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Bobby Valentine Questions Kevin Youkilis' Commitment

By Eric Russo
On April 19, 2012

We all knew that the Red Sox' hiring of Bobby Valentine would mean Fenway would see its share of controversy this season.

But I don't think many believed it would come this early in this season, after the Sox had won three straight games against the Tampa Bay Rays, and involve calling out the commitment of, arguably one of the grittiest Red Sox players of the last decade, Kevin Youkilis.

I'm all for calling out guys. It was something that was sorely lacking last September and one of the few things that Terry Francona did not do well in his eight years at the helm of the Sox.

I want Bobby Valentine to "breathe fire" and call out his players - when it is needed. But what Bobby Valentine did this weekend was unwarranted, unnecessary and just plain silly.

The skipper was appearing on one of his many paid media appearances on Sunday night - Sports Xtra on Channel 7 - and was asked about the slow start to Youkilis' season. Here was his response:

"I don't think he's as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason. But (on Saturday) it seemed, you know, he's seeing the ball well, got those two walks, got his on-base percentage up higher than his batting average, which is always a good thing, and he'll move on from there."

Ok, not the worst comment ever made by a coach or manager to a player. Valentine even says he has confidence that Youkilis will turn it around from his slow start - .200, 0 HR, 3 RBI - but was it really necessary to call out the second longest tenured player on the team - a man who is revered for his gritty play and passion that has done everything the Red Sox have asked over his career.

Whether it was play third base or first base, Youkilis has done it. When he was asked to play left field, Youkilis did it. When he was asked to lead off, he may not have liked it, but he did it.

Not to mention that the Red Sox are seemingly turning the corner from their 2-5 start. The Sox lost 1-0 in Monday's series finale against the Rays but had taken the first three games against American League East rivals.

Now you have a distraction. Whether you believe Valentine was right or wrong or whether he was trying to motivate Youkilis, there is now a focus on the controversy and not the team on the field. Youkilis was asked about what he thought of his manager's comments and said, simply, that he was "confused."

"I'm more confused than anything because everyone knows I go out and play the game as hard as I can,'' Youkilis said. "It's just my style of play. I was never blessed with the raw tools and I've always had to use playing the game hard and with full effort my whole life.''

Dustin Pedroia, who is the Sox' de facto spokesman, took the side of his teammate and had some strong words for Valentine.

"I know Youk plays as hard as anyone I've ever seen in my life and I have his back and his teammates have his back,'' Pedroia said. "We know how hard he plays. I don't really understand what Bobby's trying to do, but that's not the way we go about our stuff around here. I'm sure he'll figure that out soon.''

That is a pretty strong message from a player to a manager and just for good measure, Pedroia added this beauty, "Maybe in Japan or something, but over here in the US we're on a three-game winning streak and we want to feel good and keep it rolling."

Youkilis, who missed Monday's game with a groin problem, went into the manager's office before the game to get an explanation. And Valentine, of course, took it all back, signaling that this was no effort to try and motivate his player but just to stir the pot. If Valentine really wanted to light a fire under Youkilis he would have stood by his comments and stood his ground but he didn't.

"Kevin came in this morning and I thought it was about his groin,'' Valentine said."I thought he was going to tell me how his groin was, and I said, `Hey, how's the groin?' and he said, 'Well, all right, but what's going on?'

"When he told me that people (his agent) called him and told him that I said things that he didn't like, I totally apologized," he added. "I said the last thing in the world I want you to think is that I'm doing anything to criticize you. I was giving an answer to a question and I should've been more specific and said your physical was about your swing and your emotional was not being happy when you don't hit a ball off the wall."

"I don't know if he accepted my apology, but it was very sincere. The last thing in the world is that I didn't want him to think that this was anything but an answer to a question that seemed to be jabbing at him. I was just trying to smooth it over and I guess that I didn't," said Valentine.

Sure didn't. Now there's controversy at Fenway - again.

Again, I am all for calling out guys as long as it is warranted. Josh Beckett, John Lackey, JD Drew and a number of the other overpaid, untitled jocks needed, desperately, to be called out last September during the Sox' demise.

A shake up was needed. The attitude needed to change but this was not the right time, place or player to call out.

In the end, Youkilis may very well be motivated and start to play better but right now there is distraction, a divided clubhouse, and those wondering if they will be next to be called out.

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