Following up on today’s Sunday Q-and-A with Bobby Valentine (linked here), who came up as a shortstop with the Dodgers and Angels and now finds himself as an ESPN “Sunday Night Baseball” analyst, calling tonight’s Dodgers-Giants game back at Dodger Stadium:
First, about that right leg . . .
Right below the knee and above the ankle, it still looks as if it took the worst of a fight between him and a chained-linked fence. Because that, in effect, is what happened nearly 40 years ago.
As the ESPN “Sunday Night Baseball” analyst pulled down his sock, his leg looked like a shape of a snake that just swallowed an grapefruit.
He rapped his knuckles on the lower shin. It sounded like a hollow tree trunk.
“That’s how it healed,” the 60-year-old said with a laugh. “That’s my leg. I was stupid.”
On May 17, 1973 (Retrosheet.org box score linked here), Valentine was leading the California Angles with a .302 batting average. The natural shortstop had been batting in the No. 2 hole, but manager Bobby Winkles moved him to center field in mid-May, as well as to the third spot in the lineup. Valentine seemed to know what he was doing in the outfield — even making a couple of nice catches two days earlier to back the first no-hitter of Nolan Ryan’s career against the Royals in Kansas City.
Back home at Angels Stadium. Two outs, two on, top of the second. Oakland’s Dick Green , a light-hitting second baseman known for his defense on the defending World Series champs’ team and batting eighth, launches a long fly ball over Valentine’s head.
“He never hit a ball like that in his life,” said Valentine. “He might have hit three homers before that total. I was playing him in short right-center field.”
As the ball sailed out for a home run, Valentine chased it, got his right shoe caught in the fence, and . . .
“Here we are today,” he said with an impish laugh, probably not even aware any more the Angels lost that game, 4-0. “I break my leg, and then I’m Nolan’s manager (with the Texas Rangers) for his sixth and seventh no-hitters, his 5,00th strike out. His 300th win. How about that?”
Q: How far back to you go with the Dodgers, aside from being their top draft pick in 1968, and your father in law being Ralph Branca?
A: My wife’s family jumped into the fray when the original Ebbets needed financing for Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. He took on a partner who had a construction company, which happed to be Ralph Branca’swife’s grandfather, Steven James McKeever, so they built the park. Then, when Walter O’Malley was the lawyer who happened to get a piece of the team, and his partner was McKeever’s daughter’s husband, James Mulkin, who was also the presiden tof Sam Goldwin Productions. It’s a small, crazy world. But that was the kind of group who ran the team for more than a half century. Then Peter (O’Malley) continued on.
“So maybe my times with the Dodgers were fleeting. I married into a situation. My wife’s grandfather was alive for a couple of years during our marriage but I didn’t know him much. And I didn’t get any real feeling of that side of the situation.”
Q: You recently took on a job as the head of health and public safety for your hometown of Stamford, Conn. Is that a pretty cool job?
A: I was asked to take it, and I did it as an obligation to the community. I guess the skills I developed over the years in dealing with all types of people and situations are needed. But now I’m dealing with things like union contracts that affect a lot of lives, a $140 million budget to be in charge of, where there’s overtime concerns for the public, that leads to cuts, it affects someone vacation or mortage .. it’s a different world we’re living in now.
Q: Before you signed with the Dodgers, there were dozens of schools offering you scholarships, football and baseball. One of them was USC. Do you ever think of what it would have been like if you took that one with the Trojans, back in the ’60s and ’70s?
A: A little. I heard that I was the first guy John McKay recruited east of the Mississippi. But I never envisioned myself playing professional football. I often thought during those days, the kinds of backs they were using and doing the kinds of things they were doing — I was that kind of guy. And it would have been cool to play for McKay and Rod Dedeaux. I’ve thought of that. What a great arena that was. But I also thought of practicing. And I hated football practice. You figure out how to open the
holes, I’ll run with it. I don’t know how I’d have done in two-a-days in college. I liked the work and the sweat, But I just didn’t like the practice.
Q: Your link to Japanese baseball gives you some insight into the problems the people of Japan must be going through after the devistating earthquake and tsunami. Has there been any ways you have been able to help?
A: I got the latest update this morning, and I’ve been doing as much as I can. Actually, it’s kind of wearing me out. I just got $600,000 worth of medical supplies connected to Boots On The Ground (linked here), and AmeriCares (linked here), which is based on Stamford, is getting things done. Since I’m in the public safety field now, and connected with the board of health, the EMS, we can help the director of the hospital in the Sendi area — he’s one of my good friends. So when they couldn’t find a place to drop the supplies with Boots On The Ground, that’s just the beginning of what’s going on there.
“I’m developing a webpage to hold an internet auction and have a fundraiser on June 18 in Stamford with the Japanese-American community that I’m hoping we can raise a couple of million dollars between now and then. I have some water from a water company that I deal with in Panama floating some over there right now. But a million is just a drop of water in the ocean for what’s needed there. They have hundreds of thousands who have lost everything.
Q: Is it fair to compare things there to what 9/11 was here? Can baseball help the country recover as it did here?
A: That’s a whole other soap box. I was supposed to be on a panel at Yale with Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball from Japan and members of both governments to talk about what direction baseball could go for both countries. But that was canceled after the earthquake happened.
When I was there, I had a vision of international expansion and the way to start was having the two leagues there come together and share information, marketing, fan bases and TV rights and revenue. We got close. But the leagues still don’t work together. There’s no cohesiveness.
“And the quake and tsumani affects the power, and the fact that people are still without power and rolling brownouts, to think baseball games can be played, and use power, is kind of backwards.
“(Back on 9/11), we were just bringing the spirit out, and trying to get the hearts and minds to start to recovering, to show we’re together and strong and not hiding. Our courage was going to lift people up. But here, the greed (of the Japanese Leagues) may bring the people down.
“They do need some kind of normalcy, but it’s still shaking every day there. Three shakes a day. It’s still not normal. Some people haven’t drank water in 10 days. They’re allowed to go to stores and just by five items at a time — and an egg counts as one item. But there’s still no water. It’s too heavy to transport and the infracstructure so down, and there’s little gasoline, the water is the last thing arriving. You can’t imagine.
“I’d like to be there, actually, because I always think I could help and make a difference (sighs). Turns out, I can’t always do that. At the end of the day, I can make a little difference.”
== Contributions made at Bobby Valentine’s website, www.bobbyvalentine.org, will go toward Japan disaster relief, in care of the Japanese American Association of New York.