Whether you appreciate Bobby Valentine's approach to broadcasting or are annoyed by it -- and judging by the reaction to my media column today on the ESPN "Sunday Night Baseball" analyst, there's not much middle ground -- there's no denying the man knows his stuff.
Like Terry Francona, he's saw the game from the perspective of a phenom and a journeyman, which helped him immensely as a manager. And his experiences managing in Japan and looking down from the broadcast booth have only enhanced his distinctive résumé.
Valentine is smart, informed, and insightful. So what if he happens to know it? Beats the alternative.
Maybe you're one of those people who got your fill of him during the Red Sox' 16-inning win over the Rays Sunday; me, I could talk baseball -- or listen to him talk baseball -- all day.
Here are five outtakes from our conversation for today's column.
1. You got to watch the Red Sox for nearly two full games' worth of innings Sunday night. Thoughts on what you saw, where they stand right now and where they are headed?
Valentine: "With [Dustin] Pedroia hitting like he is and [Carl] Crawford back, their offense is the best out there right now. It really is; the numbers say no one can match it, and that's also what your eyes tell you. I have some questions about the starting pitching. At the start of the season some people wondered if they have too much, but there's always attrition and now I'm wondering if they have enough. We'll know better when Buchholz and Lester are in sight again. But overall they're the class of the American League. That includes the Yankees and the Texas Rangers, who also have rode a terrific offense. You know, if you stopped the season right now and lined all three of them up, I'd have to say Texas has the nod in starting pitching over the other two. But you don't stop the season now. [Alexi Ogando is still throwing 97, [Derek] Holland has been outstanding, but the only question about it is whether they can do it over the entire season. Because the entire group other than maybe Colby Lewis are not really battle-tested as starters over many seasons."
2. Having managed for several years in Japan, you've become a go-to source whenever a player comes stateside. Who among the players who have come from Japan to play in the major leagues has surprised you with his success, and who did you think would do better over here than he has? I'm sure that latter part sounds like a loaded question coming from a Boston writer:
Valentine: "I think Hideki Okajima's success really surprised me. I didn't think of him as someone who would be a pitcher on a good team. He was a good pitcher on a bad team over there, then he became an OK pitcher on a good team. Guys like Takashi Saito . . . there were a lot of guys who just couldn't pitch there who came here and overexceeded any expectations. The biggest disappointment that I saw or had was Hideki Irabu, who I had in 1995 when he was absolutely, other that Nolan Ryan, the best thrower I had ever seen. On days, he was the best pitcher I had ever seen in my life. For him to be such an also-ran and a bust here was very surprising. And Daisuke Matsuzaka-- and yes, that was a loaded question -- he's that hard-headed guy who I felt had to get into the perfect scenario and be in the perfect spot to be the pitcher he could be. At times it was that in Boston, but that's a tough place for anyone to change teams and go to and be successful."
3. Right now it looks like Carlos Beltran is going to be the most coveted player leading up to the trade deadline, with legitimate contenders such as the Red Sox, Phillies, and Giants all interested. Where is the best fit for him in your opinion?
Valentine: "You would think that the team that would be best would be Philadelphia. Their offense has been flawed but has produced enough to give them the best record in baseball. Ryan Howard has been a leader in the RBI category all year with the Who's Who of baseball not hitting behind him. He woudl seem to be a wonderful piece to that puzzle. Putting him San Francisco, for instance, you would say that they're asking him to be the guy because they don't have an offensive player like him. I don't think that scenario of asking him to do that would work. And if Boston wanted to bolster what is already the best offense in baseball, they could do it and be the team that is able to go down the stretch and win those 15-10 games. But I don't know that he's the guy that Boston needs at this time. The other thing about Carlos Beltran is that of all these guys who have gotten the huge, multi-million dollar contracts over the last 5-10 years, he's come as close to anyone to fulfilling that, even with the injuries he's had to deal with. He's a stellar player and a terrific person, and he'd be a welcome addition just about anywhere."
4. I'm sure I'm not breaking news to you here, but one of the primary criticisms about you as a broadcaster is that you talk too much, and you've sometimes been accused of being a know-it-all dating back to your days as a player and manager. Do either of those perceptions bother you?
Valentine: “I know I'm perceived that way by some people, but that's just how it is. I'm myself, true to myself, and I think it originates from me being I’m just one of these guys in baseball who has always challenged myself so that when someone said something that I accepted to be true when I was 15, by the time I was 21 I would be challenging it to see if it was true then. I did that my whole playing career, I did that my whole managerial career, and then when I finally thought that I had it all figured out, I went to Japan and got challenged again. I have a lot of frustration with our game of baseball because . . . there’s so much confusion out there with the different ideas about what people think happened. I like to try to get to the bottom of that, to get out what the proper idea is.”
5. Sort of a quirky question here but bear with me. Don't know if you saw this, but a fascinating recent ESPN.com article ranked you as the 11th-best prospect of the draft era, right between Reggie Jackson and Gregg Jefferies. You were considered the best prospect among all of the young talent the Dodgers came up with in the late '60s [Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Davey Lopes, Bill Buckner], and yet you had a star-crossed career. What are your recollections of those days as a phenom?
Valentine: [Laughs] "Where was that? I want to read that one. I don't really remember what they were, those early days. When I first signed, I was in a pretty select group, and I was lucky to be with the Dodgers. I was pretty hot, I guess. I was better than most and younger than most and probably crazier and cockier than most, and that was a good thing and a bad thing. I made some stupid mistakes, and I got beaned at the end of a really good minor league season which was the reason I was rated, because I was 20 years old, led the league in hitting, won the MVP at the Triple A level. Before spring training, I played in a couple of intramural football games [at Southern Cal] and wound up going to spring training with my leg in a cast. That was stupid move number one. I could have been a little more patient as a 22-year-old and not tried to buck the system as I was always doing and always did. I got into a little rift with [Dodgers manager] Walter Alston as to whether or not I should be playing shortstop or second base. When he decided I should be the second baseman of the future, I decided I should have a future with another team. They obliged me. And then I ran into a wall. It was all kind of crazy stuff. But I can look back at it with good conscience. I played with a lot of really good players, and I was as good as most of them and better than some of them and had some fun while it lasted."
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.