Posts Tagged ‘Joe Maddon’

Enough, Already—Bobby Valentine Needs to Go; Yesterday, if Possible

It’s come to this. The other team who collapsed almost as monumentally as the Red Sox did a year ago gets credit for not doing what the Red Sox did, letting an incumbent and decent manager fall on his sword and hiring Bobby Valentine in his place.

The Red Sox collapse spared the Atlanta Braves the ignominy attached to the Red Sox, never mind that nobody accused the Atlanta rotation of spending more time with chicken and brewskis than with pitching charts and sliders on the black down the stretch. And the Braves should probably be grateful not to have had imposed upon them what was imposed upon the Red Sox.

Cover boy . . . (Sports Illustrated image)

“Even as the Braves tease/torment us with the possibility (remote though it would seem) of another epic collapse,” writes Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “we can take solace in this: As frustrating as they can be, they’re not the Red Sox. Because the Red Sox took their own E.C. of last September and proceeded to destroy themselves.

“They changed general managers. More to the point, they changed managers and hired the absolute worst man for the job, and not a day passes that Red Sox Nation isn’t given a new reason to realize that any organization that employs Bobby Valentine is doomed.”

That, too, was prompted by Valentine’s ghastly appearance on this week’s Sports Illustrated cover. Not to mention Valentine’s unconscionable radio rant a day or so earlier, when he threatened to punch out one of two radio interviewers who dared to question whether Valentine, who hasn’t exactly kept secret his own disenchantment with this season, had “checked out” on it at last.

It would have been hilarious if it hadn’t been so disgusting. And no amount of backpedaling that he was only kidding around has cauterised the impact yet, if ever it will.

Practically anyone who heard the exchange on the air has written that Valentine in that moment sounded anything like a man going for a laugh. Here is the transcript from WEEI, to whose host Glenn Ordway he directed his fumes, after Ordway asked him directly, if not maliciously, “Have you checked out?”:

What an embarrassing thing to say. If I were there, I’d punch you right in the mouth. Ha, ha. How’s that sound? Is that like I checked out? What an embarrassing thing. Why would somebody even, that’s stuff that a comic strip person would write. If someone’s here, watching me go out at 2 o’clock in the afternoon working with the young players, watching me put in the right relief pitchers to get a win, putting on a hit-and-run when it was necessary, talking to the guys after the game in the food room — how could someone in real life say that?

Apparently, it’s just fine for Valentine to ask whether a Kevin Youkilis has checked out, metaphorically speaking. Valentine in April threw the first match into the natural gas leak that already was the Red Sox clubhouse when he was foolish enough to question since-departed Youkilis’s heart in hand with the first baseman’s physical health. Valentine may have lost just enough of his clubhouse right then and there. Now, knowing Valentine hasn’t exactly been demure about his own frustrations lately, someone had the temerity to question Valentine’s heart. And Valentine went Hiroshima.

Imagine if Youkilis in mid-April had been asked in a radio interview about his manager’s original comment and told the questioner, “What an embarrassing thing to say. If I were there, I’d punch you right in the mouth.” What would you consider the odds of Youkilis surviving without taking a beating from the rest of the press or from his own bosses? Who’s to say he wouldn’t have been run out of town sooner than he finally was?

Just when you thought, as I did just a day or so ago, that it was safe to bear even a modicum of sympathy for the man, Valentine drops Little Boy and makes yet another big stink. Compared to him, Ozzie Guillen is beginning to resemble a diplomat.

It got even better when Valentine, parrying an inquiry into his late arrival at the ballpark, dragged Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon into it, saying Maddon sometimes gets to the park even later than Valentine “once” did. To his credit, Maddon refused to let Valentine make a beard out of him. “Apologies to the writers for being late to today’s pregame session,” he tweeted post haste. “My pedicure appointment ran a little late.”

It’ll take more than a pedicure to settle Valentine’s and the Red Sox’s hash. Bradley isolates the point rather well.

No wonder this man’s smiling . . .

Some Braves fans who were so disenchanted with the user-friendly Fredi Gonzalez last September that they took to message boards to lobby for a hard nose with a flair for tactics—a man, in sum, like Bobby Valentine. Trouble is, nobody who plays for this “tactician” can ever be troubled to do as he asks: They’re all too busy hating their manager’s guts.

The Red Sox serve as both case study and object lesson: They failed spectacularly last season and overreacted, and today they’re one game out of last place in a five-team division and have taken to selling off assets in the hope they might get a little better somewhere down the road. The Braves stayed the course and are again positioned to make the playoffs. Sometimes we around here criticize the Braves for being too passive, but whenever we look toward Boston we should be reminded that motion for motion’s sake is never a good idea.

