TAMPA, Fla. (WFAN/AP) — On the final day of February, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter were dragged into the first Yankees-Red Sox stir of the year.
A-Rod had little patience for it. Jeter seemed bemused. Even Eric Chavez was asked to weigh in.
And Bobby Valentine? The new Boston manager backed off some of the comments that started the flap in the first place.
“I want it on record that I love Derek Jeter as a player,” Valentine said Wednesday. “It was not a slight towards him. I love him as a guy, too.”
Valentine said Tuesday that Jeter didn’t need to make his famous flip-to-home relay during the 2001 playoffs. He also fondly recalled when Jason Varitek “beat up” Rodriguez in 2004 during a confrontation between A-Rod and the Boston catcher.
Rodriguez laughed off the comments yesterday, made a brief statement and ducked through a crowd of reporters surrounding his locker.
“I’m not going to win many battles here when it comes to words, especially against Bobby,” Rodriguez said. “But I will tell you this: I’ve got my new press secretary that should be landing in the next couple days — Reggie Jackson — so I’ll let him handle that.”
Jeter spoke longer about Valentine’s jabs — but didn’t say much.
“Why are we talking about this, really?” Jeter said. “He must be bored over there, huh? I don’t understand.”
The Red Sox were working on relay throws at spring training Tuesday and Valentine was asked about one of baseball’s most famous relay plays — from Game 3 of the 2001 AL Division Series between the Yankees and Oakland.
Down 2-0 in the series and with a 1-0 lead in the seventh inning, Yankees right fielder Shane Spencer missed the cutoff man on a hit by Terrence Long. That’s when Jeter seemingly came out of nowhere to grab the overthrow near the first baseline and flipped the ball home to get Jeremy Giambi at the plate.
Valentine said he thought Jeter was out of position — and that he didn’t believe the Yankees would practice the relay that way.
“I mean, we do,” Jeter said. “What do you want me to say? I mean, really. What am I supposed to say?”
Sure enough, when the Yankees were practicing later Wednesday morning, Jeter drifted over toward the area between first and home on a ball to the right-field corner.
According to WFAN’s Sweeny Murti, Jeter walked up to reporters after the workout and said, “See we do practice that.”
“Ever since I’ve been here — in 1996 — we’ve asked our shortstops to kind of float in the infield,” New York manager Joe Girardi said. “We worked on it today. It happened to be cuts-and-relays day today.”
Valentine also said he felt Giambi would have been out at the plate even if Jeter hadn’t touched the ball.
“I don’t know Bobby well enough to tell you what he’s trying to do,” Jeter said. “I don’t know what to tell you. … I’m indifferent.”
Valentine backed off a bit Wednesday, saying he’d talked with Red Sox bullpen coach Gary Tuck, who used to be with the Yankees as a catching instructor.
“He said they do practice it. Total mistake on my part because they do practice it, that’s for sure,” Valentine said. “It’s hard to practice that because why are we going to practice a bad throw? That’s not what we’re doing here. But I get it. I get it.”
Chavez, a third baseman for the Yankees, was a standout with Oakland in 2001. Approached as an expert witness, Chavez disagreed with the notion that Giambi would have been out even without Jeter’s involvement.
“I thought he was safe anyway,” he said.
Giambi reached out to step on home plate instead of sliding. Chavez believes Oakland should have pinch-run for him.
“Jeremy was probably the slowest guy on the field,” Chavez said. “I thought it would have been more out if he had slid. I think the fact that he actually stood up and kind of hit the plate, it was I think 50-50 — people think he was out, some think he was safe. I thought he was safe. If he slid, I think he would have been more out, for sure.”
Chavez joked that he heard the Yankees started practicing Jeter’s defensive maneuver “the year after” it worked against the A’s.
Rodriguez and Varitek were part of a benches-clearing incident in 2004 after Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo plunked the New York third baseman. After Rodriguez started cursing at Arroyo, Varitek came to his pitcher’s defense by shoving his catcher’s mitt into A-Rod’s face.
Varitek is retiring, and Valentine was discussing his career Tuesday.
“He is a man’s man,” Valentine said then. “He was a big hitter when needed. He was a leader of the pitching staff. He was able to beat up Alex.”
Terry Francona, Boston’s previous manager, was actually in the Yankees’ clubhouse Wednesday. He’s now an analyst for ESPN.
Francona said he assumed some of what Valentine said was in jest.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I wasn’t there — and I’m out of it.”
Francona said comments can become “sensationalized” when the Yankees and Red Sox are involved — but he wouldn’t presume to tell Valentine how to handle himself.
“Everybody’s different. I got asked when we went to winter meetings, ‘Do you have advice for Bobby?’ No. He’s going to do it his way,” Francona said. “He wouldn’t want my advice. That’s why you get a new voice. He’ll do it his way, and that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
The rivalry will be renewed when the two teams meet in spring training March 13. Their first series of the regular season will begin April 20 in Boston.
Jeter said he doesn’t believe his team’s rivalry with the Red Sox needs to be stoked — no matter what Valentine intended.
“I don’t know why you would have to stir it up. I think our rivalry gets so much attention anyway,” Jeter said. “But I am NOT saying that he is stirring it up.”
Yankees fans, did Bobby V do the right thing by backing off somewhat? Sound off below…
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