By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork/WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — This is Bobby Valentine at his best, or his worst. It simply all depends on how gullible you are.
There’s no denying that even without a World Series ring, Valentine is as gifted a baseball mind as you’ll find. He can in-game manage with the best of them and can motivate his players to the point where they honestly believe they are better than they really are.
But what makes Valentine truly unique is his shameless approach to causing mischief. It’s mostly playful mischief, but mischief nonetheless. He upsets the apple cart for the sake of upsetting the apple cart. He stirs the pot regardless if someone forgot to add all the ingredients.
He’s the original Rex Ryan, without the predictions. There’s no need for him to put the cart before the horse because he’ll give you enough talking points in five minutes to last several news cycles. By the time he’s through you’ll be left wondering what his original point was.
He’s simply the big fish in any size pond.
And as the Yankees found out Tuesday, no subject is taboo.
When Terry Francona, a manager I absolutely adore, got the ax up in Boston following the nightmare 2011 season, which included story after story about failed expectations, dissension in the ranks and booze in the clubhouse, the first name that popped into my head to take over was Valentine. He’s a very good manager, but mostly I thought of him because if there’s anyone who could turn that disaster into a rallying cry right away it would be the guy that once delighted every single reporter in New York with his unorthodox approach to all things baseball.
And once he got the job it really didn’t take long for Valentine to reroute the negativity surrounding the Red Sox approximately 200 miles to the south. In one afternoon Bobby V reinvigorated the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry by shooting a cannonball into the lovefest that had sort of developed between baseball’s version of the Hatfields and the McCoys, a tug-of-war between two cities that had lost some fire in the years since 2004, the season the Sox put Babe Ruth to bed once and for all.
And Valentine didn’t just reiterate his dislike for the Yankees, something he first announced during an early interview after he got the Red Sox job in December, he went guns-a-blazing after the Bombers’ Teflon captain and once-legendary but now aging third baseman.
On Tuesday down in Fort Myers, Fla., Valentine thought it appropriate to take a swing at Derek Jeter’s historic “flip” play against Oakland in the 2001 division series. He then paid homage to Fenway favorite Jason Varitek, who will announce his retirement on Thursday, by saying the Red Sox’s captain “beat up” Alex Rodriguez during a brawl between the teams back in 2004.
This was the true maestro at work. And all I could do was laugh as I read his words, not just because I knew he couldn’t help himself, but also because he actually believes most of what he says.
Down 0-2 in the 2001 ALDS, the Yankees entered the bottom of the 7th of Game 3 up 1-0 but in a world of hurt after Terrence Long doubled into the right field corner and Shane Spencer air-mailed his throw over the cut-off man and down the first base line. Jeter inexplicably anticipated the mistake, retrieved the ball between first and home and flipped it to Jorge Posada, who proceeded to tag out Jeremy Giambi, ending the inning. The Yankees went on to win the game and the series. Jeter later joked he practiced that very play.
Well, as an example of just how shrewd this man is, Valentine waited more than a decade to call Jeter a liar. And wouldn’t you know it, he did it in his first spring training as the leader of the Bombers’ most hated rival.
“We’ll never practice that,” Valentine said. “And I think (Jeter) was out of position and I think the ball gets (Giambi) out if he doesn’t touch it, personally.
“That was amazing that he was there,” Valentine added. “Then it was more amazing to say they practiced it. I don’t believe it.”
As for Varitek going all MMA on A-Rod, Valentine said: “He is a man’s man. He was a big hitter when needed. He was a leader of the pitching staff. He was able to beat up Alex. All that stuff is good stuff. He was exactly what he was supposed to be.”
Now I’m not going to sit here and debate the merits of the Jeter play or if Varitek took A-Rod out to the woodshed, because that’s exactly what Valentine wants. The sad part is many in Yankees Universe said they understood it was just Bobby V being Bobby V, but they still filled Twitter with thoughts and, worse, found themselves defending the flip and the fight. The callers on WFAN also were mostly by the Bobby V book. The lead stories on both the New York Post and Daily News’ online sports fronts on Tuesday night were on Valentine’s rant.
For those of you who typed away or picked up your phone in defense of your beloved captain and that superstar slugger that many now have no choice but to call their own, shame on all of you. You got played. You got suckered. You got punk’d.
You diffuse Bobby V by ignoring Bobby V. You react, he wins. It’s that simple. Well, why am I writing this column then? Because too many of you just don’t get it.
Valentine is winning as we speak because fans simply can’t help themselves. The fight for territorial rights never wane. Tuesday was vintage Valentine. He sucked a lot of people in, and, as usual, those people marched to the beat of his drums.
The media is going to do what the media does. You can bet the farm that there will be a bigger crowd than usual around Jeter and A-Rod on Wednesday down in Tampa. My guess is they’ll take the high road. After all, it’s way too early for this kind of stuff, even in Yankeeland. The Red Sox, on the other hand, need a distraction.
But the problem with Valentine’s approach is even though his intention of getting the spotlight off a franchise in disarray is noble, you will find as the season progresses that he often becomes an even bigger distraction than the one he’s trying to deflect.
Yankees fans, seriously, you didn’t care what the guy had to say when he managed the Mets, so why do you care now, especially coming off the type of Titanic-like season the Red Sox had in 2011? You beat him upside the head in 2000 and the Mets never recovered. The guy had to go to Japan again to work because his reputation preceded him in the States. ESPN eventually took him and he was a very good analyst, but his criticisms were more a job requirement, unlike now when they are just spewed because his team needs its juice to come from elsewhere.
And while it’s true Valentine is great for reporters and a good percentage of his players love him for being who he is, there are also a lot of old-school Red Sox supporters out there who are not going to take too kindly to him talking up a storm, and that’s regardless if the Beantowners win or not.
Yankees fans should just sit back, bite their tongues and watch because the Red Sox are a franchise in transition right now. They could realistically finish anywhere from second to fourth in the AL East, though I think third sounds about right considering what the Yankees and Rays are now and will probably end up being, barring something unforeseen.
And if the Red Sox have a losing record or are hovering around .500 in June, Valentine will likely begin to run out of motivational maneuvers, especially if he doesn’t have an audience that falls for every ridiculous trick in his seemingly endless book.
You just have to fight the urge to play Bobby V’s game. The Yankees, unless they are truly bored out of their minds, will likely follow their usual business-like approach of no commenting their way through what will likely be many media assaults. Their fans should follow that example. The media will look to serve its own best interests. Don’t take the bait. Don’t take Valentine’s missives as anything more than what they are, a series of smokescreens to hide his own team’s shortcomings. Valentine knows all too well who the Yankees are and throughout his career he’s had to invent ways to get in their heads. And here’s a newsflash: it’s never worked.
If at the All-Star break these teams are positioned in the standings where many believe they’ll be, Valentine is going to have to pull out all the stops to save face, and that could include maybe adding a beard and some piercings to his fake nose and glasses.
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