The Red Sox thought it’d be a good idea to throw the smarmy Bobby Valentine into a combustible clubhouse, and today the flagship team of New England is in ashes. And we learn yet again that actions do have consequences.

So does partial action. So does inaction. The Red Sox are learning about both the hard way, too. It’s no longer possible to hang most or even some of it on the players, with maybe one or two exceptions. Sure, they’ve still had a season in hell on the field. But those who were considered Valentine enemies, actual or alleged, are gone now. The season in hell continues apace, and Valentine keeps putting torches to the fires and his foot in his mouth. All the way to his ankle.

The longer the Red Sox leave him where he is, the deeper runs the perception that this is a management that either wouldn’t know a clue or couldn’t care less. All things considered, it probably should have happened immediately after The Big Deal. But Valentine needs to go. Yesterday, if possible. For the sake of the Red Sox, and just maybe for his own sake, too.

Boys Will Be Boys

Roger Clemens gets off the hook on a perjury rap because either the House Committee for the Sending of Swell Messages to Kids, the actual prosecution, or the original Mitchell Report bungled its way across the sticky wickets of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances. It induces something of a giant sucking yawn, with only an occasional bleat against putting the Rocket into the Hall of Fame.

Joel Peralta, Tampa Bay setup man, gets tossed before throwing a single pitch against the Washington Nationals, his former team, when a little pine tar is found in his glove, at the instigation of his former manager Davey Johnson. And it’s hail, old school chicanery, complete with exhuming a lot of classic observations (Claude Osteen, one-time Los Angeles Dodgers rotation mainstay, once observed so many 1950s pitchers were doing things to their balls that it should have been called the decade of the spitter) and derring-do. (It’s said that Ford Frick, one of baseball’s arguable worst commissioners, actually supported re-legalising the spitter in the Decade of the Spitter.)

Peralta, pine tarred and feathered . . .

Ah, the memories. The late Preacher Roe, Brooklyn Dodgers lefthander, and as elegant a competitor as ever took the mound, put paid to his career by giving a major magazine a story confessing that the outlaw pitch was his money pitch. His teammate, Carl Furillo, right fielder, swore to Roger Kahn (while writing The Boys of Summer) that the rest of the team knew when Roe was going to throw a loaded pitch: “When Preach touched the bill of his cap with two fingers, that was the signal. That’s when we knew it was coming. When he did it with one finger, we knew he was faking.”

Roe may have had a crosstown rival for chicanery, Eddie Lopat, the Yankee lefthander whose trademark lack of power pitching once earned him the nickname Slow, Slower, Slowest. Sure enough, Roe and Lopat tangled in a couple of World Series games. “Those two fellas certainly make baseball look like a simple game, don’t they?” Casey Stengel, who had a ringside seat managing the Yankees, observed after watching and admiring the two of them going at it. “It makes you wonder. You pay all that money to great big fellas with a lot of muscles and straight stomachs who go up there and start swinging. And [Lopat and Roe] give ’em a little of this and a little of that and swindle ’em.”

You think every so often there’s a small swell of insistence that Gaylord Perry got into the Hall of Fame by subterfuge? Well, now. Whitey Ford may have gotten there in something of the same way. Well, at least, the stories go that he began picking up Lopat’s mantle in the twilight of his own career, looking for any way to endure the elbow troubles that began to dog him in the 1960s. The Ford mud ball is almost as deep a legend as the Ford Mustang. Except that it wasn’t always Ford who profited from the pitch, which involved either Ford or catcher Elston Howard getting a little patch of field mud on the ball after the grounds crew wet down the dirt.  Bo Belinsky, the rakish Los Angeles Angels lefty, once said that if Ford ended an inning with a strikeout and Howard would roll the ball back toward the mound as the sides changed, “I had two outs waiting for me right there.” If not, Belinsky said, “I was dead.”

Did the Vulture literally sweat for his supper . . . ?

Phil Regan came almost out of nowhere in 1966 to emerge as the game’s craftiest and deadliest relief pitcher that season. (Sandy Koufax, noticing Regan’s eagerness for the ball when games got a little dicey, nicknamed Regan the Vulture.) For several years nobody could figure out what Regan was or wasn’t doing with the ball until, a few years later, toiling for the Cubs, someone noticed his propensity to sweat heavily. Turned out that Regan, who never wore anything under his uniform jersey but a short-sleeved T-shirt would let the sweat run down his arm and onto the ball.

