MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Valentine not the cause of Boston's ills

Justice: Valentine not the cause of Boston's ills

Valentine not the cause of Boston's ills
Do you really believe the Red Sox are underachieving because some of the players don't like Bobby Valentine?

Are you that gullible?

The Red Sox haven't been in fourth or fifth place this entire season because of their manager. That's just silly talk.

Carl Crawford. Jacoby Ellsbury. Andrew Bailey. John Lackey.

Those four haven't played a single game. And that's just a start. Jon Lester hasn't been his usual dominant self.

Neither has Josh Beckett.

Clay Buchholz has had some real tough stretches, and Daniel Bard pitched his way right back to the Minors.

If you can draw a line between their troubles and Bobby V., have at it. You're kidding yourself, but go right ahead.

It says right here that if the Red Sox start to win consistently -- that is, if Crawford and Ellsbury return and if Lester, Beckett and Buchholz pitch the way they're capable of pitching -- all that other stuff will disappear.

Winning cures virtually everything, and what it doesn't cure, it does a wonderful job of covering up.

If the Red Sox continue to underachieve, the problems are going to get worse. If David Ortiz thinks the negativity around the franchise is bad now, there could be worse tension around the corner.

There were bound to be tensions if the Red Sox didn't sprint out of the gate. For one thing, management got rid of a very popular manager -- Terry Francona -- and replaced him with a guy who is not going to be loved by everyone.

Valentine is very, very smart and very, very competent. He's usually the smartest guy in the room and probably would like you to know that.

What's a manager's job, anyway? Forget all that stuff about managing a pitching staff and sending the right guy up to pinch-hit and coming up with a great lineup.

Any competent organization can produce volumes of data to help with that stuff. If a manager is open to help, he can get plenty of it.

More than ever, a manager's job is to deal with people, to somehow blend a roomful of different personalities and large egos -- to communicate and to listen, and to convince them he always has their backs.

These are the skills Charlie Manuel and Ron Washington and Joe Maddon and others bring to the table. Players want competence and honesty, but beyond those things, they want to know their manager is behind them.

Front-office types marvel at Jim Leyland's ability to unite a clubhouse in the oddest of ways. Sometimes he'll stand among his players and talk to the 24th or 25th guy on the roster, either kidding with them or talking about something they've done.

He also checks in with his players almost daily, sometimes making small talk, listening, letting them know his door is open.

Leyland doesn't suffer fools. He certainly doesn't suffer laziness or poor work habits. But Leyland's players know he cares about them.

Valentine cares about his players, too, but he might not go out of his way to show it. After eight years with Francona, who was warm and funny and caring, playing under Valentine is an adjustment.

Clearly, there are Red Sox players who haven't taken to Valentine. Plenty of scouts noticed that Dustin Pedroia didn't join a huddle at the mound during a game at Wrigley Field last week.

Likewise, Kevin Youkilis had to be furious when Valentine seemed to publicly question his desire early in the season.

Very few managers would ever criticize a player in public because there's nothing to be gained from it. As Chuck Tanner once yelled at a friend of mine, "I'm not ripping one of my players to you, so you can just stop asking!"

Hall of Famer Earl Weaver was at his best when the Orioles were losing. That's when he'd be funny, profane and entertaining. But when his team was playing well, he'd tell reporters, "Go talk to the players."

When the Orioles lost, it was about him. When they won, it was about them. This philosophy works in every business.

Tension could come from other places around the Red Sox. General manager Ben Cherington preferred Dale Sveum to Valentine. His bosses preferred Valentine.

Likewise, Valentine didn't hire all his own coaches.

And the players are struck with a new manager when they were just fine with the previous guy.

Youkilis, one of the team's most prominent players and one of seven remaining from the 2007 World Series champions, is on the trading block. Until he goes, Valentine will have trouble finding playing time for his young star, Will Middlebrooks.

With all this swirling and with the club near the bottom of the standings all season, tension is a natural result.

It still comes down to everyone doing their jobs. The Red Sox have enough talent to win, but only if those pitchers do what they were projected to do and Crawford, etc., return.

Unlike plenty of other clubs, the Red Sox have hope. But if things don't change, it'll be a real interesting summer, and that television gig might start looking better than ever to Valentine.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.