- By JOEL SHERMAN
- Last Updated: 6:30 AM, February 16, 2013
- Posted: 12:55 AM, February 16, 2013
- Yankees Blog
TAMPA — Can we move beyond the sideshow stories involving Kevin Youkilis now?
He has shaken Joba Chamberlain’s hand. Explained his heart still being in Boston. Professed his love for all things New York and Yankees.
So can we get to the only element that actually will matter in 2013: Can Youkilis replace Alex Rodriguez — and we don’t mean on the back pages with outrageous statements or actions?
Youkilis’ final grade in The Bronx will be computed the same as anyone’s: Can he still play? Not whether he was a member of the Red Sox. Not whether he and Chamberlain ever will stroll hand-in-hand whistling “Kumbaya.”
If Youkilis helps the Yankees win big will any fan really give a darn where he spent the bulk of his career?
Did any Yankees fan care where Wade Boggs won his batting titles when he was riding that horse in the 1996 championship aftermath? Did anyone care that Roger Clemens was the all-time Red Sox victory leader when he was helping the Yankees three-peat? Did even the most fervent pinstriped loyalists give two hoots about Johnny Damon’s Idiot past when he was stealing two bases on one play in the 2009 World Series?
If Youkilis is staying healthy and holding his own at third and doing Greek God of Walk things at the plate, Yankees devotees will embrace him. If he doesn’t, the friendly fire that should concern him will not be coming from Joba’s right hand.
Still, Youkilis understood that even silly soap operas have a shelf life, so he wisely attempted to deactivate the drama around him.
He shook hands with Chamberlain in the clubhouse and the two once more declared no lingering bad blood. Will they actually like and respect each other? Who cares? No clubhouse has group love. Besides, neither Youkilis nor Chamberlain carries enough heft in the Yankees world to poison the environment, even if they were at odds. This isn’t like the cold war that existed in the first few years together between Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter that chilled a whole clubhouse.
Chamberlain is more child-like than Phineas or Ferb, so nobody in the clubhouse takes him too seriously anyway. Youkilis seems shrewd enough not to make what likely is a one-year pit stop in New York crumble because he does not get along with a teammate who will play about 70 innings.
As for the supposed tension in switching allegiances in The Rivalry, are we really still doing this? Youkilis will be the 220th player to wear the uniforms of both teams. At some point when we got beyond, say, 150, this should have expired as interesting.
Youkilis exhumed the storyline Thursday by telling reporters, “I’ll always be a Red Sock.” He realized in seeing those words on the Internet later that day that without context the sentence was going to create problems. He was ribbed in his own clubhouse yesterday morning upon his words surfacing on The Post’s back page. He handled it well, jokingly asking a few new teammates when A-Rod was going to show to take the heat off of him.
He then requested to meet reporters again to clarify that the Red Sox will always be part of his life, like being a Yankee now will, and anyone who knows his overt competitive nature will understand his passion now percolates on beating Boston and every other Yankees opponent. Of course, only folks dialed to be unreasonable would expect Youkilis not to cherish years in Boston in which he was a star, beloved and a champion.
Still, as popular and historic as Youkilis might have been in Boston, he was excised last June because he stopped being a good player.
Bobby Valentine, then the Red Sox’s skipper, noticed a lifelessness in Youkilis’ body quickly in spring, a departure of athleticism. Was that because Youkilis was not completely healed from a back injury? Was it because his head was messed up over a growing belief within the clubhouse that he was a source for the Boston Globe beer-and-fried-chicken expose? Or was it simply that his game was in freefall?
He played better with the White Sox, but not close to his 2008-10 stratosphere. The Yankees don’t need that high point. Until A-Rod comes back, and potentially the whole season if he does not, the Yankees need a healthy Youkilis translating his feisty at-bats into 15-20 homers and an on-base percentage north of .350, while making sure all the routine outs are made defensively.
Anything more would be a fringe benefit. Anything considerably less and it will not matter if Youkilis were nurtured in the Yankees farm system as Joba’s best friend. The rules of engagement ultimately will be the same for Youkilis as for any Yankee: Are you helping the team win or not?