Monday, February 26, 2007

100 Greatest Red Sox >> #60 John Valentin

John Valentin, SS/3B, #13 (1992-2002)

991 G, 1043 H, 121 HR, 528 RBI, .281 Avg, .358 OBP, .460 SLG

Ted Williams on Johnny Valentin: "That little guy at Third Base, I like him. He's good. I love him"

Before the 'Holy Trinity' (Jeter, Garciaparra and A-Rod) and subsequent statistical explosion, the Major League shortstop was known primarily as a glove man, someone who was going to scoop the ball up and chip in a few hits here and there. Two shortstops in particular came along in the nineties to break that mould, Cal Ripken Jr of the Orioles and John Valentin of the Boston Red Sox.

Born February 16th, 1967 in Mineola, New York, Valentin attended Seton Hall University. Valentin's college roomate and Seton Hall Pirates team mate was Mo Vaughn. Another team mate was Craig Biggio. They played together on Seton Hall’s 1987 Big East Championship team, which went 45-10.

There has actually been a book written about that Seton Hall Team. David Siroty penned The Hit Men and the Kid Who Batted Ninth: Biggio, Valentin, Vaughn, and Robinson: Together Again in the Big Leagues.

Valentin started his professional career in the Red Sox minor league system in 1988. and made it to the Majors in 1992. He would go on to have an eleven year career, ten of those with the Boston Red Sox.

Valentin always had a nose for the dramatic. He is one of only 12 players in modern major league history to complete an unassisted triple play. Valentin completed the rare play on July 8th in 1994 in a loss to Seattle. In the 2nd inning. he caught a line drive off the bat of Marc Newfield, stepped on 2nd base to retire Mike Blowers, then tagged runner Keith Mitchell who was heading (slowly!) for 2nd. As is often the case in MLB, once a player makes a great play in the top of an inning he often follows it up with some good stick work in the bottom. Naturally Valentin hit a home run in the bottom of the second. To make the game more notable still, Seattle uber-prospect Alex Rodriguez, 18, was 0-for-3 in his ML debut that night.

Statistically John's best season came in 1995. He hit at an impressive .298 clip and added 27 home runs, 102 RBI and 20 stolen bases. Red Sox fans who are possibly new to the fold and know little about Valentin should take this one on board and chew it over. 'Val' was Boston's short stop the last time the Boston Red Sox won the American League East Division championship, in 1995.

Valentin simply had a spectacular 1995. On May 2nd in a 8-0 whitewash of the hated Yankees, Boston scored all eight runs in back to back innings by former college teammates (Seton Hall) Valentin and Mo Vaughn.That was the only time ever that two grand slams account for all the runs scored in a game (Source: SABR statistician David Vincent). That two former Seton Hall lads did it only makes it more unusual and indeed unique. On June 2nd of that shining season for him, Valentin and the Sox beat the Mariners 6-5 with 'Val' going 5-5 with three home runs and four runs scored. At the time he was the first shortstop ever to total 15 bases in one game. Again at the time he was the 8th Red Sox player to hit three home runs in a single game.

On September 29th The Sox slipped past the Brewers 11-9 and Valentin reached a personal landmark 102 runs batted in, becoming just the 4th Red Sox shortstop ever to drive in 100 runs in a season.

Furthermore, when Boston's big bats (Vaughn and Canseco) completely disappeared in the playoffs first round that season against the Indians, it was Valentin led the way, blasting a memorable two run bomb in the third inning of game one to get the Sox going. Sadly that would be one of the few highlights as the Sox went meekly into the night 0-3.

John was rewarded for his excellent 1995 season by being awarded Major League baseball's Silver Slugger Award. As a measure of the achievement, the same award, since '95, has been taken by either Garciaparra, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Miguel Tejada. That is a fine collection of slugging shortstops.

Valentin was by no means a fast man, but he was always an extremely clever base runner, and this was displayed physically in the tremendous amount of runs he managed to score, particularly between '95 and '98. In those four seasons he clocked up an incredible 400 runs scored.

Perhaps John's finest hour as a member of the Red Sox came in the form of the '99 playoffs. The Sox were up against the mighty Indians, the first team to score 1,000 runs in a season in nearly 50 years. The 'Tribe' looked like they were going to simply brush the Sox aside and took a 2-0 lead going into game three in Boston. Cometh the hour cometh the man and Valentin got to work. In the bottom of the sixth Val hit a lead off solo shot to put Boston ahead 3-2. After the Indians tied it Val came through again with a bases loaded double, putting the Sox ahead for good on the way to a dramatic 9-3 season saving win. What happened next was nothing short of historical as a suddenly reeling Cleveland side caved in and Boston won game four 23-7.

Valentin exploded in that game knocking in an incredible seven runs. No Red Sox fan will ever forget what happened in game five when Troy O'Leary went yard twice and Pedro came in from the bullpen to shut the door on the Indians, however none of that would have been possible without Valentin's heroics in games three and four in particular. In five games against the Indians John batted .318 with three home runs and a fantastic 12 runs batted in.

Perhaps the Sox gave too much in taking the ALDS against Cleveland as they went out in the ALCS against the Yankees, disappointingly losing 4-1. Valentin still gave Red Sox fans reason to smile in game three at Fenway. With the crowd already energised by Pedro mowing down the Yanks in the top of the first, Jose Offerman jolted them further with a lead off triple against former Sox great Roger Clemens. Up stepped Johnny Val and the roar could be heard in Mineola as he lifted a majestic two run blast over the Monster in left to give the Sox a 2-0 lead on route to a dramatic 13-1 win. Although the Sox were eventually knocked out, Valentin did all he could, reaching base ten times in the five games.

Sadly Valentin's career became plagued with injuries and in his last two seasons with the Red Sox Johnny Val only played 31 games before spending one more season with the New York Mets and then calling it a day. Since hanging up his cleats Val has worked as a part-time television analyst for the New England Sports Network and has branched out into the culinary world as owner of Julia's Restaurant in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey. He has also spent time working as a hitting coach for the Toronto Blue Jays AA affiliate, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

Red Sox history is littered with shining stars who own often spectacular statistics. Although Valentin didn't have a 40 home run season or hit .400, he helped pave the way for a new breed of slugging shortstops and was a part of the gradual renaissance of the Boston Red Sox, which started in the nineties and culminated in '04. If anything Valentin should be remembered for his clutch hitting, particularly in the playoffs. In his time, when the bell rang, John Valentin always answered.

This Top 100 Red Sox of all time profile was written by Cormac Eklof @ ''I didn't know there was baseball in Ireland?!''


BSTrubClub said...

my favorite player growing up!

Anonymous said...

Mine Too

Anonymous said...

Growing up in Norway there wasn't really any focus on baseball. None of the TV channels used to air baseball, but I had always for some strange reason loved the game... I just happened by the television set back in 1995 and noticed a game was about to start. It happened to be May 2nd and The Red Sox was playing The Yankees. The Red Sox won 8-0 and I remember one player in particular - John Valentin. He played my favourite position shortstop, had my lucky number #13, had a cool sounding name AND had one hell of a season that year. Valentin was my favourite player and made me a Red Sox fan for life.

/Kenneth, Oslo, Norway

Anonymous said...

I was in the stands on June 2nd, 1995 when John Valentin hit his three homers. Clemens started the game throwing serious heat; we were about 150 feet from third base and you could hear the ball smacking the catcher's mitt. We left a little early because the Sox were ahead, and as we were walking over the Mass Turnpike to the car we heard the crowd go wild again. It was Valentin's third homer of the night. What a night!

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