BOSTON -- One of Bobby Valentine's greatest challenges in a subpar season has been establishing his channels of communication with his players, because those channels have changed so drastically from three decades ago.
Sometimes, when there's an issue, things go well. Valentine, who was speaking to a crowd of 200 people at the Sabermetrics, Scouting and the Science of Baseball seminar, told a story about shortstop Mike Aviles, who recently missed five games because of turf toe.
"Most of that information gets through to me through my bench coach [Tim Bogar], who, you know, collects information from them," Valentine said before a third straight loss to the Twins, 6-4. "So if a guy -- for instance, Aviles wasn't playing the other day after his toe got better. So I heard he was unhappy, so I went over and see if he can be happy for that day.
"It was a regular conversation, 'Hey, Mike, listen, I know your toe is better, going to give you one more day, there's a left-hander going tomorrow, you're going to be back in there at shortstop ... I think he took a deep breath and he was happy, and he got a couple hits last night and played well. That goes around and around."
But in a season in which Valentine had a public falling out with former Red Sox staple Kevin Youkilis and reports of a clubhouse snitch have surfaced, things clearly don't always run so smoothly.
"I can tell you the truth," Valentine said, "establishing the communication system is tough, because sometimes you get short-circuited."
Keeping the players happy is a job that takes all of Valentine's coaching staff. No one person could keep tabs on every single player every day. But being happy, Valentine said, has a specific meaning. For Valentine, keeping guys happy isn't about him joking around with them every minute, it's about making sure that they feel strongly about themselves.
"Getting that flow I think is a real important thing," Valentine said. "Happy with players is comfortable -- not like 'ha-ha' happy. Like comfortable, 'ha-ha,' I feel good about myself. I think that's a big job of the staff, the entire staff. When the manager's ideas -- remember again, there's 25 guys. To think that the manager's going to go around and talk with 25 guys every day and take their temperature and make sure that they have enough of pine tar on their bat and everything else that's needed for them to be totally content is ridiculous, to think that you're gonna go and find 25 guys."
This is the largest part of Valentine's job. When he started managing with the Rangers in 1985 -- this is his 16th season as a Major League manager -- it was a time when the skipper would go to the hospital when one of his players was having a child.
"Now, the guy gets three days off and they usually have a baby in Paris or somewhere, and you know you can't quite be there," Valentine joked. "You know, I don't think it's proper, I don't think that you do that anymore either. So yeah, it's changed."
The time Valentine used to spend with his players just isn't there anymore. There's myriad places players do work before and after games, and the minutes spent in the actual clubhouse at a locker has diminished.
Just tracking down a player is a guessing game.
"I don't even know how to [quantify] it -- tenfold," Valentine said of the change. "I'll get out to batting practice and then there's food rooms that they didn't used to be in, there's weight rooms. In the '80s and the '90s, there was a clubhouse where there were players. And there was a coaches' office and often even the coaches were in the same clubhouse with the players, and then there was a little manager's office.
"Here at Fenway, in particular, I've got a manager's office and we have the clubhouse. And then we have a weight room that's 22 steps up to the right, and then there's a food room that's about 40 steps up and to the left. And then there's a training room and behind the training room the saunas and the pools for the cool plunge. Sometimes, if Tim or I are trying to find a player, he goes in one direction, I go in the other direction, 10 minutes later we meet back in my office and say, 'I don't think he's here.' It really is -- it's really different."
Valentine said public humiliation is not his thing. Wake-up calls, however, are required. It's a method he tried a long time ago, but he doesn't want to be Earl Weaver.
The Red Sox, at 53-55 and 10 games out as the fourth-place team in the American League East, are running out of time.
"I try to be positive," Valentine said when a member of the audience said the manager often seems to be encouraging to his players. "It's interesting you say that's a perception of me, 'cause I actually thought if you guys watched TV, listen to the radio, read the paper about me, you'd think that I berate ... and curse every player as often as I can. How many of you think I do that?"
"I don't ever think that public humiliation is a key for success in anything that we do in life. I think wake-up calls at times need to be made, and it's not to berate the player, it's to change his focus. To get him out of a funk that he might be in, sometimes volume is necessary is what I think. But I don't think that Earl Weaver, 'Hey, you stink' type of thing, I don't think that works. It never worked for me, anyway, and I haven't tried it in 20 years -- maybe I'll bring it back."