected most of the time (he did have that dugout run-in with Manny Ramirez once upon a time, not that Ramirez was always the most popular Red Sox), not because his skills were fading, not because his body might yet betray him again, but because he might have been the man who let loose a secret at least half of Boston might not have wanted to know.

“[W]ho is wrong here?” Chass asks. Then, he answers.

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.

Big “if.” And who knows what Youkilis’s Red Sox life would have been worth if he had blown the whistle before the collapse?

At Least He Didn't Say The Rock Had No Heart . . .

Red Sox Nation may be stung somewhat by the Kevin Youkilis trade to the White Sox, especially considering the demeaning his manager inflicted on him earlier in the season. But they can take heart that this may not quite prove to be the absolute worst trade of all time involving a fan and clubhouse favourite.

For that dishonour you’d have to hark to Cleveland, where they still can’t forget the capricious trade of a run-producing machine, with a modest batting average, for a singles-hitting outfielder whose often-gaudy batting averages masked that he wasn’t worth too many runs on the scoreboard. A trade about which the Indians general manager who made the deal crowed, “What’s the fuss all about? I just traded hamburger for steak.”

The run-producing machine was Rocky Colavito. The singles hitter was Harvey Kuenn. The GM who made the deal was Frank Lane. The Red Sox would unload Kevin Youkilis after injuries had drained his production and his own, new manager questioned not just his production but his heart. But why on earth did Lane unload an extremely productive player, who’d barely approached his playing prime, and was probably the most popular player in an Indian uniform in the bargain?

Colavito—Cleveland’s matinee idol and run-producing machine . . .

The Bronx-born Colavito became an Indian in the first place because the Yankees, whom he’d grown up worshipping (Joe DiMaggio was his particular favourite), showed little interest in signing the kid. (Colavito had dropped out of high school to play semi-pro ball; he had to get a waiver to be allowed to turn pro a year after he would have graduated.) The Philadelphia Athletics were interested but cash strapped. The Indians signed him in 1950, deferring his bonus to spread out over his progress through their farm system.

Colavito made the Indians to stay in July 1956; his 21 homers and 65 runs batted in in 101 games got him a couple of Rookie of the Year votes. Had sabermetrics been invented at the time, his .372 on-base percentage might have gotten him the award over White Sox shortstop and speed merchant Luis Aparicio. He hit a few more bombs and drove in a few more runs in 1957, though his OBP dipped.

In 1958, Colavito exploded—he led the American League in slugging, hit 41 over the fence, drove home 113, yanked his OBP up to .405, and threw in the highest single-season batting average of his life: .303. He hit higher than that late in close games; he was deadly with men on base; he actually did his best hitting when the games were within a single run. (Herb Score, his teammate and roommate, has said Colavito was one of those players who hungered to be at the plate when it was late and close.) He was better in the second half of the season than the first.

Frank Lane, who became the Indians’ general manager before the 1958 season, and earned the nickname Trader Lane because he seemed never to see a player trade he couldn’t make, was anything but impressed. For openers, he and Colavito tangled over the latter’s 1958 contract. Colavito was bucking for a $3,500 raise; Lane offered only $1,500, with the usual undermining GMs in those years liked to lay on players when trying to hold the salaries down. Finally, Lane told Colavito to take the $1,500 now and, if he played well in 1958, “don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.” Sure enough, Colavito in September took Lane up on that, at a point where he had 35 bombs and 102 RBI on the ledger. Lane told Colavito he had no idea what the right fielder was talking about. Colavito fumed.

I will take a man at his word until I found out that he can’t be trusted . . . He said he never promised me the other $1,500. I called him a ‘no-good liar.’ He lied to me and he knew it, and I lost all respect for him at that moment.

But Lane couldn’t deny Colavito after 1958. He doubled Colavito’s 1959 salary after another round of contentious haggling—to $28,000. With the Indians in a pennant race for much of the season, Colavito ended up tied (with Harmon Killebrew) for the American League lead with 42 homers, knocking in only two fewer runs than 1958, and leading the league in total bases, not to mention finishing fourth in the league’s Most Valuable Player voting and earning his first trip to the All-Star Game in a peer vote. (The fans lost the All-Star vote after the Cincinnati ballot-box-stuffing scandal.) Unfortunately, his batting average fell to .257. Which was just about all Frank Lane needed to know.

