The Youkilis Situation Could’ve Been Handled Better

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The Red Sox are not known for their amicable partings of the ways with players, managers and executives.

Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Johnny Damon, Nomar Garciaparra, Terry Francona and Theo Epstein all left under acrimonious circumstances so it’s not surprising that Kevin Youkilis is on the trading block and has been treated as if he was a spare part rather than a key to their success over the past six years.

Youkilis isn’t innocent here. His intensity, hatred of losing and temper were once seen as attributes, but once he was injured and his production diminished, those personality traits were suddenly viewed as negative. The temper turned into whining; his hatred of losing became self-indulgent tantrums; the intensity deteriorated into clubhouse lawyering.

What was once galvanizing morphed into the subversive.

It doesn’t matter which is accurate. It’s all about perception. When the team was winning, Youkilis’s personality was part of the fabric that made the club successful; when they began losing, it was a problem that had to be excised.

Bobby Valentine didn’t do the Red Sox, himself or Youkilis any favors by calling the player out for his seeming lack of passion. Boston tends to magnify everything and a manager like Valentine—accustomed to New York and a press corps with a million other stories to cover—certainly didn’t expect what was an innocuous comment to explode the way it did. In New York it would’ve been a story for a day or two and then faded away. In Boston it was a topic of conversation for weeks and validated the players’ fears about Valentine.

The biggest factors for the Red Sox in this haven’t been Valentine, Youkilis, the emergence of Will Middlebrooks or the team’s struggles that have necessitated dramatic changes for the greater good. The upheaval from last fall and departures of Francona and Epstein got the ball rolling. Had Francona been brought back, Epstein would’ve stayed; had Epstein stayed, Larry Lucchino wouldn’t have asserted himself in the baseball operations department; there would be no Valentine. If Epstein had stayed, he likely would’ve insisted on making serious changes to the roster. That would’ve had Youkilis traded last winter rather than heading into the season with him already unhappy at being symbolized for the 2011 collapse.

Blaming Valentine or Youkilis is simplistic. The Red Sox disarray that precipitated the departures of Francona and Epstein set the foundation. They could’ve gotten something for Youkilis last winter. Now they’re probably going to get nothing apart from another name added to the list of players who gave their hearts and souls to the Red Sox and Boston and were unceremoniously—even cruelly—kicked out the door when they’d outlived their usefulness.

It didn’t have to be this way.

It shouldn’t have been this way.

But this is how it is.

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