For Valentine, adjusting proves difficult
BOSTON -- In his first months managing again in the Major Leagues, Bobby Valentine is finding it all to be a lot different than it was when his last stint ended a decade ago.Valentine is running a new team, social media is omnipresent and Boston is another animal altogether than New York and the exurbs of Tokyo. The Red Sox, at 4-10, haven't been playing well. And after the Yankees came back from a 9-0 deficit to win, 15-9, on Saturday, it's obvious that the Red Sox are a long-term fix. "It's a difficult process, no question about it," Valentine said during a one-on-one interview in his Fenway Park office before the game. "Every day, it's just learning. It's a whole new world for me. I'm learning the league, and I'm learning about my own team. I'd like to think that I know it all, but I don't." After Saturday's humbling loss, Valentine tried to be as upbeat as possible, but he couldn't hide the truth of the matter. With or without him, losing has become habitual. Under former manager Terry Francona, the Red Sox had the same record last year through their first 14 games. They were also 7-19 in September, missing the playoffs on the final day of the season. But this is all new ground for Valentine. "I think we've hit bottom -- that's what I told them after the game," Valentine said to the media. "Sometimes, you have to hit bottom. If this isn't bottom, we'll find some new ends of the earth or something." Valentine then went into his office with a contingent of Red Sox officials, including principal owner John Henry, and closed the door. On the field, it's been no picnic. Because of injuries, the Red Sox went into Spring Training short starting pitchers. They then lost closer Andrew Bailey to a right thumb injury, debilitating the bullpen, as Saturday's loss illustrated. The outfield is a mess, what with Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury on the disabled list and Jason Repko possibly to follow. Off the field in this era of tweets, Facebook and 24-hour talk radio, Valentine has found that even his most casual remarks can instantly go viral. Even with his own broadcast background and current radio segments in Boston and New York, Valentine said he finds the latest environment to be problematic. "That's all external adjustments to the world," Valentine told MLB.com. "If I'm going to stay up nights worrying about that, then there aren't enough nights to get some sleep. I don't really care much about that. It is what it is. My last job in Japan, at the beginning, everything I said was misunderstood. I was booed because I was the outsider. I was hated because I had different ideas. It was similar in New York. So it's not like this is totally different. Being the outsider isn't that strange." Those "misunderstandings" have happened to Valentine three times already since he donned the Red Sox uniform. In Fort Myers, Fla., he mentioned the play Derek Jeter made in the playoffs in front of the plate against the A's and the altercation that former Red Sox captain Jason Varitek once had with Alex Rodriguez. More recently, he was caught in a maze speculating about the emotional condition of Kevin Youkilis. Each one set off a media firestorm. "There was turmoil about [Youkilis], there was turmoil around what I said about Jeter and there was turmoil around what I said about A-Rod, and I didn't say anything about any of them," Valentine calmly noted. "The fact that it's going to be nonsense, I can live with. I don't know if anybody else can live with it, but I can, because it is nonsense. "Jeter said on the Internet that he had never practiced the play. I repeated it. I was talking about what a great player Varitek was, and I heard on the radio that he beat up A-Rod. Obviously, he didn't, but he pushed him. Big deal; that's a slight on A-Rod? The way it's written or perceived is ... something I can't get all tangled up in." Except when it came to Valentine's statement about Youkilis. Those who have known Valentine for years figured that it had to be a purpose pitch under the chin when he said on local TV that Youkilis didn't seem "as physically or emotionally into the game." But it wasn't. Valentine said on Saturday that he thought he was stating the obvious because Youkilis has been struggling at the plate. Youkilis is hitting .190 with one homer and five RBIs and came out of Saturday's game because of a left quad contusion after being hit by a pitch. Dustin Pedroia defended Youkilis by saying "it's not the way we do things around here," and the game was on. Valentine, turning 62 on May 13, has been around the block a few times. He managed the Mets from mid-1996 through 2002 and had constant battles with then-general manager Steve Phillips. From 2004-09, he managed Japan's Chiba Lotte Marines and in the end was ousted by ownership. This time, he decided to douse the firestorm because of what he called unintended consequences of the Youkilis comment. "If [Youkilis] was offended by it, then I wanted to apologize, because I didn't mean to offend him," Valentine said. "It's not like I didn't mean to say what I said. It was no big deal what I said. What was construed from that was offensive." And Pedroia? "I don't know how to answer that, because I don't think it was a response to anything other than a made-up question. Again, to get caught in that is nonsense. But if that's the world you have to live in, I'll live in it. I can easily adjust to it." The entire affair seems to have cast Valentine under the shadow of weakness, but he said he doesn't really care. Valentine said he has the full support of upper Red Sox management, which hasn't interceded in any of these issues. It's more important that he figures out the right lineup and pitching combinations. He followed a highly popular manager who won two World Series championships. And when Valentine was booed by the Fenway Park fans after making pitching changes on Saturday, he said it comes with the territory. "I've been booed in a couple of countries, a few different stadiums," Valentine said. "I don't want to be booed." There's plenty of second-guessing in baseball, but Valentine waited a decade to get another big league managing job. So he's not about to second-guess that decision. "This is my job," Valentine added. "If they said it was only going to be for the good days, then I probably wouldn't have come."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.