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Youk stung by criticism; Valentine apologizes

Youk stung by criticism; Valentine apologizes

Youk stung by criticism; Valentine apologizes
BOSTON -- For much of his career, Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis has dealt with the perception that he cares so much about his job, it can be to his detriment. With his all-out play, Youkilis has sometimes paid the price both in terms of beating up on his body and perhaps wearing down his mind.

So you can imagine that Youkilis was thrown for quite a loop when apprised of comments made by manager Bobby Valentine in a television interview on Sunday night.

"I don't think he's physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past, for some reason," Valentine told WHDH-TV.

Youkilis was first made aware of the comments in a telephone call from agent Joe Bick on Sunday evening.

The veteran third baseman spoke directly with Valentine on Monday and made it clear to his manager and media members that his dedication hasn't lessened one bit.

"I don't know. 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. That's just not how I go about the game of baseball."

Meanwhile, Valentine, in speaking to the media on Monday morning, expressed frustration that his message was taken out of context.

"I think the question [from the TV reporter] was like, 'This is not Youk-like the way he's playing.' I think that was the question I answered," Valentine said. "I should have explained that his swing isn't what he wants it to be, the physical part of his swing is frustrating. Frustration leads to emotion. I haven't seen him break as many helmets as I saw him break on TV, so, you know, it just seemed different.

"At the end of the thing, I said, 'I don't know what the reason is, because I haven't been here long enough.' I don't know why his swing isn't exactly the way he wants it to be and why he's not throwing as many helmets. I thought it was rather innocuous. As a matter of fact, it seemed like they were trying to bang him, and I think I started it by saying how good his at-bats were that day, his two walks."

Youkilis was not in Valentine's lineup on Monday because of a nagging groin injury. He is hitting .200 with three RBIs this season.

"Well, Kevin came in [to my office] this morning," said Valentine. "I thought it was about his groin and he was going to tell me how his groin was, because it was sore after the game yesterday. So I said, 'Hey, how you doing? How's the groin?' He says, 'Well, it's all right.' He said, 'What's going on?'

"When he told me that people called him and said that I said things he didn't like, I totally apologized. I said, 'The last thing in the world I want you to think is I'm doing anything to criticize you. I was mentioning, giving an answer to a question, I should have been more specific and said, you know, 'Your physical is about your swing and your emotional is about not being happy when you don't hit a ball off the wall.' I don't know if he accepted my apology. It was very sincere.

"The last thing in the world I would want him to think is that this was anything but an answer to a question. It seemed the question was jabbing at him. I was just trying to smooth it over. I guess I didn't."

Second baseman Dustin Pedroia, widely considered to be the Sox's emotional leader, said nobody within the clubhouse has any issue with the way Youkilis plays the game.

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

Pedroia was asked specifically if he thought Valentine was trying to motivate Youkilis by what he said.

"Maybe in Japan or something, but over here in the U.S., we've got a three-game winning streak and we want to feel good and keep it rolling," Pedroia said Monday morning, prior to the Sox falling to the Rays, 1-0. "We feel we have a good team and we've just got to get each other's backs and play together. If you don't do that, I don't care what sport you're playing, you're not going to win."

Valentine cringed when Pedroia's interpretation of his comments about Youkilis were relayed.

"Once again, misinterpreted," Valentine said. "Wasn't meant to motivate. That's not the way it's done. He took a little part of something and thought that he understood what went on, and that's not what went on."

Later on, Valentine had a chance to explain his side of the story to Pedroia.

"He's cool," Valentine said. "He says he gets it. I think he was asked a question in kind of a dubious manner. I told him what happened. He said, 'OK. I got it.'"

After the game, Pedroia didn't want to say a whole lot about his conversation with Valentine.

"That's between me and him, man. I'm not going to sit here and talk about what me and Bobby talked about," said Pedroia. "We're all grown men, and everyone involved in this organization and this team, we're here to have each others' backs for the worst times and the best times, so we all pride ourselves on that and make sure that happens."

General manager Ben Cherington thought the situation was important enough that he made sure to address it with Valentine and Youkilis prior to the game.

"I think as with many things in baseball or in life, the more you get a chance to talk about it, the more you get to chance to understand what his meanings were," Cherington said. "So we had a chance to do that this morning. Kevin and Bobby spoke. I spoke with Kevin, I spoke with Bobby and we had our conversations. I think what needs to be said has been said, so we'll move forward."

Was Cherington surprised that the controversy evolved in the first place?

"I was surprised to see the quote. I didn't see the interview last night live. I hadn't seen it in context," Cherington said. "I was surprised for a couple reasons, because that's not something that Bobby had expressed to me. As I said, that's why I think it's important to talk about it, and I've had a chance to talk to Bobby and talk to Kevin and understand better what happened. We were able to talk through it and leave it at that."

"I think Bobby wishes he had expressed that sentiment to Kevin first. I think you have to take these things case by case, and I don't think there should be a policy on whether a manager should criticize. Every situation is different. There are times that can be the inappropriate thing to do. I don't think it should never happen or it should always happen. You take it case by case. In this particular case, I don't think that's what he was trying to do. I don't think his intent was to criticize Kevin. That's the way it came across in print."

Part of Valentine's reputation before he came to the Red Sox was that he had a habit of saying things that would ruffle feathers.

Perhaps that's why this Youkilis story has gained more legs than it might have otherwise.

"Sure, mainly because there's this perception that I'm going to criticize players in the papers, or in the press," said Valentine. "So as soon as something is construed being criticism, people will misinterpret it. But I understand that. Somehow we have to understand it."

Does he feel he cleared the air with Youkilis?

"You know, I don't know how you just clear the air," Valentine said. "It will be talked about, written about, kibitzed about, people have to understand what the truth is and what right is right and wrong is wrong. You don't legislate common sense, but I think the guys will get it. It's a good group of guys."

How about the notion that Valentine's reputation would precede him in cases like this?

"It wasn't a fear, it was an understanding," Valentine said. "It's what it is. Until people want to understand what it really is instead of making it up what they want it to be, there will be confusion. I think eventually everyone will understand what it really is."

Youkilis didn't seem too worked up about the situation.

"I'm more confused than anything," Youkilis said. "Everyone knows I go out and play the game as hard as I can. That's just my style of play. I never was blessed with the raw tools like the guys who have got tools, so I've always hard to use playing the game as hard and with full effort my whole life. I don't know any better. That's just the way I play.

"For me, personally, everyone around here knows that I go out here and play with emotion. The only time my emotion has ever been questioned is because I've been too emotional about stuff. That's just how it is. For me, I'm going to be the same guy."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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