Bobby Valentine managed both Pudge Rodriguez and Mike Piazza. He calls them “the two greatest catchers of the era” and believes both should be first-ballot Hall of Famers.
The suspicion of steroid use cost Piazza, who garnered 57.8 percent of the vote this year, and will likely affect Rodriguez when he comes up in 2016.
“I wasn’t really that surprised,” said Valentine, “because I had talked to people in the media for a couple of weeks and it didn’t seem it was going in that direction. They were voting for no one.
“I think [Piazza] will eventually get in. You know, it would be hard for me to believe that players like that wouldn’t get in and wouldn’t be given their just due.”
Fans of Piazza, who was a 62d-round draft pick, have been calling talk shows in New York and criticizing the Baseball Writers Association of America for not electing him.
Yet there was the suspicion of steroid use. According to Jeff Pearlman’s book, “The Rocket That Fell to Earth,” Piazza admitted “off the record” to at least one writer covering the team that he used steroids, though in his upcoming book, “Long Shot,” he is expected to deny steroid use.
Valentine, who managed Piazza with the Mets from 1998-2002, said the topic of steroids and Piazza “wasn’t an issue.”
In addition to the 30-40 homers and 100 RBIs per season Piazza had with the Mets, Valentine said, defensively, “He wasn’t that bad. I never remember him dropping a ball. He could really catch a ball. His hands were really strong.
“That was an added dimension to his ability. His throwing was erratic but he was a smart guy, so pitchers couldn’t complain about what he was doing back there before they threw a pitch. I know he helped guys along.
“His offensive stats were second to none. He was big. People remember a couple of swings that were legendary.”
Valentine remembers Piazza’s legendary strength; a homer he lined to the upper deck in the Astrodome off Billy Wagner is one people still talk about.
“He was also good in those late-inning at-bats and in those tie-game at-bats,” said Valentine.
As for Rodriguez, whom he managed in Texas in 1991-92, Valentine said, “I didn’t have Pudge in his prime. I had Pudge as a kid and watched him through his prime.
“He could really hit. He was as good a breaking-ball hitter as there ever had been. He could run, steal a base. He learned to hit with power, too.”
Valentine does believe that “time will heal all wounds. These guys have received a slap on the wrist, but I think eventually those who should be there will be there.”
The writers have taken a beating because we didn’t have the proof to back up the suspicions. But players knew. Curt Schilling said he was told not to slap players on the butt because that’s where they received their steroid shots.
“As you’re going through it, it wasn’t a situation where people were looking around to see who was doing it because there wasn’t a defined structure on what we were looking for,” Valentine said. ”I think everyone knew at the time that the times were changing and people were able to supplement whatever they were doing to get stronger, faster, and most people thought it was a sign of the times and that there was nothing wrong with it.”
I asked Valentine about the amphetamines (greenies) players took in previous eras so they’d ward off fatigue, and why those who took them illegally weren’t under the same scrutiny as those who used steroids, testosterone, and human growth hormone in this era.
“And if you weren’t out all night,” said Valentine, “you’d be even more ready in the ninth inning of a four-hour game if you took them. You weren’t packing it in. How many of those guys gained their glory by getting the big hit in the ninth inning and went to the Hall of Fame?”
We wonder if there ever was a time when players were completely “natural”? Those Hall of Famers who look upon steroids with scorn seem to turn the other cheek on the greenies they took.
“I can’t say one was good and one was bad,” Valentine said. “All I know is that’s the era. That’s what was going on when I played. That’s what was going on when I managed. It didn’t seem so much different to me.”
There were a few big names in the Mitchell Report, but so many others got away with it. Valentine wonders how many others benefited from PEDs.
“I keep wondering, if there are a few guys who are the perceived villains, then why were so many allowed to benefit from their performance?” he said. “How many wins did we get the pitchers because these guys hit home runs? Do we discount those wins or saves — the guy who got saves because a three-run homer put their team ahead?
“The managers’ records — how about all the wins I got? When Sammy Sosa hit a home run to beat us, do I get that loss back?”
