Commentary

For Red Sox, a matter of trust

Bobby Valentine-Kevin Youkilis flap could weaken seemingly fragile clubhouse

Updated: April 17, 2012, 3:00 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- This was back in spring training, and Adrian Gonzalez was talking about building trust.

"It takes time to build a relationship," the Boston Red Sox first baseman said, "time to build trust, and if you lose that trust, you're not getting it back."

Gonzalez was talking about trust among teammates, but he just as easily could have been talking about trust between players and their manager. And that's the biggest question left in the wake of Bobby Valentine's comments about Kevin Youkilis, which were either an unfortunate choice of words (Valentine's version) or unwarranted public criticism of a player whose commitment has always been above reproach.

How much trust has Valentine lost in the Red Sox clubhouse, just 10 games into his first season as Boston's manager? And what can he do to get it back?

The Red Sox's ability to compete this season might well depend on the answer to that question.

Valentine was supposed to restore order to a clubhouse still reeling from this past September's collapse, and for all the brave talk about turning the page this spring, there still were wounds that had not fully healed.

Josh Beckett complained bitterly about clubhouse "snitches," and it turns out he and other players made some effort to identify who the "snitch" was, the person or persons Beckett and others felt had leaked damning information about things that went on in what the players considered their inner sanctum.

There were reasons to believe Youkilis was one of the players called out by Beckett. Youkilis was asked Monday whether that was true.

[+] EnlargeBobby Valentine
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonBobby Valentine insisted he was trying to neutralize a pointed question with his comments about Kevin Youkilis, but will the players buy it?

"There were tons of things going around where guys had questions," Youkilis said Monday.

Was he singled out by Beckett?

"No, I mean, there were things people questioned, stuff like that, normal stuff going on," he said.

This is not to suggest Youkilis was the so-called snitch, but to underscore that building trust in a place where suspicion still lingered and emotions still ran high would not be the easiest undertaking.

Under the best of circumstances, it can be a challenge.

"If loyalty happened overnight," former Red Sox manager Terry Francona said on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" on Monday afternoon, "it wouldn't mean much."

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Valentine came to town saddled with a reputation for calling out his players, one that he insists is undeserved and is a primary reason he believes his remarks about Youkilis not being "physically and emotionally into" the game were "conscrued" (sic) the wrong way. One of his first acts as Red Sox manager was to reach out to Beckett and later Carl Crawford about criticism he directed at them while working as an ESPN commentator, when he was being paid to make such observations.

But it would take a mental contortionist to buy Valentine's explanation Monday that he was merely talking about Youkilis' swing and the fact he wasn't throwing as many helmets as he has in the past. He insisted he was trying to neutralize a question that he considered a jab at the player.

"I was just trying to smooth it over," Valentine said. "I guess I didn't."

Youkilis didn't sound like he bought that line when he addressed reporters after his early-morning meeting with Valentine. Otherwise, he easily could have said he accepted Valentine's explanation instead of defending his own reputation.

"That's not what I see," Youkilis said. "I go out every day and play as hard as I can -- take every ground ball in the morning, take every at-bat like it's my last. I don't think my game has changed at all. I still get upset with myself. I still get mad."

And Youkilis' agent, Joe Bick, was having none of it, emailing reporters his reaction to Valentine's comments: "I will not dignify his quotes by responding to something that is so far off base on so many different levels."

What did general manager Ben Cherington think Valentine was trying to say?

"I think he hadn't seen the same player on the field that we've all seen in the past," Cherington said.

"He acknowledged that the way he expressed that was not the best way to express that. He told the same thing to Kevin and apologized and had a chance to explain what he meant. I think we'll all learn from it and be able to handle it differently next time."

But why should the players believe it will be any different the next time? Dustin Pedroia had taken it upon himself to defend Youkilis on Monday morning, pointedly noting that "this is not the way we go about our stuff around here. [Valentine] will figure that out."

Valentine said after Monday's game that he had spoken with Pedroia and "he's cool. He gets it."

But when Pedroia was asked whether he thought Valentine had learned from the episode, he said, "I'm not sure. You have to ask him. I can't speak for Bobby."

Valentine's words might have had the unintended, but positive, effect of fostering unity among the players, in an "us versus him" sort of way. But it's always a good thing, as Francona said Monday, if the manager is along for the ride.

Bobby V has to hope he didn't forfeit his ticket.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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