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What Bobby V said about the Red Sox

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  January 4, 2012 02:18 PM

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If Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford are still ticked at Bobby Valentine for criticizing them during his role as an ESPN analyst last season, well, get over it, you thin-skinned babies.

Beckett does take an eternity between pitches, Crawford's stance was a tangled mess, and it was Valentine's job to say so if he thought so. Kudos to him for actually offering an opinion.

In part because those critical comments were brought up again after Valentine was named the Red Sox manager, and in part because I'm always looking for an excuse to watch a baseball game in January, I thought it would be interesting to go back and watch a couple of ESPN broadcasts of Red Sox games from the past season. I know, I should have done it sooner -- hey, it took the Sox five weeks to find a manager, so cut me some slack.

So did he say anything else controversial -- maybe criticizing Jarrod Saltalamacchia's pitch selection, or calling Dustin Pedroia "wee," or wondering what happened to John Lackey?

Well ... not really.

The No. 1 takeaway from watching this particular game -- a May 22 "Sunday Night Baseball" matchup with the Cubs at Fenway -- was the reminder that Dan Shulman is an exceptional baseball play-by-play man, and Orel Hershiser is an articulate and constantly insightful analyst, particularly when it comes to pitching. I'm convinced he could be a fine manager if he chose that path.

As for Bobby V.? His reputation as someone who tries to tell you everything he knows in a single broadcast was not in effect here. He was actually ... quiet. Understated. Sometimes to the point that you wondered if he'd sneaked out to teach the sausage guy how to make a wrap.

When he did chime in, it was often about the Cubs -- he's a big Starlin Castro guy. As for his comments on the Red Sox, there was nothing worthy of generating headlines, then or now. But there were some insights that offer a clue as to how he regards certain players on the team he is now managing, and his acumen for recognizing the small details was on display.

I'll probably do another one of these over the long winter -- I have a game he called between the Red Sox and Yankees as well. But here are a few Bobby V vignettes from the Red Sox' 5-1 victory, their 25th win in the 46th game of the season ....

* * *

Valentine gushes about Adrian Gonzalez, who is hitting .328 with 9 homers and 41 RBIs at the time. "[He's] a huge star, and before the season, I said a Triple Crown candidate."

After Gonzalez inside-outs a pitch to left field in the first inning, Valentine elaborates briefly:

    "Well, that's exactly where you have to pitch him. If you bust him, you can get him out. But because he's such a good hitter and so strong, he hits this ball off the label and bloops it into left field for a base hit. He's a weapon. One of the best hitters in baseball."

Comment: Well, yes, he's a weapon, and one due to make $100 million less on his current contract than Albert Pujols is on his new deal. And Red Sox fans lamenting the makeup of the 2012 roster so far should remind themselves that Gonzalez, even with his diminished power in the second half, is one of three players from last year's lineup to finish in the top nine in the MVP voting. Valentine knows what he has here.

* * *

hurstbrucefinn87.jpgFirst inning, Kevin Youkilis is facing Cubs Lefty James (Son of Jeff) Russell. He lays off a pitch down and in:

    "Lefthanders definitely have to throw inside to righthanders at this ballpark. You can't let that big wall in left field intimidate your pitching selection.

Then, during the same at-bat, after Youkilis fouls one off his foot:

    "Came back inside there, exactly what you have to do as a lefthander. Bruce Hurst was always so successful doing that, pitching here, looking at the Green Monster, he would throw righthanders inside and then throw the changeup away."

Comment: A reference in appropriate context to Hurst -- forever a favorite at this address -- is always a fine way to endear yourself to Red Sox fans. Better yet is the recognition that lefties cannot allow themselves to be intimidated by the Monster -- and can even use the ballpark's dimensions against over-aggressive hitters.

* * *

Jarrod Saltalmacchia homers on the third inning to give the Red Sox a 3-0 lead. It's his third homer in four games after a brutal start.

    "Terry Francona before the game said the game was spinning a little too quickly for him the first few weeks of the season. It's started to slow down. With it comes the production."

Comment: I'm curious whether Valentine will have similar patience with Saltalamacchia this season should he get off to another slow start. He did struggle late last season (.542 OPS in September), but there was plenty of reason for hope (16 homers, threw out 31 percent of basestealers) for the 26-year-old catcher.

* * *

Fifth inning, Jacoby Ellsbury is on first base after singling to shortstop:

    "Ellsbury's swing right now, Dan, I think is really on time. He has the bottom half of his swing in synch with the top half of his swing, and I think if he keeps that, he'll be as productive a hitter as the Red Sox could want at the top of the order, with some power."

Comment: That's as prescient as Valentine gets during this particular broadcast, and it is pretty impressive. Ellsbury had four homers at the time. He finished with 32.

* * *

Seventh inning. Red Sox lead, 3-0. Tim Wakefield is still in the game:

    "That contract that just keeps rolling over is just an insurance policy for the Boston Red Sox. He's there to protect the starting staff, to protect the bullpen in case something goes wrong. It went wrong -- Matsuzaka is out, and he's in. And doing a heck of a job."

Comment: Valentine (and Shulman, who brought up the topic) were actually wrong about Wakefield's contract -- he signed a two-year deal after the 2009 season. But the notable takeaway is that Matsuzaka is actually the probable insurance policy this season, provided he can make it back midsummer from Tommy John surgery. It will be fascinating to see how Valentine, having managed in Japan and with genuine knowledge of the culture and approach to baseball, will handle Dice-K.

* * *

baylordon15.jpgEighth inning, Kerry Wood buzzes Jed Lowrie, then hits him with the next pitch. Stunningly, Lowrie does not disintegrate on the spot. Wood's intent was obvious to Valentine, coming a day after the Cubs' Marlin Byrd was hit in the face with a pitch.

    "It was interesting that the bullpen was loose when Kerry Wood went out there, just in case he got the ejection. I think that was a planned pitch on the first pitch, and a planned pitch on the second pitch. Kerry earns some stripes [with his teammates]."

Later, Valentine on same topic:

    "I was managing here when Don Slaught was hit in the face by Oil Can Boyd. As we carried him off the field, I said, "Donnie, whaddaya think?" He says, 'Please get the first hitter.' The first hitter happened to be Don Baylor. My pitcher, Dwayne Henry, got Don Baylor, Baylor walked down to first base understanding what was going on, and we played the rest of the game."

Comment: Well, it's a nice anecdote, and a clue that Valentine values the unwritten rules of baseball. But who would have thought he was more into telling stories than making candid assessments during his broadcasting days?

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.

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