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Joe Girardi and AL East verbal warfare

Yankees manager Joe Girardi speaks to reporters prior

Yankees manager Joe Girardi speaks to reporters prior to Monday's game against the Rays. (May 16, 2011) Credit: AP

Spent a couple of hours yesterday at Yankee Stadium, as the Yankees held a food drive - they say they received a "record-breaking" 109,301 pounds of food - and lured the media there with appearances by Joe Girardi and Robinson Cano.

We led the story with Cano's enjoyment of hitting third - he's got to stay in the number three slot for 2012, doesn't he? - but what stuck with me afterwards was Joe Girardi's reaction to Bobby Valentine's joking declaration last week (at the winter meetings in Dallas) that "I hate the Yankees."

I was in Valentine's media session last week. He was in a great mood, and when the question about the Yankees rivalary came from my friend Bob Klapisch of The Bergen Record, who has known Valentine for over 25 years, Bobby V. broke out into a wide smile before responding.

"I hate the Yankees." As in, "I manage the Red Sox now. I have no choice but to hate the Yankees. That's the way it works."

It was 100 percent good-spirited. There were no mind games. Valentine doesn't hate the Yankees. He has a great relationship with Brian Cashman, corresponded occasionally with George Steinbrenner after the Mets let him go and knows Girardi and the Yankees players well from his past year as a broadcaster for ESPN's Sunday night telecast.

Alas, some people took Valentine's words seriously, and so Girardi was asked yesterday for his response. And Girardi - whom Valentine had told personally, hours before his publicized comments, "I used to love you, but now I hate you" - seemed to take it seriously, too!

"I respect the Red Sox and what they do, the task that we have in trying to win our division. How tough our division is," Girardi said. "I don't know how feelings happen overnight. I've never been taught that's how feelings happen."

Oy gevalt.

The proper response would've been a trademark Girardi guffaw, followed by, "Looks like Bobby is a quick learner."

The addition of Valentine to the AL East scrum makes the division a heavyweight division for managers. Valentine, Girardi, Tampa Bay's Joe Maddon and Baltimore's Buck Showalter are all supremely accomplished and confident. Toronto's John Farrell sure looks like he's going to be good, too.

Valentine, Maddon and Showalter, in particular, all enjoy using the power of the press to their advantage. They're all well-spoken. They don't mind mixing it up with the opponent every now and then. That's 54 games, exactly one-third of the schedule, when Girardi needs to be on guard.

Does this stuff matter? Not as much as bullpen management or creating a good working atmosphere in the clubhouse. But yes, it matters a little. The manager sets the tone for this players when it comes to this stuff, and the players take notice.

Maybe there'll be a game with some high and tight pitches, or a questionable slide into second, and at that point, sure, Girardi can turn on his Angry Joe routine. But to get all worked up about these comments, when Valentine wasn't even trying to mess with him? That's like when Homer somehow created a meltdown in the simulator, despite the complete absence of nuclear material, in this "Simpsons" episode.

Girardi's excellent at righteous indignation, not so much at jokey trash talk. There's going to be more witty repartee slung his way in 2012. It's not too late to work on it.

New York Sports