Bobby: Middlebrooks crack didn't happen

October, 24, 2012
10/24/12
12:17
AM ET
Bobby Valentine, in his first in-depth interview since being fired as Red Sox manager, took aim at a few other targets beyond his hotly disputed allegation that David Ortiz shut down for the last six weeks of the season because of the team’s mega-trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Appearing Tuesday night on the “Costas Tonight” program on NBC Sports Network, Valentine again singled out his coaches for causing some of the problems he encountered last season.

After Costas stated that Valentine did not select his coaches -- Valentine has acknowledged he did indeed have input in their hiring -- Valentine related a story in which Tom Landry, the former Dallas Cowboys coach, had advised him years ago to make sure his coaches “speak your language.’’

“I should have heeded that advice,’’ Valentine said. “I should have made sure the coaches were my guys.’’

Valentine had said in a radio interview on the last day of the regular season that he had felt that some of his coaches undermined him. Asked by Costas, Valentine said “snags” had developed that caused communication “not [to be] flowing the way it should.’’

[+] EnlargeBobby Valentine
Anthony Gruppuso/US PresswireBobby Valentine said he found teammates' reaction to his yelling at Mike Aviles during spring training "mind-boggling."
A sympathetic Costas dismissed Valentine’s early-April comment about Kevin Youkilis as “benign,” even though it led the Red Sox veteran to demand a trade (and his subsequent departure), then related the tempest caused by his “Nice inning, kid,’’ comment to rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks after he’d misplayed two balls.

“Just because this is the fact-checking era,’’ Valentine said, “I don’t think it ever happened.’’

After the interview aired, Middlebrooks sent out a tweet in which he concurred.

“He's right,’’ Middlebrooks wrote as @middlebrooks on the social-media site. “Never happened. Just to set things straight.’’

Left unsaid was that the story probably would have never come to light except Valentine related it for the first time on his weekly appearance on WEEI, then elaborated on it the next day in his daily media session.

"[Middlebrooks] came into the dugout, he made a couple of errors, and I said, ‘Nice inning, kid,’’’ Valentine said. “I had thought I had established a relationship with him where I could say something like that to him, kind of smile, relax him a little. Maybe he grimaced, I don’t know.

"Somebody overheard it and decided that it was a very dreadful thing for a manager to ever say to a young player and decided to repeat it a few times that it was a dreadful thing.’’

Valentine then related a story of how as a young player he had made three errors in a game on Seat Cushion Night at Dodger Stadium, and that fans threw seat cushions at him. A newspaper account in the Los Angeles Times of the game in question made no mention of Seat Cushion Night or anything being thrown at Valentine.

In sarcastic tones, Valentine described to Costas the incident in spring training in which he took shortstop Mike Aviles to task during a popup drill, and how some of Aviles’s teammates afterward met with the manager in his office.

“The thing with Aviles, it was absolutely mind-boggling,’’ he said. “Guys came into my office and said, ‘Please, don’t yell at Mike like that.’… I’m still incredulous.’’

Later in the interview, he again referred to that incident.

“Was I surprised that guys came in in that situation?” he said. “Yeah. I think that’s unique to that group of guys. I don’t think it’s indigenous to all of baseball. I pray it’s not because it’s not functional. The tail is wagging the dog, and taking a vote every time you have to decide how to do things.

“A leader needs to lead. He leads by forming the path, padding down the path and other people following him. You can’t have the guy at the back of the line coming up and deciding which direction you’re going to go in.”

Valentine addressed his firing after the season. Asked by Costas if he was relieved or disappointed, Valentine said, “I was relieved that I was not disappointed, if that makes any sense.

“It was a real trying season. By September, I knew. There was writing on the wall.’’

Valentine singled out Sox ownership for praise, while noticeably making no reference to general manager Ben Cherington, with whom he had a strained relationship by most accounts. Evidently making light of reports that he had a non-disclosure clause in his contract that would prevent him from criticizing the team, Valentine said, “They’d kill me. If I ever say anything, they’d send out a hit man. They’d whack me, and it would be all over.”

Valentine noted that the number of injuries the Sox sustained last season were more than he’d ever seen.

“I sat in a meeting one time when it was declared that injuries were not part of the problem,” Valentine said. “Well, they were actually part of the problem.

Interestingly, before citing his problems with the coaches, Ortiz’s alleged shutdown and the unwarranted fuss (in his view) caused by various incidents with players, Valentine took full responsibility for the team’s performance.

“I think it was all my fault because I got paid for that not to happen and it happened,” he said. “So I’ll take the full blame or credit.”

Valentine said that he heard from a number of players after he was fired.

“Most guys wished me well. Some of the texts I got, I actually teared up. It was good stuff,” he said. “This was a journey together. It wasn’t like I was sitting in the office and it was them and me. It was us. And we struggled. We struggled together.’’

Costas asked Valentine if he wanted to manage again.

“I don’t know,’’ he said. “You hiring? Possibly, yeah.’’

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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