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Eckersley mum on this subject

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / April 6, 2012
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As it turns out, the candor that is one reason Dennis Eckersley is the finest television baseball analyst there is - nationally as well as locally - does have bounds.

When asked Wednesday about his thoughts regarding new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, Eckersley quickly offered an intentional pass.

“I don’t even want to touch that,’’ he said, laughing, before noting in language that might earn a PG-13 rating that Curt Schilling, ESPN’s early-season leader in bloviation, seems to have that topic covered.

Surely Eckersley’s true feelings will be revealed sooner rather than later during his duties on NESN’s pregame and postgame studio shows. Like every baseball observer or aficionado of sideshows, chances are his opinion is already fully formed when it comes to Valentine.

Eckersley was asked the question during a conference call to promote TBS’s baseball coverage this season, which begins Sunday with a Rays-Yankees matchup, the first of 26 regular-season broadcasts this season. Eckersley, who is entering his fourth year of moonlighting on TBS’s regular-season baseball coverage, was joined on the call by fellow analyst John Smoltz.

Smoltz never played for Valentine but was at the center of a contentious Mets-Braves rivalry during Valentine’s six-plus seasons as New York’s manager. He said he’s fascinated to see how it all plays out for Valentine in Boston, but that making judgments before the first regular-season pitch is thrown is a foolish exercise.

“That situation is going to play out in its own time frame,’’ said Smoltz. “Whoever came in was going to change the environment for obvious reasons to address what happened last September. With Bobby and his personality, it’s going to be more out front. Time will tell. Boston has a lot of pressure to win and has a lot of pieces to win. We will see if the execution will actually take place this year.’’

To say Valentine can be polarizing would be to restate the obvious, but it’s been particularly apparent this week. Wednesday’s news that he’d agreed to do a paid weekly segment on Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay’s ESPN 1050 radio show in New York drew outrage both real and contrived, the topic feeding the sports radio machine. While it may seem odd for a Red Sox manager to have a media gig lined up in rival territory, Valentine does have roots there, he is longtime friends with Kay (as Kay likes to mention), and with just a two-year deal to manage the Red Sox, it’s a smart bit of self-preservation to remain on the media radar in New York.

The suggestion that it might be a distraction is shortsighted. Tweeted Schilling on Thursday, “Michael Kay radio show? Titanic now in open water at full speed!’’, a notion that falls somewhere between silly and a plea for attention.

Valentine is an accomplished multitasker - managing a baseball team, running a restaurant, ensuring the safety of the good citizens of Stamford, Conn., building decks using Pythagorean theorem, ballroom dancing, and on and on. He may have even invented multitasking. That’s the facetious way of saying he can handle this. To take 20 minutes out of his day to talk baseball, even in a rival’s market, is no reason to yelp about his priorities.

His New York segment will be no more controversial than the one he will be doing weekly at WEEI. He’ll be a guest on “The Big Show’’ at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesdays - his debut this week was awkward and obtuse, but uneventful - and he’ll be live in the studio when the Red Sox are home. When the Red Sox have a day game, he’ll chat on “Dennis and Callahan’’ instead.

Sure, there will be times when he says something - an opinion to us, a truth to him - that causes uproar. Probably a lot of times. But that’s going to happen no matter whether he’s on WEEI, Kay’s show, or Stamford cable access, and if we know anything about him, we know this: He’s always going to be talking to someone. Who cares where?

Be our guest

One of WEEI’s consistent strengths across its various programs is the utilization of its deep roster of guests, from local athletes to prominent media members. Some, such as Tom Brady, are compensated for their time. Others are corralled by the programs’ producers. There were two in particular over the past week that stood out, for different reasons.

SB Nation baseball writer Rob Neyer was a guest with Glenn Ordway and Michael Holley on the “The Big Show’’ Tuesday, and while it was neither his first appearance nor a particularly dynamic segment, it was a pleasant reminder of how much things have changed. Neyer, a sabermetric forefather, is just the type of writer - online-oriented and progressive-thinking - who would have been derided with “mom’s basement’’ jokes just a few years ago. But three factors over the past three or four years - the rapid success of younger-trending rival 98.5 The Sports Hub, the mainstream popularity of statistical analysis in baseball, and the ascent of the station’s own website - have led WEEI to accept what it once mocked, which counts as progress. I still doubt we’ll ever be bumping into Ordway at MIT’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, though.

Then there’s the other interview of particular note - John Dennis and Gerry Callahan’s conversation Monday with Austin Rivers, the NBA-bound former Duke guard and son of Celtics coach Doc Rivers. WEEI program director Jason Wolfe said in an e-mail that the original plan was to have Austin on with his dad, a weekly guest on the morning program, but that it didn’t work out. That would have been fun to hear. But Austin’s solo interview was revelatory - for a 19-year-old, he was articulate, remarkably engaging, and downright funny when he was breaking down how his dad would fare against him in a game of one-on-one. Turns out he’s not just a chip off the ol’ Doc as a player, but in personality as well.

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

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