In the interim, Colavito also made a reputation as a fan-friendly player who rarely if ever denied fans. (Score once swore Colavito would sign until the absolute last fan had been accounted for, while spontaneously impressing their parents by insisting the kids mind their manners.) On 10 June 1959, Colavito smashed his way into cult status once and for all in Cleveland, when–with a trade rumour hanging over his head—he tore out of a 4-for-30 slump by hitting four over the fences against the Orioles in old Memorial Stadium, only the third player at the time to hit four bombs in consecutive at-bats, including a ninth-inning blast against Ernie Johnson, who hadn’t surrendered a homer yet on the season.

The Indians fell out of the race and finished five behind the pennant-winning White Sox, the Indians’ owners gave Lane a new three-year contract, and Colavito and Lane went through their annual contract dance. Lane acknowledged Colavito had equaled his counting power numbers from the previous season but pointed out it took him a hundred more at-bats to do it. He even used Mickey Mantle as a lever, noting the Yankees were actually cutting Mantle’s salary for 1960, ignoring that Colavito a) had out-homered Mantle and every other power hitter in baseball in 1958-59; and, b) may have had a better 1959 than Mantle did. Lane was probably also ignorant of Colavito’s clutch statistics. He tailed off overall in late and close games, but he hit almost half his home runs and drove in more than half his runs when the Indians were within a run either way.

Kuenn—his gaudy batting averages belied his body beginning to break down . . .

At the same time, however, Detroit outfielder Harvey Kuenn was haggling over his 1960 salary after winning the 1959 American League batting title with a .353 average. Kuenn’s on-base percentage was an impressive .402 that season as well. But over the first eight years of his career Kuenn wasn’t good for much else. He wasn’t half as run productive as Colavito had been through 1959; he wasn’t driving in a lot of runs, even though he did hit lots of doubles (he led the league three times); he wasn’t particularly fast afoot to begin with, and he’d been prone to pulled muscles that kept him out of games to the tune of twelve or more a year from 1955-1959.

Colavito ended his holdout by signing for $35,000. Kuenn ended his by signing for $42,000. Both men got a $7,000 raise. A trade rumour wafted involving the two outfielders. Lane denied it. “Jimmie Dykes (then the Tigers’ manager) wanted to make the deal. That scared me. He’s pretty smart.”

The day before the 1960 season, with the Indians playing an exhibition game in Memphis against the White Sox, Colavito stood on first base, safe on a fielder’s choice, after having hit one out his first time up. While standing on first base, Indians manager Joe Gordon walked out to first base to tell him he’d been traded to the Tigers for Kuenn. Gordon pulled Colavito for a pinch hitter post haste, then, according to Colavito, spread a false tale that Colavito had asked, “Kuenn and who else?” Implying that Colavito didn’t think all that much of Kuenn.

Herb Score—still trying to salvage his career, after blowing out his elbow tendon on a damp day and wrecking his mechanics trying to compensate after he recovered—remembered Colavito going to the bullpen to talk to him after being pulled from the game. (Score would be traded to the White Sox a day later, reunited with his former manager Al Lopez, in a deal Lane may have made under pressure from Indians’ ownership, since many believed Lopez could help the still-ailing Score while Lane was adamant against sending him to Chicago at first.) He also remembered Lane bent on unloading Colavito no matter what.

He just didn’t like Rocky as a person. Part of it was that Lane believed ballplayers should be rowdy, hard-living, hard-drinking guys. But that wasn’t Rocky or myself. I believe that Lane resented the fact that no matter how many trades he made, or how much the Indians improved while he was the general manager, Rocky would still be the most popular Indian.

Lane had a public explanation for the deal.

We’ve given up 40 homers for 40 doubles. We’ve added 50 singles and taken away 50 strikeouts. . . Those singles and doubles win just as many games as home runs.

Well, that’s a helluva lot less insulting than telling people he couldn’t understand the fuss over trading hamburger for steak.

Harvey Kuenn would finish his career averaging 143 runs produced per 162 games. Rocky Colavito would finish his averaging 187 runs produced per 162 games. As Allen Barra once posited, take a lineup of Harvey Kuenns and square it off against a lineup of Rocky Colavitos and then ask yourself which lineup’s going to put more runs on the scoreboard. Yes, Colavito was an easier strikeout than Kuenn—it isn’t even close—but Colavito wasn’t exactly Reggie Jackson or Dave Kingman or Adam Dunn when it came to the whiff. He wasn’t even Mickey Mantle: Mantle finished his career averaging 115 strikeouts per 162 games. Colavito finished his averaging 38 less.

