FORT MYERS, Fla. - The sarcastic e-mails and tweets have come fast and furious lately.
The subject: Bobby Valentine vs. Terry Francona.
This is going to be a season-long topic for Red Sox fans.
There are some Valentine haters, or at least disbelievers, out there.
For someone who has covered Red Sox spring trainings since 1984, it is amazing the backlash you get when you point out how creative and sophisticated Valentine’s workouts are in comparison to past managers.
And when you dare to compare Valentine’s approach to Bill Belichick from the standpoint of practicing situations for game conditions, you get things like:
From cbcz: “Let’s not anoint Bobby V the next Belichick, pleassse.’’
Yeah, that is exactly what we’re doing.
Or from CoombsPoundTown: “That’s sarcasm, right?’’
No, it’s not.
Jeet2ss: “Bobby Valentine’s attention to detail will get them 4th place. Look it up.’’
OK, guess the season is over.
Or this gem from TJS1231: “What? Please, you’re a homer, Sox lover. He [expletive] and the team will, too.’’
Yeah, that’s me.
Or from brianbuck13: “Yeah, because he’s won how many World Series? All that preseason planning seems to help every year, huh?’’
OK, maybe we shouldn’t praise Bobby V for hard work, organization, and doing the right thing. Maybe it’s better that the boys call it a day by noon and go play golf.
We get it. Francona was popular here, except for the times when he was destroyed by talk-show callers for things such as his lineups, his resting of players, his leaving this pitcher in too long or that one not long enough.
When he left, there was a lot of pro-Francona and anti-ownership sentiment. And we certainly heard about it when this newspaper revealed some of Francona’s personal issues in Bob Hohler’s exposé about the team.
Francona is very happy these days as an ESPN commentator. Valentine had that job last season and now steps into Francona’s role as Red Sox manager.
For that reason, there will be a lot of discussion every time these two cross paths. There will be a lot of head-banging between the two.
When Valentine was at ESPN, he was critical of the Red Sox on a few topics, including the handling of Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett’s pace of game, and Carl Crawford’s batting stance.
Francona didn’t appreciate some of Valentine’s comments then, and Valentine returned the favor when he ripped into Francona for saying the decision to ban alcohol from the Sox clubhouse was a “PR move.’’
Yesterday, Francona said he never meant anything derogatory toward the Red Sox or Valentine specifically.
Francona had said on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike’’ program, “I don’t think it’s a surprise that they put this in effect, or the fact they announced it. It’s probably more of a PR move just because, you know, the Red Sox [took] such a beating at the end of the year.’’
Valentine responded to Francona’s take later Monday.
“Remember, you’re getting paid over there for saying stuff,’’ Valentine said. “You’re getting paid over here for doing stuff.’’
Later Valentine said, “I think they probably asked him a question, that’s what he said. If they had asked him longer, he probably would have said it was the right thing to do, too, but they probably dropped it at ‘PR move,’ I would think.
“Either that, or those other 18 teams are getting it wrong, too. I don’t think they did it just for PR.’’
They are going to clash. And it’s going to be good fodder, good TV.
Francona, who makes his spring training in-game debut March 22 when ESPN will televise a Sox-Yankees game, said yesterday that he probably needs to be “careful with my words’’ when commenting on the Red Sox.
You can understand if Francona is bitter about his departure from the team after eight seasons and two World Series championships. He wants to defend his way and has a lot of ammo to do so.
The tweets are right to say that Valentine hasn’t won a World Series and that whatever Francona did worked.
And we’re not saying that Francona and his staff didn’t pay attention to details. It’s just that Valentine presents those practices in a very different manner.
What isn’t fair is ripping him for the impressive way he has run his camp. No, we haven’t seen him run a game. We haven’t seen his first issue with a player. We haven’t seen how strong he comes out of the box and whether the preparation will pay off.
All we can go by is what we see right now.
Maybe this all means nothing. But after the way last season ended, I think it means something.
Yesterday, Valentine had outfielders work on relays. He had some of them practicing in the main stadium, taking balls off the Green Monster South. He said in time he’ll make adjustments based on arm strengths as to where to position the infielder to take the throw.
He lamented the fact that strong throwing is a lost art, but said that outfielders can improve their arm strength and accuracy with practice. Imagine that. It appears that Valentine is going to ask that of his weaker-armed outfielders such as Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury.
Asked about the state of the arm strength in the outfield, he said, “Haven’t seen them all yet. I know we have one outstanding thrower, according to [first base coach] Alex Ochoa and it’s not Alex. [Che-Hsuan] Lin is in a different place. But I think from reports, a couple of arms are a little bit lower on the rating scale.’’
Lin, 23, is a superb defensive outfielder who should be at Triple A. He isn’t often mentioned as being a part of Boston’s outfield mix, but his defense is so striking that he could force himself in.
“You don’t use it, you lose it, so a lot of them lost it,’’ said Valentine about arm strength. “Most of your putouts or assists come from the relay man. That’s because they’re more accurate. They throw all the time.
“Ninety-six percent of runners who tried to score from second base scored, so not a lot of people are getting thrown out at home plate.’’
Valentine also had coaches hit infield with regular bats, not fungoes, so the ball has game-condition spin on it.
He brought in Jim Kaat, who has 283 wins and 16 Gold Gloves, to speak to pitchers the past two days.
“I just wanted to share with them things that helped me on the pitcher’s mound, whether it be in situations or on a certain count,’’ said Kaat. “Just things that pitchers should think about when facing tough hitters.’’
Kaat said he learned to field his position so well because when he was coming up, pitchers did not throw batting practice with a screen.
It’s little things like that.
Mock it if you will. Say it won’t make a difference. That’s what we get from the naysayers.
Blame Valentine for not winning a championship, even though for most of his years in Texas and New York, he never had anywhere near this kind of talent to work with.
No, nobody is anointing him. We’re just saying that what we’re seeing right now is pretty impressive.