Some say the players made big money and defrauded their owners because there stats were enhanced. But the owners benefited from those stats as well. The ballparks were fuller. TV ratings soared. The worth of the franchises rose.
It seems everyone got something out of it.
Apropos of something
And so we await the proceedings in Cooperstown on July 28, an induction ceremony likely to draw major media attention, national and international, because only three deceased honorees (Deacon White, Hank O’Day, Jacob Ruppert) will be saluted, thanks to the Veterans Committee.
The ceremony could be the shortest in history. The current Hall of Famers can all get on their high horses and boast that they were all about the integrity of the game.
The electorate’s actions will be reflected by the absence of acceptance speeches.
If you believe that the Hall should only be for squeaky-clean angels and not imperfect people, then you should celebrate. If you believe that the best players should be in, then your tour of the Hall will be missing a few things: the all-time hits leader (Pete Rose), the all-time home run leader (Barry Bonds), and a seven-time Cy Young winner (Roger Clemens). They are not represented with Hall of Fame plaques.
The developing story lines between now and then will be interesting.
One will be, who among the current Hall of Famers used steroids?
According to one old-time Hall of Famer, “There’s been talk that there’s someone who took that stuff that’s been elected.”
It doesn’t appear that anyone is ready to name a name, but now there is suspicion of anyone who played in the late ’80s and ’90s.
“It’s getting ridiculous,” said another Hall of Famer, who was very nervous about saying anything with his name attached to it. “Some guys are so protective of our select club.
“There’s always been something going on in the game. Nobody’s perfect. If you’re a Hall of Famer, you’re a Hall of Famer, whether you spit on the baseball, cut it, sandpapered it, took greenies, bet on baseball, or stole signs.
“I think [Roger] Clemens and [Barry] Bonds belong and you’re a fool to think they don’t. But if I say that publicly, these other guys will crucify me.”
Apropos of nothing
1. Terry Francona will be honored as the Judge Emil Fuchs Award winner for long and meritorious service to baseball at the Boston Baseball Writers dinner Jan. 24 at the Westin Copley, while the co-author of his new book, Dan Shaughnessy, will accept the Dave O’Hara Award for his distinguished baseball writing career. Tickets are $175; send a check made out to the Sports Museum c/o Rusty Sullivan, 100 Legends Way, Boston 02114 or go to sportsmuseum.org.
2. A major league source said this about Mike Napoli’s hip condition: “It’s one of those things where it could go anytime or five years from now. Nobody really knows, which is why the Red Sox want strong language after putting $40 million on the table for him.” You can bet the Red Sox are trying to protect themselves.
3. Trading for Justin Morneau is starting to make sense for the Red Sox.
4. Or, why wouldn’t they put a first baseman’s mitt on Daniel Nava and make him a first baseman/left fielder?
5. Strange that Justin Upton would turn down a deal to Seattle. It’s one of the nicest cities in the country, and the fences have been moved in.
6. Bobby Valentine is doing a number of things, including expanding his restaurant business to more locations, growing his film company, and working for NBC Sports. He has had opportunities to work in an advisory capacity for teams but turned them down.
7. The Red Sox and Pirates never got deep into discussions of first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones during the Joel Hanrahan trade talks because, according to a major league source, “The Pirates really valued Jones highly.” Jones seemed to be a good fit for the Sox.
8. If Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux don’t get in on the first ballot next season, there’s something wrong. I understand sending messages this time, but next year, Maddux, Glavine, Frank Thomas, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, and Jack Morris should all be in, with Jeff Bagwell and first-timers Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent knocking on the door.
Updates on nine
1. Alfonso Soriano, LF, Cubs — During his time in Chicago, Theo Epstein has come to realize what a tremendous teammate Soriano is and how willing he is to help younger players. Epstein considers Soriano an excellent clubhouse presence, and after a 32-homer, 108-RBI season, the Cubs president contends that he will need a player of note in return if he is to trade Soriano and assume a majority of the $36 million left on his contract. Soriano will only accept a deal to an East Coast team, so the Phillies, Rays, Orioles, Yankees, and Marlins are teams that could benefit by him.
