Valverde’s Signing Was Inevitable

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Jim Leyland tried the soft approach. He tried to gently discuss how uncomfortable he was with the Tigers’ decision to go cheap and unproven with their closer when they’d invested a massive amount of money in this current group while in the final year of his contract. In public, he was agreeable and conciliatory when the Tigers let Jose Valverde walk and didn’t bring in a legitimate, proven closer via trade or free agency. He was willing to move forward with the Bruce Rondon experiment and, when the rookie faltered in spring training, stated his intention to use a bullpen-by-committee and do the best they could.

All it took, though, was one blown save from Phil Coke in the second game of the season for the Tigers to acquiesce to their manager’s clear wishes and bring back Valverde on a minor league contract. He’ll go to Lakeland and “get in shape” (whatever that means for the prominently bellied Valverde) and, before long, will be back with the Tigers and given the opportunity to regain the job he lost with a series of terrible performances including a horrific gack in game 1 of the ALCS against the Yankees that could easily have cost the Tigers the series.

Leyland is jittery and constantly fretful, but he trusts his veterans more than he’ll trust any rookie or unproven commodity. He might very well have thrown a patented Leyland tantrum after yesterday’s loss and gone as far as he possibly could in demanding that the Tigers bring back Valverde. As bad as Valverde was at times last season, he was nearly perfect in 2011 and Leyland knows that any issues his erstwhile closer might have won’t be related to a mental issue. There are pitchers on the Tigers’ staff who can conceivably close. Coke can do it if given the opportunity over the long term. Octavio Dotel is 39, but has closed and as long as he’s healthy would get the job done. But using Coke, Valverde, Joaquin Benoit or establishing someone unproven such as Al Alburquerque or Rondon in the ninth inning would reduce the Tigers’ depth in the earlier innings and make the manager and everyone around him nervous.

If there’s a man in baseball whose personality permeates his clubhouse while he’s not doing or saying anything at all—just his aura is enough—it’s Leyland. He’s passive aggressive and made clear that he didn’t want a rookie closer and that he did want Valverde back. Now he’s getting what he wants and if Valverde has his velocity and looks adequate in extended spring training, he’ll be closing for the Tigers again within a month because that’s what the manager wanted from the beginning and he let everyone know it through multiple methods of expression.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide is now available on Amazon.com, Smashwords, BN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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The Cheap Shots Against Mike Francesa Are Unnecessary

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WFAN in New York announced yesterday that, starting in November, the longtime AM station on 660 here in New York will be simulcast on 101.9 FM—NY Times Story. How much longer they’re going to be broadcasting with their signature name on the station, Mike Francesa, is unknown, but if the cheap shots perpetrated by media “watchers,” columnists, callers, and critics continue, it wouldn’t be a shock for the 58-year-old Francesa to give it a few more years and walk away for an easier, less time-consuming job. If he chose to relax his schedule, one of the multitudes of NFL shows on CBS, Fox, NFL Network, or many others would certainly have him. Presumably, CBS would be pleased to have Francesa discussing golf and NCAA basketball along with football.

With young children at home, the question for Francesa will change from, “What will I do if I don’t have this outlet 5-6 days a week to talk sports,” to, “Do I need this aggravation and to put in all these hours if I have to deal with 24/7 ridicule for minuscule missteps?”

If you’d like to attack Francesa for his pomposity, egomania, occasional laziness, dismissal of those who disagree with him, and overbearing demeanor, then fine. Go nuts. But in another piece in today’s NY Times, when discussing Tigers’ pitcher Al Alburquerque’s strange decision to kiss the baseball before throwing Athletics’ outfielder Yoenis Cespedes out on a comebacker in game 2 of the ALDS, the author mentions Francesa’s confusion as to what a caller was talking about when he referenced Alburquerque a year ago during the Tigers-Yankees ALDS series.

Why?

Did it fit into the narrative or was it just tossed in there in case someone did a search on the Times website for “Mike Francesa”?

Yesterday another caller cryptically and in an unfunny fashion alluded to Francesa’s famous falling asleep episode from last month while WFAN Yankees beat reporter Sweeny Murti was on. Francesa made the mistake of first denying it happened, and now when it’s broached, he goes into a long diatribe about his 20+ year career in broadcasting, the awards he’s won, etc. If I were advising him, I’d tell him to make a joke about it. It happened. I didn’t see it as a big deal then and it’s not a big deal now. It’s a bigger story if he or anyone manages to stay awake during a Sweeny Murti appearance.

Say what you want about Francesa, but he worked hard to get where he is. No one handed it to him and, at his age, it’s not easy to sit in a studio alone 6 days a week and talk sports for 5+ hours a day. Also, he has to read commercials, do appearances, and the other aspects of being a sports personality that take time and energy to do and that listeners aren’t aware of or think takes much effort.

During the summer, Francesa is often criticized for the amount of vacation time he takes. As stated before, he has young children. The days of working, working, working have to stop sometime. Part of it is his fault for not taking on a partner to replace Chris Russo. The show would probably be better and he’d have someone to pick up the slack, but that’s his choice. What those who seem determined to drive him off the air have to ask themselves is what they’ll be listening to if Francesa chooses to end this losing battle and go do something that isn’t as taxing. If you’ve listened to what WFAN puts on in his stead over those summer months when he’s off, you realize that the alternatives are not only weak, but they’re boring, skittish, obnoxious, and unlistenable unless you prefer them to the choices of Sean Hannity, bad top-40, dated rock, or shutting the radio off entirely.

Keep pushing Francesa out the door and you’ll learn that not only is his afternoon spot going to be difficult to fill literally, but figuratively as well.

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