Bobby Valentine, Play Your Best Lineup

Bitter Bobby: Valentine Slaps BoSox, Fans on his Way Out the Door

For anyone who might have, against all reason, been maintaining even a modicum of hope for the tenure of Bobby Valentine in Boston, the soon-to-be ex-manager effectively flipped the bird to the entire Red Sox organization on his way out of town. He used as his weapon Boston’s lineup against the Yankees:

Pedro Ciriaco, 2B; Daniel Nava LF; Cody Ross RF; Mauro Gomez 1B; Ryan Lavarnway DH; Jarrod Saltalamacchia C; Danny Valencia 3B; Che-Hsuan Lin CF; Jose Iglesias SS.

Yep, six of his nine hitters were in their first or second seasons, five of them with fewer than 150 at-bats on the year.

The pertinent unwritten rule here, of course, is that late in the season, teams with nothing to play for nonetheless offer their best effort down the stretch when facing teams still in a pennant race. And thanks to its 10-2 victory over Pawtucket North, the Yankees opened up a one-game lead over Baltimore, which lost at Tampa Bay.

That it’s New York, of course—Boston’s arch-nemesis—makes it all the more fitting for Valentine to completely throw in the towel. Why not? He has no vested interest in his team, and it’s just one more way to piss off ownership.

None of this makes him a bad manager—just a man with a mean streak and a deficiency of morals. Difficult to say which is worse.

Franklin Morales, Luke Scott, Retaliation

Great Scott! Red Sox, Rays Continue Decades-Long Dustup

Jeez. You go away for a long Memorial Day weekend, and all heck breaks loose. The nice thing about looking at situations like this in retrospect is the clarity afforded by the long view, in which the reactions to a given kerfluffle end up being more entertaining than the kerfluffle itself.

If there was smart money laid down on a weekend eruption, it would have been on the Rays and the Red Sox, two teams with no love lost, who just last week seized headlines when Adrian Gonzalez promised to hit a homer, and was by appearances drilled for it, by Rays rookie Matt Moore. (Retaliation was collected by Boston’s Felix Doubront, who drilled Luke Scott—a player whose name will be featured again prominently in this report, only two sentences from now.)

This latest round came in the sixth inning Friday, when Rays righty Burke Badenhop hit Dustin Pedroia. It was a stretch to consider it intentional, given that it brought David Ortiz to the plate as the tying run, but that didn’t keep Sox pitcher Franklin Morales from hitting Scott in the knee three innings later, two pitches after putting an offering behind his head. It might merely have been the spot in the order—Morales waited until there were two outs in the ninth, with nobody on—or it could have been Scott’s comments last month in which he called Fenway Park “a dump.” (Heck, maybe it’s that Morales, despite being from someplace other than the United States, is an Obama supporter.)

Or perhaps good fortune handed Morales the guy he wanted, precisely when he wanted him.

Players streamed from the dugouts, did a bit of shoving and tugging—Boston coaches Bob McClure and Tim Bogar, as well as manager Bobby Valentine, appeared to be more agitated than most players—and went on their ways. (Watch it here.) The Red Sox held on to win, 7-4.

Afterward, each manager had choice words for the other.

Rays skipper Joe Maddon, in addition to calling it a really weak, cowardly effort on the part of the Red Sox:

I’m kind of curious regarding who put out the hit, because I know it wasn’t one of their players. By the way their players reacted to the entire situation, I knew it did not come from them. It’s kind of incompetent behavior, it’s the kind of behavior that gets people hurt on your own side by choosing to do something so ridiculous.

Pedroia gets hit, not because we’re trying to hit him, he just got hit. We don’t want Papi coming up there with two guys on, are you kidding me? I don’t care who’s pitching for us. That’s truly somebody flexing their muscles on the other side that really needs to put them in their back pocket and understand that they can’t hurt their own team by doing something like that. . . .

To be really carelessly incompetent on their side, to truly, intentionally hit somebody, throwing behind somebody, then hitting them in the leg, for all the wrong reasons, whereas eventually they can get their own guys hurt with that kind of behavior . . .  I think it’s ridiculous, I think it’s absurd, idiotic, I’ll use all those different words.

Maddon later tweeted, “Very proud of our effort 2nite. What occurred in the 9th reeked of intent. Was ridiculous, absurd, idiotic, incompetent, cowardly behavior.’’

Valentine, in addition to suggesting the culprit to blame for Morales’ fastball was the Ghost of Fenway, guiding the ball in response to Scott’s “dump” comment:

I thought their coaches were really aggressive; as a matter of fact, I took offense to the aggressiveness of their coaches. I thought it was really unprofessional. . . . [Rays coaches] seemed very immature and out of control. Coaches are supposed to stop those things from happening and their coaches were aggravating, agitating, and instigating the situation.