And the most popular Indian of his time got swapped to the Tigers the day before the Indians and Tigers were to face each other to open . . . in Cleveland. Gracious about the deal in public, clearly Colavito was stung by the deal. He opened 1960 going 0-for-6 with four strikeouts. Kuenn opened going 2-for-7 with a double and no runs scored or driven in himself. The Tigers won in fifteen innings, 4-2. From there?

Colavito would miss a little injury time, then finish with 35 bombs and 87 runs batted in; Kuenn would hit .308 with a marvelous .379 on-base percentage and make his eighth (and final) All-Star team . . . but only 119 runs produced to Colavito’s 156. Kuenn also missed most of September due to injuries. In 1961, though, Colavito went absolute off the charts: 269 runs produced, 45 bombs, 140 runs batted in, a .402 on-base percentage, another All-Star selection, and he played every Tiger game on the season. He also hit .290.

Kuenn, for his part, was out of Cleveland for 1961–Lane traded him to the San Francisco Giants, for pitcher Johnny Antonelli and outfielder Willie Kirkland—because, all of a sudden, Lane decided the Indians needed more power hitting. There are those to this day who believe that, just as there are compulsive gamblers and compulsive drinkers, Frank Lane was a compulsive deal-maker. It is not an unreasonably theory.

“I’ve just traded hamburger for steak”—Frank Lane, who traded Colavito for Kuenn . . .

Lane had the audacity to ask the Indians for a contract extension with two years left on his most recent deal. You’d like to think the Indians brass busted the proverbial guts laughing. They merely told him his deal would stand. Then he resigned to take the GM position in Kansas City, with the Athletics, for a better deal. Just as he’d done leaving the St. Louis Cardinals for Cleveland.

Lane lasted two years in Kansas City, then ran the Chicago Zephyrs of the NBA (you’ve known them since as the Baltimore Bullets, the Capital Bullets, the Washington Bullets, and the Washington Wizards), before working in the front offices of both the Milwaukee Brewers and the Baltimore Orioles, who kept him strictly to scouting duties. When he died in 1981, only one baseball official attended his funeral, one-time Indians manager Bobby Bragan, and that was only because Commissioner Bowie Kuhn personally asked Bragan to do it.

Colavito had a few more solid seasons left in him—including two as a prodigal son with the Indians, for whom he led the American League in RBI in 1965, and who got him back in a deal with the Kansas City Athletics (to whom the Tigers traded him after 1963—while injuries wore him down and, finally, out. The Indians sent him to the White Sox, to whom they’d surrendered Tommy John and Tommie Agee in the three-way swap that brought him back to Cleveland in the first place. Colavito would finish his career as a Yankee at last, in 1968, after starting the season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, by which time his once-formidable hitting skills were long enough eroded. The injuries may—may—have kept him from a no-questions-asked Hall of Fame career.

Kuenn had one or two more useful seasons left, too, before injuries and age finally retired him after a 1966 as a part-timer for the Philadelphia Phillies. His injury history may have kept him, too, from a no-questions-asked Hall of Fame jacket. Before he retired, Kuenn earned a legend as being the final out—one (as a Giant) a ground out, one (as a Chicago Cub) a swinging strikeout—in two of Sandy Koufax’s no-hitters, including Koufax’s 1965 perfect game. In time, Kuenn even became a pennant-winning manager. Considering some of the backstory behind the most notorious trade in which he was ever involved, there’s no small irony in Kuenn’s 1982 Brewers, with a propensity for the long ball, being nicknamed Harvey’s Wallbangers.

Kuenn died of cancer in 1988. (There was probably a time when people made book on finding any photographs showing Kuenn without a big chaw of tobacco in his cheek.) Colavito lives in Pennsylvania. He emerged briefly enough last month, after Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers blasted four homers against the Orioles, in Camden Yards. Colavito learned of it when, coming home from dinner with his wife, he flipped on ESPN and saw his name flicker across the screen, a reference to his own earlier four-bomb feat. “I’ve seen my name—and I say this in modesty— I’ve seen my name lots of times on TV,” he told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. “But as time goes by, you get older and you don’t hear it as often. When you see it or hear it, it makes you smile a little bit—that they didn’t forget you entirely.”

