10 Games Into Season, Bobby Valentine Walking Tightrope

FORT MYERS, FL: Manager Bobby Valentine #25 of the Boston Red Sox smiles during batting practice just before the start of the Grapefruit League Spring Training Game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Bobby Valentine's personality wasn't exactly a mystery when the Red Sox hired him last winter. But few could have expected so many issues so soon.

There's a scene in The Hunt for Red October -- the sixth-greatest submarine movie ever, by the way -- when Fred Thompson's character says, "This business will get out of control. It will get out of control and we'll be lucky to live through it."

I love that line so much, even though it's delivered with a bit more gravitas than it probably deserves, that I've used it at least once in the midst of a baseball column. Which gives it even more gravitas than it deserves. Since nobody ever dies in baseball.

But I gotta say, if Bobby Valentine doesn't turn things around fast, he'll be lucky to keep his job with the Boston Red Sox through Memorial Day.

Let's review ...

December 2: Bobby Valentine introduced as Red Sox manager.

February 25: Valentine announces that beer will no longer be available in Red Sox locker room after games (ex-manager Terry Francona suggested this might be a p.r. stunt).

February 28: Valentine takes a couple of back-handed slaps at Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter.

March 28: Curt Schilling suggests some of his old friends don't much like their new skipper.

April 5: It's reported that Valentine has signed up for a regular radio gig ... in New York City, hosted by Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay.

And then, April 15: Valentine says this on a Boston radio show, about Kevin Youkilis ...

I don't think he's as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason. But [on Saturday] it seemed, you know, he's seeing the ball well, got those two walks, got his on-base percentage up higher than his batting average, which is always a good thing, and he'll move on from there.

Whoops. That didn't figure to play well in the clubhouse. Not nine games into the season. Presumably, Valentine's been frustrated by all the injuries, and the poor relief pitching, and maybe even a little by Youkilis failing to draw even a single walk in the club's first six games.

But should a manager, however frustrated, say something like that on a radio show? Even assuming it's time to send a player a message, is that the best way to send it?

Youkilis responded, reasonably. Then Dustin Pedroia weighed in (via Boston.com):

Although he does not wear the captain's "C" on his jersey, Dustin Pedroia is considered the de facto leader in the Red Sox clubhouse.

--snip--

"I know Youk plays as hard as anyone I've ever seen in my life and I have his back and his teammates have his back,'' Pedroia said. "We know how hard he plays. I don’t really understand what Bobby’s trying to do, but that’s not the way we go about our stuff around here. I’m sure he’ll figure that out soon.''

This is beginning to get out of control. When managers are criticizing players publicly for no apparent reason and players are answering publicly, with some measure of disdain, you're heading toward an unsustainable dynamic.

Here's CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman:

Valentine is very likely not going to win any clubhouse popularity poll, especially not today. He said he apologized to Youkilis, but he really doesn't care how well-liked he is in the clubhouse. He only cares about a positive result on the field. The danger for him is that the more unpopular he may become in the clubhouse, the more imperative it becomes for an even more positive result on the field.

The headline -- which an editor might have composed -- on Heyman's column:

It's just Bobby being Bobby; players will have to adjust

Red Sox players don't have to do anything. And if they don't adjust, it won't necessarily because they're all pampered millionaires pulling in 25 different directions. Maybe they won't adjust because they simply shouldn't be expected to tolerate a manager who thinks he's the big star and can say whatever he likes.

There's a difference, however subtle, between being well-liked and being well-respected. A manager can get away with not being well-liked. But manager who loses the respect of his players -- enough of them, anyway -- eventually finds that his position is untenable, simply because players won't listen to a manager they don't respect.

What I said before the season about Valentine, when people asked (and a lot of people asked) was that Valentine's personality might play well as long as the Sox were winning, but things could get ugly in a hurry if they were losing because everyone will be looking for a scapegoat and Valentine's a lightning rod.

No, I don't think I ever phrased it quite that way, fortunately. You get the idea.

I did not suspect it would get ugly this quickly.

Monday afternoon at Fenway Park in a scoreless game, Valentine watched Daniel Bard load the bases with a four-pitch walk. Bard, a converted reliever, had thrown 107 pitches and walked six Rays. The pitching coach spoke to Bard, who stayed in the game and issued another four-pitch walk to untie the game. The Red Sox lost 1-0.

I suspect that Valentine gets one more strike, or maybe two. If he says another stupid thing or two in the next month, he's probably gone. Especially if the Red Sox still are just muddling along somewhere in the middle of the American League East standings. And a few more of Valentine's moves don't work.

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