Given all of this—plus the fact that Scott offered the warning, “At the end of the day, you reap what you sow”—it was a bit surprising that umpire Ed Rapuano declined to issue warnings prior to Saturday’s game. Turns out he didn’t need it; nothing incendiary happened. On Sunday, in fact, Matt Joyce wiped out Mike Aviles on a double play, and received a pat on the back for his efforts as he got up.

The Rays-Red Sox rivalry dates back to 2000, when Pedro Martinez hit Gerald Williams, and has since been fierce enough and consistent enough to merit its own section in The Baseball Codes. The teams meet again in July; we’ll see if we can’t add another chapter then.

Bobby Valentine, Kevin Youkilis, Managers Protect Their Players, Sports

Now at Bobby Valentine Sometimes Says Stupid Things

My latest is up over at Sports, involving Bobby Valentine‘s recent comments about Kevin Youkilis. You can click over there to see a full-color photo of Bobby V during game action, or you can save your mouse-clicking finger and just scroll down. (Bonus points for reading it here: The original, un-edited ending!)

One update: Between the time I turned in the copy yesterday and this morning, video of Valentine’s press conference, in which he discusses the situation, has been posted on the Red Sox Web site. In it, the manager says that he talked to Youkilis “during the game” (this after an earlier apology did not appear to go well), and that, instead of everything being fine, “it is what it is.”

If things don’t get better in a hurry over there, it’s pretty clear they’re going to get a lot worse.

On to SI:

Bobby Valentine was brought to Boston as a knee-jerk reaction to a perfect storm of last year’s late-season collapse, wild accusations about allegedly dispassionate players, and a clubhouse culture that allowed such accusations to surface in the first place.

Blaming Terry Francona is one thing, but expecting a guy like Valentine — long on baseball acumen but short on verbal filters — to provide a calming influence to a team in turmoil was, at best, a crapshoot. Not yet two weeks into the the 2012 regular season, Valentine is embroiled in his first controversy.

It may seem innocuous, going on television as Valentine did and saying that Kevin Youkilis is not “as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past.” It was a phrase amid an otherwise complementary comment; Valentine is obviously invested in Youkilis’ success, and he made sure to note that his third baseman’s slow start appears to be turning around.

None of that matters, of course. In baseball, a manager’s primary duty away from the field is to protect his players at any cost, usually from the media, at least until the point that a player leaves him no other option. If Youkilis has somehow already reached that point with Valentine, if his manager felt that calling him out in a local television interview was the only recourse left to reach him, well, that would constitute a newsworthy story. Other than his manager’s off-the-cuff banter, however, there is no indication that this is the case.

Instead, Valentine and the Red Sox are left to deal with the fallout, which serves to illustrate precisely why managers are expected to be measured in public statements about their players. Now, instead of coming to the ballpark and focusing on the game at hand, Youkilis has to answer questions about his manager’s lack of confidence, in addition to questions about his slump. Now, Dustin Pedroia has to step back from his own preparations in order, as a team leader, to defend his compatriot. Now, the rest of Boston’s players have to wonder what it might take before their manager publicly questions them, as well. Now, Valentine, the man brought in to help manage a media circus, has added a ring to the big top, and — inadvertently or not — is forcing his players to dance through hoops before they reach the field.

The unwritten rule to protect your players is why Whitey Herzog refused to admit that Keith Hernandez’s drug use (and his subsequent untruths when discussing it) were motivating factors in his being dealt to the Mets in 1983, even as the manager took considerable grief for the deal.

This rule is why Joe Torre, after Roger Clemens threw a bat shard at Mike Piazza during the 2001 World Series, refrained from storming out of his postgame interview amid a battery of leading questions. He knew Clemens was to follow him in front of the press, and wanted to absorb the difficult queries himself.

This rule is why Tony La Russa defended Jose Canseco long after steroid accusations against him became part of the public dialogue, and it is likely why he continued to defend Mark McGwire against similar charges after even many of his staunchest defenders had long since given up.

This rule is why Arizona manager Bob Brenly so vociferously attacked Ben Davis in the press following the Padres catcher’s bunt single that broke up Curt Schilling‘s perfect game in 2001. It was less because Brenly was angry at Davis, he said, and more because he wanted his pitcher to know that he “was looking out for his interests.”

For a clear comparison, consider two baseball stories, both of which involve pitchers being pulled from games in which their teams led by identical 4-2 scores. In one, A’s manager Ken Macha discussed with the press the fact that Barry Zito removed himself from the penultimate game of the 2004 season, with the division on the line against the Angels, after 114 pitches. Zito logged seven full innings, but Oakland’s bullpen gave up three quick runs, and Anaheim went on to win the game and a spot in the postseason. There was heat for pulling an effective pitcher, and Macha wanted no part of it.