They went nuts when Kenny Rogers had the postseason of his life in 2006, allowing no runs in three virtuoso starts, and a Fox Sports camera caught that brown smudge on the heel of his thumb. Rogers dutifully if puckishly washed his hand, but nobody else did much with him, which you couldn’t say about the rest of the Detroit staff in that World Series. On the other hand, once upon a time, the late Lew Burdette beat the Yankees in all three of his World Series starts to put the only rings on the fingers of a Milwaukee team to date. Burdette, a notorious mound fidget, was thought to be building himself a toxic waste puddle from his chewing tobacco and, when bending over to adjust his cleats yet again, scooping up a little of the sludge.

A camera just dropped in to see what condition his condition (or his thumb heel) was in . . .

Don Sutton’s another Hall of Famer who’s thought to have gotten there the old-fashioned way—with anything he could get away with, even if he didn’t have half of Gaylord Perry’s inverse charisma. Sutton was merely wittier. He’s said to have had notes tucked in his gloves if the umpires thought about frisking him. “You’re getting warmer,” said once such note. “But it isn’t here.”

Sutton, said one-time longtime Oriole pitching coach Ray Miller, “has set such a fine example of defiance, that someday I expect to see a pitcher walk out to the mound . . . [and] throw a ball to the plate with bolts attached to it.”

You can imagine the fun those who were there had the day Sutton, with the California Angels, squared off against Tommy John, then with the Yankees, and carrying likewise a reputation for using wile, guile, and anything else he could think of. Yankee manager Lou Piniella had to talk owner George Steinbrenner out of his demand to have Sutton frisked, arraigned, and if necessary prosecuted: “Whatever they’re doing out there,” Piniella said, knowing full well his own man was liable to be read his rights in such a situation, “TJ’s doing it better. So let’s leave it alone.” When the Yankees won the game, a scout in the press box is said to have purred, “Tommy John versus Don Sutton? If anyone can find one smooth ball from that game, he ought to send it to Cooperstown.”

Gaylord Perry in a familiar position—frisked, if not arraigned . . .

On the other hand, even the umpires developed a perverse sense of humour about Perry’s subterfuge. One ump who had Perry all but strip-searched on the mound bumped into the righthander on the street the next day. They exchanged some pleasantries (Perry had a reputation for being very friendly with umpires off the field) and the conversation turned to the ump’s son, a pitcher, whose Little League team was getting clobbered routinely. “Gaylord,” the ump’s said to have asked, “can you teach him to throw that thing?”

The late Mike Flanagan once drew Thomas Boswell, baseball’s Montaigne, off to one side during spring training. Flanagan produced a fresh, untouched baseball, and a broken-open coat hanger. Then, the Oriole pitcher cut three perfect gashes into the meat of the hide, and held it up. “Any time I need four new pitches, I got ’em,” he said evenly, while going on to say he wasn’t going to use them in a game—yet. (“Every pitcher needs an insurance policy.”) In the same article that sprang from that encounter, Boswell recorded suspicions, from Flanagan and others, that the legendary Oakland Athletics rotation of 1980-83—the ill-fated Mike Norris, Steve McCatty, Matt Keough, and Rick Langford—“had one kind of spitball or another as soon as Billy Martin could have it taught to them.” Usually, this came by way of Martin’s preferred pitching coach, Art Fowler, whose own money pitch in his days as a useful reliever wasn’t exactly clean and dry.

Staten Island stinker?

And before you get your moral outrage on, be advised that George Bamberger—once a formidable major league pitching coach, after a minor league pitching career in which his own money pitch was what he called his Staten Island sinkerball—observed, “A guy who cheats in a friendly game of cards is a cheater. A guy who throws a spitball to support his family is a competitor.”

George Frazier, he who once set a sad record by losing three games in a single Series, had a reply to anyone accusing him of using foreign substances: “I don’t use foreign substances. Everything I use is made in the U.S. of A.” Bill (Spaceman) Lee once admitted he threw loaded balls and would continue throwing them. Mike Scott went from nothing special to never better after learning the split-fingered fastball, but half the National League, especially the 1986 Mets, swore he was doing something other than gripping his pitches. The Mets retrieved several balls from Scott during a National League Championship Series game, all of which had a mark on the same spot, but the league decided not to prosecute.