Red Sox Nation may not come to see 24 June 2012 as the beginning of the Curse of Kevin Youkilis, but to this day in Cleveland they lament the Curse of Rocky Colavito. Six years after the Indians won a pennant with a 111-win season, only to be destroyed in four straight by the New York Giants in the World Series, they traded their most popular and run-productive player. The Indians have won only two pennants, but no World Series, since. In the interim, the Indians, too, have had a history of trans-dimensional catastrophes close enough to rival those the Red Sox endured until the mid-Aughts. Close.

Can we say anything nicer about Frank Lane as regards the Colavito deal? Believe it or not, yes we can. At least, whatever else he said about The Rock, not even Lane’s worst enemy ever charged him with accusing Colavito in turn of lacking heart.

At Least He Didn’t Say The Rock Had No Heart . . .

Red Sox Nation may be stung somewhat by the Kevin Youkilis trade to the White Sox, especially considering the demeaning his manager inflicted on him earlier in the season. But they can take heart that this may not quite prove to be the absolute worst trade of all time involving a fan and clubhouse favourite.

For that dishonour you’d have to hark to Cleveland, where they still can’t forget the capricious trade of a run-producing machine, with a modest batting average, for a singles-hitting outfielder whose often-gaudy batting averages masked that he wasn’t worth too many runs on the scoreboard. A trade about which the Indians general manager who made the deal crowed, “What’s the fuss all about? I just traded hamburger for steak.”

The run-producing machine was Rocky Colavito. The singles hitter was Harvey Kuenn. The GM who made the deal was Frank Lane. The Red Sox would unload Kevin Youkilis after injuries had drained his production and his own, new manager questioned not just his production but his heart. But why on earth did Lane unload an extremely productive player, who’d barely approached his playing prime, and was probably the most popular player in an Indian uniform in the bargain?

Colavito—Cleveland’s matinee idol and run-producing machine . . .

The Bronx-born Colavito became an Indian in the first place because the Yankees, whom he’d grown up worshipping (Joe DiMaggio was his particular favourite), showed little interest in signing the kid. (Colavito had dropped out of high school to play semi-pro ball; he had to get a waiver to be allowed to turn pro a year after he would have graduated.) The Philadelphia Athletics were interested but cash strapped. The Indians signed him in 1950, deferring his bonus to spread out over his progress through their farm system.

Colavito made the Indians to stay in July 1956; his 21 homers and 65 runs batted in in 101 games got him a couple of Rookie of the Year votes. Had sabermetrics been invented at the time, his .372 on-base percentage might have gotten him the award over White Sox shortstop and speed merchant Luis Aparicio. He hit a few more bombs and drove in a few more runs in 1957, though his OBP dipped.

In 1958, Colavito exploded—he led the American League in slugging, hit 41 over the fence, drove home 113, yanked his OBP up to .405, and threw in the highest single-season batting average of his life: .303. He hit higher than that late in close games; he was deadly with men on base; he actually did his best hitting when the games were within a single run. (Herb Score, his teammate and roommate, has said Colavito was one of those players who hungered to be at the plate when it was late and close.) He was better in the second half of the season than the first.

Frank Lane, who became the Indians’ general manager before the 1958 season, and earned the nickname Trader Lane because he seemed never to see a player trade he couldn’t make, was anything but impressed. For openers, he and Colavito tangled over the latter’s 1958 contract. Colavito was bucking for a $3,500 raise; Lane offered only $1,500, with the usual undermining GMs in those years liked to lay on players when trying to hold the salaries down. Finally, Lane told Colavito to take the $1,500 now and, if he played well in 1958, “don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.” Sure enough, Colavito in September took Lane up on that, at a point where he had 35 bombs and 102 RBI on the ledger. Lane told Colavito he had no idea what the right fielder was talking about. Colavito fumed.

I will take a man at his word until I found out that he can’t be trusted . . . He said he never promised me the other $1,500. I called him a ‘no-good liar.’ He lied to me and he knew it, and I lost all respect for him at that moment.

But Lane couldn’t deny Colavito after 1958. He doubled Colavito’s 1959 salary after another round of contentious haggling—to $28,000. With the Indians in a pennant race for much of the season, Colavito ended up tied (with Harmon Killebrew) for the American League lead with 42 homers, knocking in only two fewer runs than 1958, and leading the league in total bases, not to mention finishing fourth in the league’s Most Valuable Player voting and earning his first trip to the All-Star Game in a peer vote. (The fans lost the All-Star vote after the Cincinnati ballot-box-stuffing scandal.) Unfortunately, his batting average fell to .257. Which was just about all Frank Lane needed to know.

