On April 1, there was a story about Bobby Valentine in the Red Sox season preview section.
When asked about playing for Valentine, here is what Al Leiter had to say:
“Is he going to get on your nerves? Absolutely he will. If you’re sensitive, you’ll have some issues. But I had some of the best years of my career when I played for him and it was because I was prepared to pitch. He made sure of that.
“My advice to the Red Sox players is to listen to what he tells you and don’t worry about what he says to the media. If you listen to him, you’ll be a better player.”
Leiter’s words seems more telling now than they did on April 1 given Valentine’s curiously timed comments regarding Kevin Youkilis.
There are two things at play here: Valentine is not afraid to say what he thinks in public; Terry Francona never did, which makes Valentine seem all the more bold.
Francona protected his players at all costs, even miscreants like Manny Ramirez or guys who showed him up on the field like John Lackey. No matter what the circumstances, Francona would dodge the question or pretend he wasn’t upset.
That way worked for a long time. The Red Sox played hard for Francona and won two world titles. But in the end, it cost him his job because the players took advantage of his good nature. Everybody knows what happened in 2011. The Red Sox weren’t ready for the season to start and then they quit on each other at the end.
Valentine was hired to change that. When the team with the second-highest payroll in baseball finishes in third place two years in a row, change is inevitable. Discomfort is inevitable. That’s the price the players have to pay for wrecking the good thing they had.
Calling out Youkilis, whether that was Valentine’s intention or not, was a mistake. He needs to learn how to pick his spots. Or at least realize that every word he says will be examined for intent.
There are many people in the media rooting for Valentine to fail because of preconceived notions or simply because he is not Francona. There are agendas at every turn simply because there is fierce competition for readers, viewers, and listeners.
But trying to shake up the Red Sox is not a mistake because they needed shaking up. When a team full of stars crash lands in third place, you get Bobby Valentine and not Gene Lamont.
If Valentine can find a way to bring the passion back to the team without causing a ruckus every two weeks, it can work.
If not, this season could make 2011 look like the good old days.