Derek Jeter, A-Rod respond to Bobby V

Updated: February 29, 2012, 7:47 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- To Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, the words of Bobby Valentine led to one big shrug of the shoulders.

"I'm indifferent, really," Jeter said Wednesday regarding comments the new Red Sox manager made about Jeter's "flip play" at home plate against the Oakland A's in Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS that caught Jeremy Giambi at the plate. "I don't know Bobby well enough to know what he's trying to do. I could care less. I guess that's the best way to put it."

Speaking to reporters at Red Sox camp Tuesday, Valentine had questioned whether the Yankees really practiced the play, as Jeter has always maintained, and implied that the fabled play, which protected a 1-0 Yankees lead, was in fact a misplay.

"I think [Jeter] was out of position," Valentine said. "And the ball gets [Giambi] out if [Jeter] doesn't touch it, personally."

Jeter seemed more bemused than annoyed at the assertions.

"We do practice it, but not the flip home," Jeter said. "But who cares? Why are we talking about this? He must be bored over there, huh? I don't understand."

Valentine backtracked Wednesday, saying he found out that the Yankees do practice the play. He said he was told by Red Sox bullpen coach and catching instructor Gary Tuck, who has had three stints with the Yankees, that New York does practice it.

"Total mistake on my part that they don't practice it, that's for sure," he said. "He [Tuck] said that when they practice it, he always got there late in practice.

"I said yesterday that the shortstop's there being aware. But it's hard to practice that, because why are we going to practice a bad throw? That's not what we're doing here. But I get it."

[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter and Jeremy Giambi
AP Photo/Eric RisbergDerek Jeter's backhand flip that helped save the Yankees' season in 2001 was lauded by nearly everyone ... except Bobby Valentine.

Jeter invited reporters to go to the field to watch the Yankees practice the play Wednesday.

"A lot of people have said that I wasn't supposed to be there, but I've told you from day one that's where I'm supposed to be, that's what we work on," he said. "He's not the first person that said that. I invite all you guys out there to see that I'm in the same spot every time."

Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington was the third-base coach on that A's team. He also disagreed with Valentine's assessment of the play.

"If Derek doesn't touch that ball, he's safe," Washington said. "No doubt about it."

But Washington does agree with Valentine that Jeter was out of position.

"That's why Derek Jeter is Derek Jeter," Washington said Wednesday morning. "Derek Jeter noticed that there was nobody over there to back it up and he left where he should have been and went over there and did what he did. It was Derek Jeter that made that play.

"That's what you call awareness on the ballfield. He was definitely not supposed to be there. I wish he wouldn't have been there. That's Derek Jeter, man. That's why he's a champion."

On Wednesday, Valentine also sang Jeter's praises.

"I want it on record that I love Derek Jeter as a player," Valentine told ESPNBoston.com. "It was not a slight towards him. I love him as a guy, too."

Rodriguez also wound up a verbal target when Valentine paid tribute to Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, who is planning to retire Thursday.

"From afar, he was everything you want a guy who wears a 'C' to be," Valentine said of the longtime captain. "He was a man's man, he was a big hitter when needed, he was the leader of the pitching staff. He was able to beat up Alex, all that stuff. He was exactly what he was supposed to be.''

Valentine was referring to a home-plate skirmish between Rodriguez and Varitek in July 2004 after Rodriguez was drilled by Boston's Bronson Arroyo's pitch and directed some words toward the pitcher's mound. Varitek stepped between the two and, while still wearing his mask, shoved Rodriguez in the face, igniting a bench-clearing brawl.

Rodriguez at first said he hadn't heard Valentine's comments. When the statement was repeated to Rodriguez, he laughed.

"Like I've said, guys, I'm not gonna win many battles here when it comes to words, especially against Bobby," he said. "But I will tell you this, I got my new press secretary that should be landing in couple of days, Reggie Jackson, so I'll let him handle that, all right?"

Then he walked away. Meanwhile, in another part of the clubhouse, Terry Francona, whom Valentine replaced as manager and who is now working as an ESPN analyst, found himself being interviewed about the words of his successor.

"I'm sure some of that's in jest," Francona said. "I don't know. I wasn't there. I'm out of it. To me, it's not important whether the Yankees practice that play or not. The fact of the matter is [Jeter's] good enough to make that play. You can practice that play until you're blue in the face, he's probably the only guy who makes that play. He sees the field better than anybody."

After acknowledging the strangeness of seeing the former manager of a hated rival in the Yankees' clubhouse, Jeter said: "I've always respected Terry. I've enjoyed playing against him, getting to know him throughout the years. I have a lot of respect for him and how he manages. Every player that I've ever talked to about him appreciated the way he managed and the way he dealt with players."

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from ESPNDallas.com's Richard Durrett and ESPNBoston.com's Rick Weber and Joe McDonald was used in this report.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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