ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.-- Bobby Valentine hadn't heard or read all the opinions and analysis, but he had sampled some of it.
With the latest round of criticism regarding the Red Sox manager's communication skills -- this time coming via a story on ESPNBoston.com -- Valentine took a few minutes prior to the Sox' series opener at Tropicana Field to try to clarify how he viewed the communication situation.
In a nutshell: Valentine believes there is an effective system in place, while also admitting the execution of the plan is still somewhat a work in progress.
"People think communication a lot of times they think of the telegraph, then they think of the telephone, and then they think of telecommunications. All of it is a flow of ideas," Valentine explained to WEEI.com. "In a baseball structure, or any organizational structure, that flow is usually through a chain of command, where ideas from the ownership will come down through the front office which will come to the manager which will go to the coaches which will go to the players. Or, in reverse, feelings or ideas of the players will flow through the coaches to the manager up to the front office and if necessary to the ownership. Within a baseball structure you have to build those lines of communication. It's like putting up telephone poles, or telephone towers to get the word out. It's a work in progress, in every situation. To think information and ideas flow freely automatically, I think it's a misnomer.
"I think you continue to build on it, and you continue to improve on it. All I know is it's a work in progress. It just doesn't come with the territory. And some territories are easier than others. You can imagine the communication problem there was in Japan, because there was a language problem and a resistance from the holdover people to new ideas. I wouldn't say this is so much different. The only thing is we speak the same language."
The Japanese comparison is an interesting one, not only because of the language and culture, but rather due to the difference in approaches as the regimes changed. It wasn't dissimilar from what Valentine experienced with the Mets to what he has faced in Boston.
"When I got to New York it was a major problem," he said of the communication issues. "I had some of the same situations."
The style of communication was a very real issue at each of the stops, with the first few months in Boston serving as no exception.
Valentine very much relies on his coaches to filter information back and forth from the clubhouse, probably to a level not experienced by many of the players who only knew Terry Francona's way. It has been the evolution of understanding the new manager's way of doing things that has led to much of the perceived uneasiness.
"Communication is a two-way street, and in order for there to be effective communication there needs to be at least two people working at it," explained Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington. "Sometimes it's more than two people, but there needs to be at least two people. So whenever there is an issue in communication in the clubhouse, which happens every year with every team, we have to look at all the parties that are part of the communication. There have been moments this year we've had to get through it, just like any other year with any team. But I think the players know where they stand and know what's expected. That's the most important part of the manager's job."
Perhaps the person with the best perspective of how and why Valentine communicates the way he does is first base coach Alex Ochoa. Ochoa was with the manager as a player with both the Mets and in Japan, and now serves as one of the coaching liaisons on whom Valentine admittedly leans.
In fact, Ochoa has often had to remind Red Sox players that he has been in their shoes, understands their frustrations and can offer an explanation of why things are done the way they are.
"You get different perspectives," Ochoa said. "You kind of look at it and say, 'Oh, OK, that's why he does it that way.' Now, looking at it this way, I kind of understand it more. As a player I never got to the point I knew exactly how he was. You understand how much he really, truly wants to put people in the best situations to succeed. A lot of times as a player you think one thing is right, and you kind of fight that. Now, from this perspective, you see he really, truly wants to put you in the best situation to succeed. I tell the players, I've been there and done that, because sometimes the way he does things might be misconstrued."
Still, with the stories being written and occasional eye-rolling taking place, Valentine knows he has some work to do in terms of debunking what he feels are myths regarding his communication skills.
"I go out and talk," he said. "I was in elevators with guys today. I was in the outfield with guys today. I'll be in the dugout with guys today. For one man to think he's going to talk to eight coaches and a medical staff, the press and 25 players every day is absolutely tomfoolery. It's a joke to anyone to think it. You try and establish a system. If something's bothering a guy, or something's on his mind, boom, I hear about it. Either the guy comes in and tells me or one of my coaches tell me. 'He's got a finger he wants to talk to you about. He's got a situation at home that's keeping him up at night.' That's how I would like to get my information."
There are many facets and examples of Valentine's bumpy road when it comes to first-half communication. Some are dead-on (see Cherington's comments), while others miss the mark -- such as the notion Dustin Pedroia didn't want to be with Valentine during a mound visit in Chicago when, in fact the second baseman had swallowed his chewing tobacco and was on the verge of throwing up.
When asked if there was one specific notion being circulated regarding the communication issue that was particularly off-base, Valentine pointed to one involving the lineup.
"This stupid idea of telling players the night before … I don't know if it's a stupid idea, but it's stupid the way it's perceived," he said. "I think there have been two guys I didn't tell a player that he was playing, maybe three, in the first two weeks of the season. Now guys are notified if they're going to play the next day and they weren't playing, or if they aren't going to play the next day and they were playing. That's just wrong that that's out there. The thought with all the changes in our personnel and all the injuries we've been waiting on, to think that's a situation that can be handled all the time the night before perfectly is also foolish to think. I've heard that and that's just baloney."
Just another example of change that was tough for some players to digest at first, but is gaining at least a level of understanding as the season moves on.
"Yeah, for sure," Pedroia said when asked if he had found more common ground with Valentine as the season has progressed. "I was talking to him out there during early BP for a while. I talked to him this morning when I saw him in the hotel. It takes a while to build a relationship, and we're doing that. We talked about baseball, life, some other things. I think the perception has been the team doesn't like him. That's really not true. What can you not like? He's shown up, he's had our back, demands us to play hard and that's all you can ask."