In the interim, Colavito also made a reputation as a fan-friendly player who rarely if ever denied fans. (Score once swore Colavito would sign until the absolute last fan had been accounted for, while spontaneously impressing their parents by insisting the kids mind their manners.) On 10 June 1959, Colavito smashed his way into cult status once and for all in Cleveland, when–with a trade rumour hanging over his head—he tore out of a 4-for-30 slump by hitting four over the fences against the Orioles in old Memorial Stadium, only the third player at the time to hit four bombs in consecutive at-bats, including a ninth-inning blast against Ernie Johnson, who hadn’t surrendered a homer yet on the season.

The Indians fell out of the race and finished five behind the pennant-winning White Sox, the Indians’ owners gave Lane a new three-year contract, and Colavito and Lane went through their annual contract dance. Lane acknowledged Colavito had equaled his counting power numbers from the previous season but pointed out it took him a hundred more at-bats to do it. He even used Mickey Mantle as a lever, noting the Yankees were actually cutting Mantle’s salary for 1960, ignoring that Colavito a) had out-homered Mantle and every other power hitter in baseball in 1958-59; and, b) may have had a better 1959 than Mantle did. Lane was probably also ignorant of Colavito’s clutch statistics. He tailed off overall in late and close games, but he hit almost half his home runs and drove in more than half his runs when the Indians were within a run either way.

Kuenn—his gaudy batting averages belied his body beginning to break down . . .

At the same time, however, Detroit outfielder Harvey Kuenn was haggling over his 1960 salary after winning the 1959 American League batting title with a .353 average. Kuenn’s on-base percentage was an impressive .402 that season as well. But over the first eight years of his career Kuenn wasn’t good for much else. He wasn’t half as run productive as Colavito had been through 1959; he wasn’t driving in a lot of runs, even though he did hit lots of doubles (he led the league three times); he wasn’t particularly fast afoot to begin with, and he’d been prone to pulled muscles that kept him out of games to the tune of twelve or more a year from 1955-1959.

Colavito ended his holdout by signing for $35,000. Kuenn ended his by signing for $42,000. Both men got a $7,000 raise. A trade rumour wafted involving the two outfielders. Lane denied it. “Jimmie Dykes (then the Tigers’ manager) wanted to make the deal. That scared me. He’s pretty smart.”

The day before the 1960 season, with the Indians playing an exhibition game in Memphis against the White Sox, Colavito stood on first base, safe on a fielder’s choice, after having hit one out his first time up. While standing on first base, Indians manager Joe Gordon walked out to first base to tell him he’d been traded to the Tigers for Kuenn. Gordon pulled Colavito for a pinch hitter post haste, then, according to Colavito, spread a false tale that Colavito had asked, “Kuenn and who else?” Implying that Colavito didn’t think all that much of Kuenn.

Herb Score—still trying to salvage his career, after blowing out his elbow tendon on a damp day and wrecking his mechanics trying to compensate after he recovered—remembered Colavito going to the bullpen to talk to him after being pulled from the game. (Score would be traded to the White Sox a day later, reunited with his former manager Al Lopez, in a deal Lane may have made under pressure from Indians’ ownership, since many believed Lopez could help the still-ailing Score while Lane was adamant against sending him to Chicago at first.) He also remembered Lane bent on unloading Colavito no matter what.

He just didn’t like Rocky as a person. Part of it was that Lane believed ballplayers should be rowdy, hard-living, hard-drinking guys. But that wasn’t Rocky or myself. I believe that Lane resented the fact that no matter how many trades he made, or how much the Indians improved while he was the general manager, Rocky would still be the most popular Indian.

Lane had a public explanation for the deal.

We’ve given up 40 homers for 40 doubles. We’ve added 50 singles and taken away 50 strikeouts. . . Those singles and doubles win just as many games as home runs.

Well, that’s a helluva lot less insulting than telling people he couldn’t understand the fuss over trading hamburger for steak.

Harvey Kuenn would finish his career averaging 143 runs produced per 162 games. Rocky Colavito would finish his averaging 187 runs produced per 162 games. As Allen Barra once posited, take a lineup of Harvey Kuenns and square it off against a lineup of Rocky Colavitos and then ask yourself which lineup’s going to put more runs on the scoreboard. Yes, Colavito was an easier strikeout than Kuenn—it isn’t even close—but Colavito wasn’t exactly Reggie Jackson or Dave Kingman or Adam Dunn when it came to the whiff. He wasn’t even Mickey Mantle: Mantle finished his career averaging 115 strikeouts per 162 games. Colavito finished his averaging 38 less.

