It’s still early in spring training. But so far, Bobby Valentine has lived up to the hype.
When the Boston Red Sox hired the loose-lipped former New York Mets manager this off-season, many baseball observers hoped he’d bring some sizzle back to the Red Sox’ rivalry with the New York Yankees. The match-up has turned somewhat stale in recent years. After all, it’s been almost nine years since Pedro Martinez hurled 72-year-old Yankees coach Don Zimmer to the ground in a playoff game. It’s been almost eight years since Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek snuffed Alex Rodriguez in the face with his mitt at home plate. The team’s former managers, Joe Torre and Terry Francona, could recently be seen sipping green tea together in an advertisement. Yes, green tea.
On Tuesday, however, Valentine tweaked two New York Yankee stars in comments to reporters. If Valentine is already talking a little smack in February, the back-page headlines might be blaring come the September pennant race. Valentine questioned Jeter’s positioning on his famous “flip play” in the 2001 playoffs, when Jeter raced over to the first-base line to rescue right fielder Shane Spencer’s throw, which missed the cutoff man, and flipped it to catcher Jorge Posada, who tagged out Oakland’s Jeremy Giambi. Among Yankee fans, Jeter’s play is sacrosanct, a sign of his Hall of Fame baseball IQ. Valentine suggested that Spencer’s throw would have nabbed Giambi without Jeter’s help. Valentine might be the only earthling to believe this. He also slapped away the assertion that the Yankees — so seeped in fundamentals! — actually practiced such a play. “I don’t believe it,” Valentine said.
Valentine also praised Varitek, the longtime Boston captain who is expected to officially retire on Thursday, for stuffing his glove into Rodriguez’s face in 2004, the year Boston snapped its 86-year World Series drought. “He was a leader of the pitching staff,” Valentine said. “He was able to beat up Alex. All that stuff is good stuff.”
Indeed. In addition to his Yankees callouts, Valentine has exchanged words with his predecessor, Francona. In an off-season report, the Boston Globe revealed that some Red Sox pitchers drank beer, and ate fried chicken, in the clubhouse during games in which they were not playing: such behavior was seen as an indictment of Francona’s control of the team. Francona, who will work as a baseball analyst on ESPN this season, called Valentine’s ban on clubhouse beer-drinking a p.r. move. Valentine responded: “Remember you get paid over there [on TV] for saying stuff; you get paid over here [on the team] for doing stuff.”
Seems like it’s on, no? Valentine is clever. He has succeeded in his past big-league stops, in Texas and with the Mets, by hoarding attention and keeping the distractions away from his players. He’s not going to change: he’ll gladly play the carnival barker. And we baseball fans can just enjoy the show.