Valentine is very smart and, like Collins and Showalter, has a bottomless passion for baseball, and maybe, if everything had played out differently, the players would have come to see that. But right away, Valentine reinforced the preconceived notions they had about him.
According to sources within the organization, Valentine had asked for a change in the way that cutoff plays were run, and when he walked onto a field very early in spring training, what he saw almost immediately was that shortstop Mike Aviles was not where he wanted him to be. Valentine loudly and profanely questioned Aviles’ aptitude, others in the organization say. What Valentine did not know at that moment was that the Red Sox players hadn’t yet been instructed on where to go in the new cutoff alignment.
Aviles is highly respected, a grinder, and other players were bothered enough by the exchange that three leaders on the team — Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez — went to Valentine to express concern and provide context for Aviles’ mistake. Gonzalez, sources say, asked Valentine that if he wanted to get on a player verbally, the first baseman would be OK with being a target, because he could take it.
It was a moment that others in the organization now look back on as a crossroad in Valentine’s year as manager, because in that instant, Valentine could have gone one of two ways.
He could have listened to the players, embraced what they were saying, called a team meeting the next day and built on the incident. He could have apologized to Aviles and then told all of them, in so many words, Mike, you should know that these three guys over here — Ortiz, Pedroia and Gonzalez — have your back and are really good teammates, and that’s a great thing. And I’m really feeling good about what we have in this room.
“But it didn’t go that way,” said a member of the organization.
Valentine did express regret to Aviles. But the players perceived Valentine as being miffed by the situation, as if the players had overreacted to something that he felt was innocuous. The players perceived that Valentine felt his authority was being challenged.
Right away, this incident badly damaged the fragile connection between he and the players, and was probably destroyed once and for all by his comments about Kevin Youkilis in April.