MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Valentine's flaw is in relating to his players

Justice: Valentine's flaw is in relating to players

Bobby Valentine's fundamental mistake may be in failing to understand the job now is all about building relationships.

In the end, nothing else matters.

Managers can hire people to help with lineups, pitching changes, defensive positioning and all that stuff. Some of the more progressive front offices have reams of data available if a manager wants to see it.

For instance, baseball's best manager, Joe Maddon, has a voracious appetite for information. Andrew Friedman, his executive vice president of baseball operations, gives it to him by the volume.

Still, what Friedman can't do is build the relationships with players that Maddon has built. Maddon is open, accessible and tough with his guys, and they'd run through a wall for him.

To a man, the Rays know Maddon has their back. They also know he'll be honest with them and that he'll have their back when talking to the media.

Maybe that part of the game changed in Valentine's 10 years away. In another era, managers didn't always care about whether their players liked them.

Gene Mauch and Dick Williams led with strategy and stares. Perhaps as a consequence, players both feared and respected them.

Earl Weaver was pretty much despised by a large number of his players. But as Ken Singleton said, "It's pretty nice to look down there and know your manager is two moves ahead of the guy in the other dugout."

Now it's different. Fear no longer works. Players have financial security they didn't have three or four decades ago.

More than ever, managing is about leadership and communication and each side understanding the other.

This appears to be where Valentine has fallen short. He may have lost his club for good when he publicly second-guessed Kevin Youkilis' heart.

Valentine has had months to repair the damage, and for whatever reason, it clearly hasn't happened.

Can you imagine Joe Torre saying such a thing about a player? Joe Girardi? Terry Francona?

Absolutely not.

And there's Charlie Manuel.

Is he a great strategic manager? I have no idea. Is he brilliant at handling a bullpen? I can't tell you that.

I can only tell you that his players love him and play their tails off for him. Even Jimmy Rollins, who has given Charlie fits at times, will tell you how much he respects his guy.

The Phillies know that what you see is what you get with Charlie. He's plain-spoken, honest and completely decent.

Manuel is 68 years old, so it's not an age thing. Honesty and decency play well at any age.

To even bring age into the conversation is silly. Dusty Baker, 63, is a year older than Valentine, but he has great relationships with his players.

Baker trusts them and has their backs. More important, they know it. Last week as he prepared for Joey Votto's return, he called Drew Stubbs into his office and told him face-to-face that his playing time might be cut as Baker figured out how to get playing time for all his guys.

When Valentine decided to bench Youkilis, he sent a coach to deliver the message. Every player in that clubhouse probably saw how Valentine handled one of the senior members of his team and thought, "If he'd do that to Youk, what would he do to me?"

Davey Johnson, 69, is also older than Valentine, but in almost every conversation this summer, he has mentioned calling in a player to discuss a slump, playing time or something related.

When Jim Leyland ran the Florida Marlins, front-office staffers marveled at how he reached out to players up and down the depth chart. He would stroll through the outfield at batting practice checking on guys and giving them the chance to ask a question.

Leyland can be tough and demanding, but players who've played for him rave about his leadership and communication and all the rest.

Tony La Russa was one of the game's ultimate tough guys. He was also one of the great communicators ever.

La Russa talked constantly to his players about the challenge ahead, about setting goals and respecting the game.

His players also knew that he worked tirelessly, showing up six and seven hours before a game to study scouting reports, prepare defensive alignments and look for an edge.

Somewhere along the way, Valentine appears to have lost his guys. Maybe it was a failure to communicate and to check, if not with every player, certainly with his leaders.

Valentine sometimes allows his comments to the media to stray into silly areas. It has to be just about winning THAT game and nothing else. And, yes, players do notice everything.

Years ago, a player tapped me on the shoulder and said, "We've noticed that when we're out taking batting practice, he's in talking to you guys."

On the other hand, Weaver would sit in the dugout during batting practice and grimace when a player not in the lineup hit a ball hard.

"Gosh dang, do you think I should get him in there?" he'd say to no one in particular.

Weaver never missed anything, and his players appreciated that, if not him.

Valentine messed up. His players never see how much he cares. He appears not to have done a great job communicating with them.

He allows his comments to the media to go here, there and everywhere. When he should have be sending a single signal, he sends several.

Valentine has had no chance, not with John Lackey spending the year on the disabled list and Josh Beckett and John Lester winning 14 of their 49 starts.

But those things have nothing to do with the nearly open disdain being communicated from Red Sox players and their agents.

Funny thing is, if you wrote down the things you'd want in a big league manager -- smarts, knowledge, an understanding of the game -- Valentine has them all in spades.

For some reason, though, he has been unwilling or unable to unite the clubhouse, to get the Red Sox to play with a sense of purpose.

Valentine is a good man, a decent man. He deserves better. Maybe in another time or place, his way might work.

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.