The first time I met Kevin Youkilis, we were talking by the dugout at Hadlock Field in Portland, Maine, where the then Sea Dog had just laid out a sequence of bats by the adjoining chain link fence in an almost obsessive-compulsive fashion.
In the midst of our discussion, the Sea Dogs' mascot, "Slugger," made his way to the fence, where a group of young fans were more infatuated with the hairy costumed fella than the man who would a year later begin his ascent as a fan favorite among Red Sox fans. In the midst of his celebrity that night, Slugger got a little excited, leaping onto a metal folding chair that happened to be there, and subsequently collapsed the thing under the weight of his oversized feet. The mascot fell to the ground in a style that even Chevy Chase would envy, knocking Youkilis' line of bats into a chaotic array, much to the delight of the youngsters.
Youkilis was not as humored.
"What the [expletive]?" he murmured just loud enough for me to hear with a look on his face that read incredulity. He then merely shook his head and we continued our discussion.
That moment pretty much summed up everything that Kevin Youkilis was as a player during his time with the Red Sox. He was always particular, always on edge, always opinionated about something. But short of a few perceived instances, i.e., the Manny dugout fisticuffs, he was not one to usually spark an issue.
But in the end, that very well may be what helped drive him out of town.
Yes, Will Middlebrooks is the primary reason Youkilis is wearing Chicago pinstripes, and rightfully so. But if manager Bobby Valentine is taking sides in the clubhouse, I'll bet what ran Youkilis out of his favor had to do more with his ornery "ace" than it did the rookie third baseman.
It's no secret that Youkilis is widely considered the media "snitch" who broke the news about what a dysfunctional mess the Red Sox pitching staff became in the wake of last season's epic collapse. It fits his profile, after all: A dogmatic character who hustled at every corner of his career in order to win. How do you think a guy like that would react walking in on Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Clay Buchholz treating the clubhouse as if it were Alpha Gamma Miller (Time)?
From the very moment Valentine went on WHDH on Boston Marathon Eve and questioned Youkilis' emotional and physical commitment to the game, you had to know it was over. That manager and that ballplayer simply could not co-exist. Meanwhile Beckett, the slug who has barely apologized for any indiscretion in his career, whether it be reportedly pounding red Solo cups in the dugout or playing golf when he's supposedly not physically able to make a start, is still here. Not just that, he consistently earns the praise of his manager for a work ethic that is questionable at best.
He's still here. The guy who actually cared is gone.
For every cryptic comment Valentine has made about Youkilis over the past five months, add one lauding the guy who quit on his team down the stretch last season. Maybe the factor is that Valentine understands that he most needs Beckett and his cronies at their best in order to win. Maybe it's a matter of understanding Beckett is here for the foreseeable future while Youkilis was in his final year. Whatever the case may be, it sure seems like some sort of line was drawn.
After all, Valentine has never heard of anyone hurting themselves playing golf. Not in baseball where players simply get injured falling out of bed onto a glass, tripping over a bullpen mound (ahem, Beckett), falling out of a moving vehicle returning video tapes, and -- maybe my favorite -- jumping (Andrew Bailey).
Allegedly hurt and playing golf. That's physically and mentally committed to the game, all right.
For whatever reason, it sure seems like Valentine had it out for Youkilis since Day 1. Maybe it was with the knowledge that he was the guy who stood up and announced what a mess Yawkey Way has become. If that is indeed the case, Youkilis should be applauded for it.
Instead, he became the prisoner telling the warden that the guys in Block C were attempting an escape, and then subsequently put in solitary confinement for chewing gum. Meanwhile, Red Sox fans remain prisoner to Beckett until he decides he'll waive his 10-5 rights. He may start Friday in Seattle. He may not. He may give up 1 run. He may give up 8. There's no dependability in Josh Beckett on the mound or in his character for that matter.
The Red Sox want you to believe the clubhouse is one, big happy family, and thanks to the infusion of youth, there's probably a lot of truth to that. But with the possible whistle-blower gone, there's also a sense of anger, anticipation, and frustration among a legion of fans simply because the bad guy won.
And so goes the asylum in the bowels of the Fens.