And, come to think of it, there were those who first thought the split-finger fastball wasn’t exactly a kosher pitch. “It’s nothing but a legal spitball,” Ray Miller once said. “I was looking at my hand, thinking of the ten years I [pitched] in the minors, never getting to the majors and, honest to God, the thought floated up. ‘What if, fifteen years ago, I’d had my middle finger amputated? I’d bet I’d have had one hell of a split-finger fastball.”

“Any man who would consider cutting off a finger to make the major leagues,” Boswell wrote in retort, “will certainly cheat to stay there. Always has, always will.”

When Peralta got bagged, the pitcher rather understandably denied all. He must never have read from the gospel of Miller, who once had a run-in with Kansas City’s Dennis Leonard over a quote taken out of context in which Miller seemed to say Leonard had a good spitter. “Dennis,” Miller told the pitcher, “you should thank me. Nobody can do a pitcher a bigger favour than saying they’ve got a hell of a spitter.” Translation: Spitter on the brain—the one they only think you’re going to throw—is going to clip their batting averages even more than the one you might really serve.

It’s a point Peralta’s manager, Joe Maddon, might have missed. Maddon steamed because Johnson called for a check on Peralta’s glove, knowing damn well that Johnson had managed his man recently and was trading, essentially, in inside information. “That’s a pu$$y move,” Maddon fumed, a comment that isn’t half as likely to go as viral—and as far as the U.S. Senate Majority Leader, for that matter—as Bryce Harper’s “That’s a clown question, bro.” All Madden had to do was keep his mouth shut, let his man take his comeuppance like a man, and he’d have guaranteed the next time Peralta took the mound the enemy hitters would have a fair chance of surrendering a little more readily even if Peralta took the mound clean as the proverbial hound’s tooth.

Gaylord Perry exploited that for years. You remember Perry’s famous between-pitch routine? He’d stroke the bill of his cap both ways, with both hands, then brush his sideburns, then brush the breast of his jersey, then tap his belt twice. That’s the routine he’d go to when he wanted hitters to think he was greasing. And he made no bones about it. “I just leave a lotta evidence lyin’ around,” he once crowed. On the other hand, when Perry spent a spell with the Cleveland Indians, it was thought—courtesy of Detroit pitcher Milt Wilcox, who told the story to umpire-turned-raconteur Ron Luciano—that Ray Fosse’s catcher’s mitt had such a ring of Vaseline around the pocket nobody knew whether it was a byproduct of Perry’s infamous servings or whether Fosse put it there himself to keep Perry from getting cuffed and stuffed.

Preacher Roe

In fact, it won’t always be the pitcher loading one up for delivery. Perry is far from the only one who may have had partners in crime. Preacher Roe once admitted he got occasional help from Hall of Fame shortstop Pee Wee Reese and infield partner Billy Cox, once a formidable defencive third baseman. “Once in awhile,” Roe told a reporter, “after the ball had been tossed around the infield, Pee Wee or my buddy Billy would come up to the mound and drop the ball easy in my glove and say, ‘Okay, give us a good pitch now’.”

The mud ball wasn’t Whitey Ford’s only technique. He threw a ring ball concurrently; he had a rasp in his wedding ring that gave him what amounted to “my own tool bench out there.” At least, it did until an ump ordered him to remove the ring. Then, Elston Howard devised a new tack, no pun in tended: he’d scrape the ball on the buckles of his shin guard before throwing it back to Ford. “The buckle ball,” Jim Bouton once said, “sang four choruses of Aida.”

Partners in crime . . . ?

So while it’s rather pleasant to emerge from the sense and nonsense of the Clemens trial into an old-fashioned chat about cheating the old-fashioned way, let it never be said that the innocent don’t suffer. Once upon a time, according to Boswell, Ford also used an extremely sticky compound for, he said, a better grip on his curve ball. He kept the goo in a hollowed-out roll-on deodorant tube. Knowing that Yogi Berra mooched personal products almost by habit, Mickey Mantle—who never met a practical joke opportunity he couldn’t exploit—left Ford’s stickum on a shelf in Ford’s locker, making it look like a real deodorant tube. And Yogi fell for it, hook, line, and Staten Island sinker.

Two minutes later, the next sound in the Yankee clubhouse was Berra screaming blue murder as he ran into the trainer’s room. He had to be shaved free when his arms got stuck to his sides.

Maybe we’ve hit on the real difference between actual or alleged PEDs and the Houdinis of the hill. There wasn’t a lot of room for punking the juicers. There’s plenty of room for punking the scuffers, who prove themselves that boys will be boys. Always have been. Always will.