And the most popular Indian of his time got swapped to the Tigers the day before the Indians and Tigers were to face each other to open . . . in Cleveland. Gracious about the deal in public, clearly Colavito was stung by the deal. He opened 1960 going 0-for-6 with four strikeouts. Kuenn opened going 2-for-7 with a double and no runs scored or driven in himself. The Tigers won in fifteen innings, 4-2. From there?

Colavito would miss a little injury time, then finish with 35 bombs and 87 runs batted in; Kuenn would hit .308 with a marvelous .379 on-base percentage and make his eighth (and final) All-Star team . . . but only 119 runs produced to Colavito’s 156. Kuenn also missed most of September due to injuries. In 1961, though, Colavito went absolute off the charts: 269 runs produced, 45 bombs, 140 runs batted in, a .402 on-base percentage, another All-Star selection, and he played every Tiger game on the season. He also hit .290.

Kuenn, for his part, was out of Cleveland for 1961–Lane traded him to the San Francisco Giants, for pitcher Johnny Antonelli and outfielder Willie Kirkland—because, all of a sudden, Lane decided the Indians needed more power hitting. There are those to this day who believe that, just as there are compulsive gamblers and compulsive drinkers, Frank Lane was a compulsive deal-maker. It is not an unreasonably theory.

“I’ve just traded hamburger for steak”—Frank Lane, who traded Colavito for Kuenn . . .

Lane had the audacity to ask the Indians for a contract extension with two years left on his most recent deal. You’d like to think the Indians brass busted the proverbial guts laughing. They merely told him his deal would stand. Then he resigned to take the GM position in Kansas City, with the Athletics, for a better deal. Just as he’d done leaving the St. Louis Cardinals for Cleveland.

Lane lasted two years in Kansas City, then ran the Chicago Zephyrs of the NBA (you’ve known them since as the Baltimore Bullets, the Capital Bullets, the Washington Bullets, and the Washington Wizards), before working in the front offices of both the Milwaukee Brewers and the Baltimore Orioles, who kept him strictly to scouting duties. When he died in 1981, only one baseball official attended his funeral, one-time Indians manager Bobby Bragan, and that was only because Commissioner Bowie Kuhn personally asked Bragan to do it.

Colavito had a few more solid seasons left in him—including two as a prodigal son with the Indians, for whom he led the American League in RBI in 1965, and who got him back in a deal with the Kansas City Athletics (to whom the Tigers traded him after 1963—while injuries wore him down and, finally, out. The Indians sent him to the White Sox, to whom they’d surrendered Tommy John and Tommie Agee in the three-way swap that brought him back to Cleveland in the first place. Colavito would finish his career as a Yankee at last, in 1968, after starting the season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, by which time his once-formidable hitting skills were long enough eroded. The injuries may—may—have kept him from a no-questions-asked Hall of Fame career.

Kuenn had one or two more useful seasons left, too, before injuries and age finally retired him after a 1966 as a part-timer for the Philadelphia Phillies. His injury history may have kept him, too, from a no-questions-asked Hall of Fame jacket. Before he retired, Kuenn earned a legend as being the final out—one (as a Giant) a ground out, one (as a Chicago Cub) a swinging strikeout—in two of Sandy Koufax’s no-hitters, including Koufax’s 1965 perfect game. In time, Kuenn even became a pennant-winning manager. Considering some of the backstory behind the most notorious trade in which he was ever involved, there’s no small irony in Kuenn’s 1982 Brewers, with a propensity for the long ball, being nicknamed Harvey’s Wallbangers.

Kuenn died of cancer in 1988. (There was probably a time when people made book on finding any photographs showing Kuenn without a big chaw of tobacco in his cheek.) Colavito lives in Pennsylvania. He emerged briefly enough last month, after Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers blasted four homers against the Orioles, in Camden Yards. Colavito learned of it when, coming home from dinner with his wife, he flipped on ESPN and saw his name flicker across the screen, a reference to his own earlier four-bomb feat. “I’ve seen my name—and I say this in modesty— I’ve seen my name lots of times on TV,” he told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. “But as time goes by, you get older and you don’t hear it as often. When you see it or hear it, it makes you smile a little bit—that they didn’t forget you entirely.”