2. Michael Morse, 1B/OF, Nationals — If the Mike Napoli negotiations fall through, Morse is definitely someone who would be attractive to the Red Sox — except that the point of signing Napoli was to avoid giving up players in trade and he didn’t require draft pick compensation. The Nationals would want a reasonable return for Morse, which would likely include one of Boston’s top bullpen pieces. The Yankees are also very interested in him to help their left-field issues.The Orioles could use him at first base.
3. Javier Vazquez, RHP, free agent — Teams including the Red Sox, Phillies, Yankees, and Nationals continue to watch Vazquez’s starts in winter ball. One major league scout said, “He looks pretty much the same as he did a couple of years ago, but he still seems better-suited to stay in the National League if he signs with someone. He’s a couple of years older now, so he’s someone you would sign as a depth guy and not necessarily as someone who you would pencil in as one of your five starters.”
4. Brian Roberts, 2B, Orioles — He is recovering from a torn labrum in his hip after a couple of years of postconcussion syndrome, and is in the final year of his four-year, $40 million contract, so this could be his last shot. He is 35 and has been limited to 115 games the past three seasons. His last full season was 2009, when he hit .283 with 16 homers and 79 RBIs. He was once a prominent player, and Buck Showalter would love to pencil him into the lineup and never look back. But that has been difficult the past few years.
5. J.J. Hardy, SS, Orioles — Teams have inquired about Hardy’s availability all winter, according to a major league source, but the Orioles aren’t quite ready to move Manny Machado over to shortstop, especially considering that third basemen are so hard to come by. Hardy’s power and defense make him extremely attractive, but the Orioles like him, too.
6. Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks — A Texas deal involving one of its shortstops (Jurickson Profar and Elvis Andrus) fell through, but now that Upton has nixed a deal with Seattle, there could be a possibility to re-engage if the Diamondbacks would take Mike Olt. The Mets, Rays, Red Sox, Phillies, and Orioles have all kicked the tires on Upton. You wonder where the Yankees are. Arizona GM Kevin Towers has an excess of outfielders, and Upton is obviously the one he’d like to move. Towers will likely do so by spring training.
7. Michael Bourn, OF, free agent — Nobody really knows what happened to the Bourn market. He’s a top defender and a good leadoff man. Is it the draft-pick compensation? Some would argue that, but others with draft-pick comp have signed. “The center-field market just shrunk after the Twins were able to move two of them to other teams to fill needs and B.J. Upton replaced Bourn in Atlanta,” said a National League GM. “But he’ll wind up somewhere, at probably much less than he expected.”
8. Kyle Lohse, RHP, free agent — The fact that he is out there in free agency at this late date is somewhat of a stunner. A 16-game winner who had an excellent season for St. Louis, Lohse, too, is tied into draft-pick compensation. Teams have also not wanted to go much beyond two years for him. There are still a lot of teams in need of starting pitching, and Lohse’s stuff translates to both leagues. The Mariners, Tigers, Orioles, Royals, Twins, Brewers, Pirates, and Rockies are all potential spots, but so far no team has been desperate enough to sign him.
9. Roy Oswalt, RHP, free agent — The feeling of one NL GM is that Oswalt may still want to pitch, but, again, on his terms and perhaps for only a half a season. Many teams have given up trying to persuade him to pitch, feeling the vibe is that he just doesn’t want it bad enough. He had a forearm strain at the end of his Rangers tenure last season.
From the Bill Chuck files: “Both Adrian Beltre and Aramis Ramirez have been in the bigs since 1998. Beltre has 346 homers, 1,215 RBIs, and a .280 average. Ramirez has 342 homers, 1,227 RBIs, and a .285 average.” Also, “In 2012, Jon Lester threw the cutter 454 times and he struck out 45 with it. In 2011, Lester threw 798 cutters and struck out 87. In 2010, Lester threw 728 cutters and struck out 71. In addition, over the last three seasons, Lester’s fastball velocity has dropped from 93.5 to 92.0.” . . . Happy birthday, Billy Jo Robidoux (49) and Kevin Mitchell (51).Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.