Sports Media

Sunday is now Valentine’s day

Former manager adept in booth

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / July 22, 2011

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First, he’s not Joe Morgan. That’s reason enough to give Bobby Valentine the benefit of the doubt during his first season on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball,’’ where the chatty former player and manager joins Dan Shulman and fellow analyst Orel Hershiser in the three-man booth.

Should further reasons be required, how about these? Valentine brings as much insight as any baseball analyst currently working on the national stage. Better yet, he recognizes and fights to correct his main flaw, something the stubborn and out-of-touch Morgan couldn’t or refused to do. The result is that the new crew has proven to be a refreshing upgrade over Jon Miller and Morgan, the stale duo let go by ESPN in November after 21 years on the Sunday broadcast.

“Danny’s the quarterback and the pro. I mean, he’s a pro’s pro,’’ said Valentine. “And Orel’s been in the booth for six years now and knows his way around the broadcast and communication with the truck as well as anyone up in the booth. So being the new guy on the block has been an easy, easier, transition for me. They’ve really helped me along. But it’s really challenging, you know, working three in a booth, with timing and succinctness and clarity. It’s a very difficult task. I don’t think the viewer understands just how timely things need to be for the game to flow from our perspective.’’

It may not be as easy as it looks, but the result is that the telecast is enjoyable again. Shulman is the understated nexus in the play-by-play role, constantly setting up the analysts to share their knowledge. Hershiser is an ace at explaining the subtleties of pitching in layman’s terms, such as when he broke down Rays starter Jeff Niemann’s revamped mechanics during last Sunday night’s game.

And Valentine is a fountain of insight, to the point that he recognizes and reveals details in players and teams that come as news to the most diehard fans. Earlier this season, he explained, with the help of video, why J.D. Drew can be so unproductive despite having a gorgeous, textbook swing - he rarely squares up the ball. It was a revelation in the form of a casual observation of a baseball lifer.

Of course, the criticism of Valentine is that he doesn’t know when to shut off that fountain. He talks. A lot. And just when it seems as if he’s run out of syllables, he finds a few more. As he puts it, without a hint of irony, “I know that some people call me a know-it-all.’’

“I really do want to share it, and I don’t want to make it seem like I’m a know-it-all,’’ said Valentine. “I absolutely try to work on it, to end a sentence, and be clear in the message. And that’s difficult. I’m baseball guy, and I believe that more is better. I believe in explaining details, and I believe if they didn’t hear you the first time, tell them again so that they understand it the second time. When you’re in the booth and going to commercial or going to a promo or going to a next pitch, you don’t have time to drag it out. You have to get a period in there and move on to the next thing. It’s a challenge.’’

The catch is that after listening to Valentine talk baseball for a while, one begins to wonder if it’s possible that he does know it all. He’s certainly seen it all. Much like Red Sox manager Terry Francona, he was a top prospect (drafted fifth overall by the Dodgers in 1968) who had some success in the big leagues but whose potential went unfulfilled primarily because of serious injuries.

Hired to manage the Texas Rangers in 1985 at age 35, he later became a successful and popular manager in Japan, before returning stateside to manage the Mets. He’s lived the game from a wide variety of perspectives, and that enhances his understanding while also helping him relate to what a particular game’s participants are going through.

“Sometimes I try to view the game as a fan,’’ said Valentine, who doesn’t look much different now at 61 than he did during his playing days. “Sometimes I try to view it as a manager, sometimes as a player. I think it changes depending on what happens on the field and how I can best express my thoughts at the moment. I think a few times, for sure, the viewer is confused at what I’m saying.’’

He laughs. “I guess that’s the way it happens. So I’m just going to keep doing my best to make sure I explain it. Right up until the voice in my ear tells me to stop talking.’’

The men upstairs ESPN and ABC unveiled their college football broadcast crews Wednesday, with Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit remaining the tandem for the marquee “Saturday Night Football’’ telecast on ABC. Sean McDonough, excellent in any sport or season, is paired with Matt Millen on Saturdays on ABC. Millen, who proved inept as the Detroit Lions’ general manager, will get the benefit of the doubt credibility wise, right up until he has the audacity to suggest who might make a good pro . . . Rhode Island probably will never be regarded as the cradle of NASCAR announcers, but it is the home of Allen Bestwick, who was bumped up this week by ESPN to the lead announcer on its Sprint Cup coverage. Bestwick, a Coventry, R.I., native who has filled several positions at the network since it returned to live NASCAR event coverage in 2007, will move into the booth as the lap-by-lap announcer for all ESPN Sprint Cup telecasts, including races, practices, and qualifying, over the season’s final 17 races.

Chad Finn can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @globechadfinn.

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