Sunday, Bobby Valentine said something on the radio about Kevin Youkilis he probably shouldn't have said. Monday, I suggested that Valentine's standing as Red Sox manager, just 10 games into the season, had already become tenuous. I didn't really explain why, though.
For that, here's Jason Turbow (via SI.com):
... In baseball, a manager's primary duty away from the field is to protect his players at any cost, usually from the media, at least until the point that a player leaves him no other option. If Youkilis has somehow already reached that point with Valentine, if his manager felt that calling him out in a local television interview was the only recourse left to reach him, well, that would constitute a newsworthy story. Other than his manager's off-the-cuff banter, however, there is no indication that this is the case.
Instead, Valentine and the Red Sox are left to deal with the fallout, which serves to illustrate precisely why managers are expected to be measured in public statements about their players. Now, instead of coming to the ballpark and focusing on the game at hand, Youkilis has to answer questions about his manager's lack of confidence, in addition to questions about his slump. Now, Dustin Pedroia has to step back from his own preparations in order, as a team leader, to defend his compatriot. Now, the rest of Boston's players have to wonder what it might take before their manager publicly questions them, as well. Now, Valentine, the man brought in to help manage a media circus, has added a ring to the big top, and -- inadvertently or not -- is forcing his players to dance through hoops before they reach the field.
In the immediate aftermath of this incident, the Red Sox played nine innings and didn't score a single run. Pedroia went 1 for 3 with a walk. Youkilis didn't play; his replacement at third base, Nick Punto, went 0 for 2 with a walk. We can hardly blame a 1-0 loss on the manager's momentary indiscretion. We shouldn't even begin to think about doing that.
Over the course of a season, though? We don't really know how a manager affects the performance of his players and we probably never will. But we sure do spend a lot of time guessing. We guess that Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox were doing something that made their players better. Not a lot better. Just slightly better, enough that over the course of a season, La Russa and Cox might have wrung an extra win or three out of their teams.
Which are a lot of wins. If a manager can pick up a few wins with his psychological acumen and another few with his tactical acumen, then you've really got something. Most managers, we suspect, don't come anywhere near adding even four or five wins per season. Most are probably right around zero wins; what you want to avoid are the managers who actually cost you a win or three.
And while we really can't measure such things, if Bobby Valentine doesn't start protecting his players, he'll be seen costing his team a few wins this season. Except that won't actually happen, because he won't be allowed to manage for this whole season.