Red Sox Nation may not come to see 24 June 2012 as the beginning of the Curse of Kevin Youkilis, but to this day in Cleveland they lament the Curse of Rocky Colavito. Six years after the Indians won a pennant with a 111-win season, only to be destroyed in four straight by the New York Giants in the World Series, they traded their most popular and run-productive player. The Indians have won only two pennants, but no World Series, since. In the interim, the Indians, too, have had a history of trans-dimensional catastrophes close enough to rival those the Red Sox endured until the mid-Aughts. Close.

Can we say anything nicer about Frank Lane as regards the Colavito deal? Believe it or not, yes we can. At least, whatever else he said about The Rock, not even Lane’s worst enemy ever charged him with accusing Colavito in turn of lacking heart.

Youk Movement

Bobby Valentine won’t have the Greek God of Walks to walk all over anymore.

As the weekend approached it became a question of “to whom,” not “when.” Especially when Valentine, asked after the Kevin Youkilis situation Saturday, was quoted as saying he wanted to be able to put the people he liked into the lineup. Which could have been taken any number of ways considering the likely precise moment when the numbering began on Youkilis’s Boston days. The April moment in which Valentine threw him under the proverbial bus. There are few things more liable to deflate any proud baseball player, and that’s what Youkilis has been every day he’s played in the Olde Towne Team’s silks, than the hour in which your manager hangs the no-heart tag upon you.

I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason.

With those April words, Valentine detonated a stink bomb, for which he was compelled to apologise to Youkilis the day after. Just over two months later, though, Youkilis and about $5.5 million to cover the rest of his 2012 salary are going to the Chicago White Sox, whose third base production this season has been so addled (an injury to regular Brent Morel, a name-only presence since from Orlando Hudson) that a pariplegic scrubwoman would seem an improvement.

Demeaned, demoted, dealt to the White Sox . . .

In physical terms, Valentine was right about the hard-nosed but oft-injured Youkilis, who’s had two previous seasons marred by injuries. In emotional or spiritual terms, however, Valentine was even more wrong than the record executive who earned eternal infamy, fifty years earlier, by telling the manager of the Beatles that groups of guitars were on the way out.

This is hardly the first time Valentine has tangled with players who just so happen to be fan favourites, and it probably won’t be the last. But you wonder whether his software was ever programmed to acknowledge that it’s one thing to observe a player’s injury history has drained his plate and field production, but it’s something else entirely to question his heart. Unless, of course, Valentine is one of those creatures to whom physical injury equals the dissipation of intestinal fortitude.

Dustin Pedroia, maybe the only Red Sox player beyond David Ortiz whose heart could be called the equal of Youkilis’s, was merely the most public of Red Sox springing to Youkilis’s defence.

“He pushes me every day, and I want to go out and play hard every day just like he does,” Pedroia told reporters, not long after Youkilis—who played Sunday and nailed an RBI triple in what proved his final Red Sox plate appearance, prompting a loud Fenway Park ovation and Youkilis being nudged out for a curtain call. “You know, he’s always out there doing his best to try to help us win. I appreciate him so much for that.”

Youkilis’s heir apparent, Will Middlebrooks, began to shine as Youkilis returned from the disabled list and finally seemed to earn the starting job. Coming off a lower back ailment that further cut into his once-formidable plate stroke and field prowess, Youkilis struggled in games while Middlebrooks made himself a presence. Middlebrooks has profited from, among other things, the counsel of Youkilis himself.

In the middle of a season in which the Red Sox have lingered within reach of contention but turned into a clubhouse with a reputation for dissent that Ortiz felt compelled to dispel testily in recent days, Youkilis shepherding his successor must have seemed a throwback to the former Red Sox clubhouse, the one where cowboying up held hands with a genuine camaraderie. Maybe they took the hint when Youkilis took that curtain call, a call to which Valentine, who may or may not be re-awakening himself, is said to have nudged him to take. It’s said that the players signed the lineup card and tucked it into the bric-a-brac that will be shipped to Youkilis with the White Sox.

“He’s been awesome. He’s helped me out so much,” Middlebrooks himself said of the Greek God of Walks, a misnomer of a nickname if ever there was one—not because of the walks but because Youkilis is Jewish, not Greek. (His Romanian great-great-great grandfather, who once moved to Greece to avoid being conscripted into an army chock full of anti-Semitic Cossacks, returned to Romania but changed the family name to Youkilis to avoid the army and prison.) “Not just baseball, but off the field, too, just how to handle everything.”

