TAMPA, Fla. — Alex Rodriguez laughed off Bobby Valentine’s comments about his 2004 scrap with Jason Varitek, then made a brief statement and ducked through the crowd of reporters surrounding his locker.
Derek Jeter spoke longer, but was no less bemused.
On the final day of February, the two New York stars were already being dragged into the first Yankees-Red Sox stir of the year.
“I have no thoughts whatsoever,” Jeter said. “That’s the best way to put it.”
Valentine, Boston’s new manager, said Tuesday that Jeter didn’t need to make his famous flip-to-home relay during the 2001 playoffs. He also fondly recalled when Varitek “beat up” Rodriguez in 2004 during a confrontation between A-Rod and the Boston catcher.
Rodriguez said Wednesday he hadn’t heard Valentine’s comments. After being told about them, he gave a brief response.
“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.”
And with that, A-Rod was gone. Jeter, on the other hand, talked for around five minutes about how ridiculous he found the topic.
“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.”
The Red Sox were working on relay throws at spring training on Tuesday and Valentine was asked about one of the most famous relay plays in all of baseball — 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 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 in the morning, Jeter drifted over toward the area between first and home on a ball to the right-field corner. Jeter said he’s there mostly for the possibility of a play at third.
“I don’t flip it home when we practice it. I’m the cutoff guy,” he said. “Am I supposed to convince (Valentine)? I don’t really know what you guys want from me on that one.”
Valentine also said he felt Giambi would have been out at the plate even if Jeter hadn’t touched the ball. Does the New York shortstop agree?
“No, but who cares? I mean, why are we talking about this, really?” Jeter said. “He must be bored over there, huh? I don’t understand.”
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.
Terry Francona, who was Boston’s manager at the time, 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 he knows 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.”
Jeter, meanwhile, doesn’t believe his team’s rivalry with Boston needs any more spice — after Valentine provided a bit the previous day.
“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.”