(Editor’s note: Peter Abraham covered the Mets from 2000-05, first as a backup beat writer and then the beat writer for The Journal News in White Plains, N.Y.)
If Bobby Valentine becomes the next manager of the Red Sox, you’re going to want to stay up and watch the postgame show on NESN. Trust me, it’ll be entertaining.
I’ve been lucky enough to cover baseball for the last 12 years and Valentine was the first manager I worked with on a regular basis. During those years, I learned more about baseball than at any other time in my career.
Bobby questioned why the rosters were expanded in September and not in April. It made no sense to him that in the most critical month of the season, teams had uneven numbers of players in uniform. When you think about it, he’s right.
He banned his players from sliding into first unless it was to avoid a tag. As he pointed out, if sliding was the fastest way to get there, why don’t Olympic sprinters slide across the finish line?
Bobby had the first baseman play a few feet off the bag with a runner on, the idea being that he could still get the tag down on a pickoff while covering more ground.
He wasn’t afraid to change the lineup or rearrange the bullpen. He embraced players from Japan, Korea and other nations, delighting in asking reporters from those countries about baseball in their homeland.
Bobby talked about military history. He talked about knowing President George W. Bush (who had fired him in Texas) and when the terrorists attacked New York on Sept. 11, he literally worked all night at Shea Stadium day after day, loading trucks and directing traffic to help rescue workers.
Bobby owned a bunch of restaurants and he claimed he invented the wrap. He told us once he invented the autograph show, dragging Nolan Ryan to some hall in Texas to sign for charity.
His father in law is Ralph Branca, the guy who gave up The Shot Heard ‘Round the World. Bobby was such a good high school halfback in Connecticut that he was recruited to USC to replace O.J. Simpson. I thought that had to be a fib until I called somebody I knew in Connecticut.
“Yep, best player I’ve ever seen,” the guy told me. “Fast as could be.”
Bobby went to speak at the Wharton School of Business one off day and blasted the team and the front office. Why? Just because. That was a story for a week.
He once got ejected and came back to the dugout wearing a disguise only to get ejected again. He played in the majors when he was 19. He was an accomplished downhill skier and he seemed to know everything about collies. He loves those kind of dogs.
Bobby criticized Roberto Alomar for bunting too often. If Mike Piazza had a big game, he would shoo us out of his office by saying, “Go talk to the big guy.” He always had a funny story about something.
It wasn’t all fun. Bobby didn’t get along with GM Steve Phillips and it got ugly for a while. They back-stabbed each other through the media and those writers who sided with Phillips were shut out. There are writers in New York, otherwise reasonable men, who would run a train over Bobby if they could.
One crazy night Bobby startled the media corps by saying somebody was spreading a story that he wanted to be fired. He started crying, it was a confusing mess.
When he finally got fired in 2002, the Mets held their press conference once day and Bobby held his own the next at a restaurant he owned across the street from the stadium. The Mets almost hired him back once and I bet if Fred Wilpon had his way, he would do it tomorrow.
If Valentine comes to Boston, he will embrace everything about Fenway Park and the fans. But he’ll challenge the players, too. He won’t just assume somebody is good, he’ll make them prove it. He won’t do what’s easy, he’ll do what he thinks is right. He wants to win no matter what it takes.
If somebody screws up, he’ll say it. If somebody in the media writes something he disagrees with, he’ll question them about it. He’s not a turn the other cheek kind of person.
Bobby is 61 now and my belief is that he wants to try it one more time and to get to another World Series before he walks away from the dugout for good. The Red Sox are the perfect vehicle for him. Boston is close to home, it’s a major market and the Sox are a team built to win.
Plus he can needle the Yankees. He loves needling the Yankees.
Bobby is a young 61, I think. He’ll like working with the 30-somethings in baseball operations. He will be the best thing that ever happened to Jose Iglesias. He will get Dice-K back to a point where he wins big games at the end of the season. He’ll love Daniel Bard and he’ll give Carl Crawford so much confidence that CC will think he’s Superman.
He’ll also rub some players the wrong way and Ben Cherington might find himself unable to sleep nights wondering what he did to deserve this. Nothing is guaranteed.
The alternative is Gene Lamont with perhaps Torey Lovullo in tow as a manager in waiting.
Lamont seems like a nice man and I’m sure he would do a fine job. But the Red Sox have finished in third place for two years in a row now. They need shaking up and Bobby Valentine is a professional shaker-upper.
Some players will cringe if the Red Sox hire Bobby. But when they collapsed — and that was on them, not Terry Francona — they created this possibility.
It’s a tough call for the rookie GM. Because once you let Bobby V out of the box, there’s no getting him back in. You just hang on.