It took guts to smile with a manager who questioned his heart . . .

“Working with Will and Ryan [Kalish] and all the young guys,” said Youkilis, for his own part, “is fun to help them out, because sometimes they need it. It’s fresh to them and they’re going to make mistakes like veterans make mistakes on the field. They look up to the veterans. And some of the mistakes that we made earlier on in our career, we had a veteran come up to us and tell us what to do.

“When you play this game you’re an ambassador to the game and the players,” he continued, “so you have to be that way and you can’t be selfish if you’re not playing. You’ve got to teach these guys how to play the game because someday we’re all going to be retired and these guys are going to be playing. Then there will be guys after them, so if they can pass along the messages to the guys after them, that’s the key. I was taught that in 2004 by some great players here and I’m just trying to pass along the knowledge that was given to me.”

Spoken like a player who sees the end of the line, if you didn’t know who was saying it. Youkilis’s new White Sox teammate, captain Paul Konerko, isn’t exactly ready to think of Youkilis as the old man down the road. “There is no way we are not a better team with Kevin Youkilis,” Konerko told a reporter. “He is just too good of a player and has been through all the wars and is still relatively a young guy. We just have to keep him on the field, If that is the case, it could be one of the bigger steals of the season.”

In return, the Red Sox receive a relief pitcher named Zach Stewart and a jack-of-all-trades (he’s played every position except catcher) named Brett Lillibridge. Stewart has shown up in eighteen games for the White Sox and has a 1-2 won-lost record with a 6.00 earned run average, a 1.50 walks and hits per inning pitched rate, and twelve hits per nine innings pitched; he was down on the farm at Charlotte when he was pulled from a scheduled start as the deal was done. All those numbers hover around his career averages. Lillibridge has played in 48 games for the White Sox and has a .283 on-base percentage, a .190 slugging percentage, four walks, and eleven hits in 70 plate appearances to show for it; lifetime (he’s played parts of four and a third seasons), his OBP is .283 and his slugging, .358, but he is considered a speed threat when he does reach base.

Bigger steals of the season? Assuming Youkilis returns to full health and anything resembling his formerly customary production, White Sox general manager Ken Williams could end up looking like a genius. No matter what continuing production they get from Middlebrooks, and it’s not wrong to say they needed room for him here and now, the Red Sox concurrently may look like classless jerks for the way they permitted one of their signature players—perhaps not even close to a future Hall of Famer but a useful, valuable, sometimes great player and a no-questions-asked clubhouse leader—to be demeaned, demoted, and then dealt for a pair of (thus far) no-names.

The Red Sox could have learned something from how the Mets eventually moved Rafael Santana . . .

I’m reminded of Rafael Santana, once a useful New York Mets shortstop. He wasn’t much of a hitter, but he was a meat-and-potatoes shortstop who got where he was supposed to go in the field and came up big for the Mets’ 1986 champions, setting National League Championship Series records for putouts, assists, and chances accepted by a shortstop.

Met fans loved the guy. For that matter, Santana was one of the clean contingency among the rambunctious 1986 Mets. But with a comer named Kevin Elster ready to come up to stay, Santana became expendable after the 1987 season. And the Mets’ then-general manager Joe McIlvane, knowing Santana had originally been a Yankee prospect and loved New York, reached across the bridge around the winter meetings to see if the Yankees had interest. As it turned out, the Yankees needed an extra shortstop.

“We’re not looking to hold the Yankees up here,” McIlvane told the Yankees’ then-general manager, Lou Piniella. “We just want to take care of Raffy.”  Nobody on or aware of the Mets ever questioned Santana’s heart.

The two GMs made a deal that would send Santana to the Yankees for three minor leaguers. The only thing that came close to killing the deal was George Steinbrenner’s bid to force the Mets to include Gregg Jefferies, at the time a superphenom who’d just been named minor league player of the year, and a player Piniella knew the Mets wouldn’t include even if the Yankees agreed to include Don Mattingly. Piniella managed to prevail, and the Mets were able to make good on “taking care of” Santana in a sensible way that showed him respect for what he’d meant to the Mets even for a brief while.

The Red Sox could have learned from the Santana deal. How they did take care of Youkilis, unfortunately, throws back to another Red Sox past. A past prior to that during which Youkilis was part of something special. A past that once helped keep the Red Sox from winning the way their present, if the demeaning, demotion, and dealing of Youkilis is any indicator, may yet seem to do.