In the other, Tigers manager Mayo Smith opted in 1969 to keep quiet about the fact that he pulled his own starting pitcher, Denny McLain, with one out in the sixth inning, after McLain warned him that he was tiring. Reliever Darryl Patterson came on and gave up, in order, a single, a walk, a sacrifice fly and a three-run homer; Detroit lost, 6-4.

Afterward, with media speculation raging about Smith’s decision to remove his star pitcher so early, the manager refrained from divulging the fact that McLain had effectively removed himself, not to mention that he had left the park altogether by the eighth inning. Smith kept quiet even when telling the truth would have deflected criticism. Valentine didn’t even have that for motivation.

Valentine has publicly apologized to Youkilis, but a question for players in the Boston clubhouse may soon arise—if it hasn’t already—about what kind of manager they want to play for. If the answer is less Ken Macha and more Mayo Smith—or less Bobby Valentine and more anybody—but anybody—else, then the manager has far bigger things to worry about than Kevin Youkilis’ early-season hitting woes.


Retaliation, Umpires Knowing the Code

On the Importance of Umpires Knowing at Least Something About the Game they’re Purporting to Officiate

Prince Fielder connects for the first of his homers on Sunday. Phil Coke did not approve.

On Saturday, Prince Fielder launched two home runs off of Boston’s Josh Beckett within the game’s first five innings. In the bottom of the seventh, he was hit on the calf by Red Sox reliever Matt Albers.

Phil Coke came out of the Detroit bullpen a half-inning later with the perfect opportunity to exact retribution: He faced Fielder’s first-base counterpart and fellow superstar, Adrian Gonzalez, with a 10-run lead. Instead of sending a message, however, he struck Gonzalez out.

There may be great power in hindsight for Phil Coke, or he may have had the finer points of the “We’ve seen enough of this crap” method of pitching explained to him by teammates or coaches after the game. That would explain his appearance on Sunday, when, in the seventh inning, the left-hander made up for opportunities lost. With Dustin Pedroia on second and two outs in a game the Tigers trailed 9-7, Coke—a day late—went gunning for his man.

His aim was as poor as his timing, however, as Coke’s pitch sailed up near Gonzalez’s head, without any real danger of hitting him. Which is where the umpiring at Comerica Park comes into question.

At this point, plate ump Dan Iassogna should have been all over Coke. Ejection would have been justified even without the previous day’s action, based only on the location of the pitch, but Iassogna did nothing. (In his defense, even Gonzalez didn’t take the pitch too seriously, joking with Iassogna and Tigers catcher Alex Avila about whether he should start to get scared.)

It might have been a good idea. With his next offering—and two bases open, after Pedroia took third on the previous pitch—Coke hit Gonzalez in the back. Bobby Valentine raced out for a chat involving, among other things, disbelief that the pitcher had not yet been ejected. It didn’t have much effect; only after crew chief Dale Scott consulted with Iassogna were warnings even issued. Coke remained in the game.

Iassogna has some history with this type of thing, having notably erred on the reactionary side earlier in his career, much to his own detriment. In 2002, before he had even reached full-time status with MLB, Iassogna was behind the plate for a game in which the Dodgers led the Reds 4-0 going into the ninth inning. After Los Angeles closer Eric Gagne gave up a bloop single and a two-run homer, he hit Adam Dunn with his next pitch. That was all Iassogna needed to see; he tossed Gagne on the spot.

The details of this particular story matter, however. Gagne’s pitch to Dunn was clearly unintentional; it only grazed the bottom of the slugger’s jersey, failing even to hit flesh. When Gagne was ejected, Dogers manager Jim Tracy lost his mind.

“I went crazy,” he said. “I’ve been very upset a few times as a big league manager, but that was maybe the most upset I’ve been on a baseball field, because of what I perceived to be as a lack of understanding as to exactly what it was that was going on. . . . I don’t know of any pitcher in baseball, after a home run has preceded the at-bat and you’re in the ninth inning trying to win, who’s going to hit the next guy and bring the tying run to the plate.”

Gagne and Tracey were both ejected, the Reds tied the game with two more runs off three more pitchers, and Cincinnati won it in the 13th against Omar Daal, who had been scheduled to start for the Dodgers the following day.

It’s enough to make an ump gun shy, which Iassogna might be these days. That certainly appeared to be the case on Sunday.

“They should’ve given a warning after the one at (Gonzalez’s) head, the first pitch,” said Valentine in the Boston Herald.

Gonzalez, too, worried about the lasting effects of the umpire’s decision.

“You know it’s going to happen,” he said of potential future retribution, in an ESPN Boston report. “We’ve all got seven more years here. It might not happen the next series, but eventually it’s going to happen. . . . I just think it’s a bad call on their end because now it’s putting Miggy’s (Miguel Cabrera) and Prince’s careers at risk. You know it’s going to happen eventually.”

Next chance: May 28, in Boston. No word yet on the whereabouts of Dan Iassogna that week.

– Jason