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Enthusiastic reception for Shane Victorino

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  December 13, 2012 11:31 AM

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Don't know if you feel the same, but I presume I'm not entirely alone when it comes to waning enthusiasm for those requisite introductory press conferences after the Red Sox make a prominent acquisition or hire.

Whether it's the Mike Cameron/John Lackey double whammy in December 2009, or the Carl Crawford introduction two Decembers ago, or the Bobby Valentine grin-and-phony show at this point last year, it's tough to flash back to some of these glorified photo ops and not feel like the fool.

In too many recent cases the intro was the high point of the tenure.

So it was that I greeted Thursday's formal introduction of erstwhile Phillies and Dodgers outfielder Shane Victorino with the same curiosity and skepticism that accompanied the news that the Red Sox were awarding a three-year, $39 million contract to a 31-year-old outfielder who hit .255 with a .704 OPS last season.

While Victorino is an accomplished player -- a three-time Gold Glove winner, a two-time All-Star, and a one-time world champion -- there's legitimate concern about his ability to contribute at a high level at this point in his career. ESPN's Keith Law, noting Victorino's declining bat speed and suggesting he might be best suited as a fourth outfielder, ranked him 29th among all free agents, behind the likes of Ichiro, Lance Berkman, Ryan Ludwick, and the soon-to-be-pinstriped Kevin Youkilis.

To make a comparison I've desperately been trying to resist, Victorino's OPS last year was nearly 100 points less than Cameron's the season before his ill-fated union with the Red Sox. So, no, purely from a statistical standpoint, it's not the easiest transaction to comprehend.

Which is probably one small reason the Red Sox continue with the pomp-and-circumstance of the introductory press conference even after so many recently have become punch lines and cautionary tales in retrospect.

First, it gives Cherington an opportunity to explain, without the likelihood of too much push-back from the media, why the player appealed to him. And there was some relative insight to be found in his comments on Victorino.

"There were some times last year maybe he didn't feel quite the way he wanted to,'' Cherington said, apparently referencing a hand injury Victorino had early in the season. "What we wanted to do this offseason, as you guys know, is not just add to the outfield, but add to the outfield with a guy who is a center field-quality defender, and do that with a guy who can run the bases and hit and add the energy that Shane does, that's a really good fit for a lot of different reasons.

"We know the kind of player he has been over a long period of time. We know the kind of player he has been over the years and we're looking forward to seeing him out here. He's a big part of what we're trying to do. He's been a big part of good teams, and not just one, and he's going to be a big part of what we're doing."

In other words, it would be wonderful if he rediscovers his 2011 form, when he had an .847 OPS, hit 17 homers, and led the NL with 16 triples. But there's value, Cherington believes, in not just his all-around skills, but also his long-established reputation as a positive personality and a dependable teammate.

And maybe that's the other reason, at least in Victorino's case, an official introduction is a good idea. Because after being exposed to his genuine, gum-chomping, fast-talking enthusiasm about being a member of the Red Sox, it's difficult even for someone who usually teeters between skeptic and cynic to doubt that his presence will be a positive in one meaningful way at the least.

The press conference confirmed that Victorino gets it. He knows his value to the Red Sox goes beyond playing a fine right field and running the bases with energy and aggression.

"There was no convincing," said Victorino, who repeatedly said he was "ecstatic'' about his decision to join the Red Sox. "It's Boston. That in itself says it all. It's the Red Sox. ... I look at the chemistry on this team. I look at the makeup of this team. This is one of those things we can turn around. That's the goal. We don't want to be known as the team that didn't make the playoffs."

The Red Sox haven't made the playoffs in three seasons now. There was no shame in the injury-battered, Adrian Beltre/Victor Martinez 89-win team in 2010, but the past two seasons have been pockmarked by an epic collapse in September 2011 and the most toxic culture last year since the raging days of Carl Everett. There hasn't been much fun to be found recently in being a Red Sox fan.

Victorino can help change that. He played in the unforgiving Philadelphia market and thrived, and to hear him talk Thursday was to realize that even if he isn't the player he was two seasons ago, his presence instantly makes the Red Sox more likable. You bet that matters right now, on the slow climb out of the abyss.

"The last couple years has been definitely tough for the Boston organization," said Victorino. "At the end of the day we look beyond that now. We need to look forward to 2013 and being that organization that we can be.

"I'm going to be fun, I'm going to talk a lot, you're going to get what you're going to get. I'll be me, and I'll go out there and play 100 percent."

And should the value of Victorino's performance approach the value of his personality, well then, Thursday's introductory press conference will be one we'll be able to look back upon fondly.

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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