Tom Ackerman

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) — In baseball, Bobby Valentine has pretty much seen it all.

Valentine made his Major League debut at age 19 with the Dodgers.  He fought through injuries to play for a decade in the big leagues, retiring at age 29.

Starting a new career as a manager, Valentine guided the Rangers, Mets and Red Sox, beating the Cardinals in 2000 to get to the World Series.  He also wore a disguise in the dugout, managed in Japan, drew the ire of Red Sox Nation, etc.

And he spoke at last year’s St. Louis Men’s Group Against Cancer dinner at the Ritz-Carlton, filling the ballroom with baseball stories and helping raise thousands of dollars to fight cancer in this city.

Valentine’s been around.

So whether you agree with him or not, I know I can count on “Bobby V” (now at NBC Sports Radio) for some fresh, honest analysis.  Here it is, starting with our discussion of the Cardinals:

TA: This has been a good run so far by Mike Matheny’s team.

BV: Oh, absolutely, a good run.  And a credit to Bill DeWitt and the entire organization there.  Not only for the record that they have (38-21), but for the organization they have.  Obviously, the best fans in baseball.  Obviously, a great place to play.  But they have built a system where you see these young guys coming up, filling in voids — out of their own system — that give the fans a reason to believe.  And that gives the team the hope they need that they can continue to be good.

TA: When you look at this club, what players stand out to you?

BV: I just like to think of them as a team.  A group of guys that pass the baton on the pitching staff; they’re not worried about the next guy coming into the game.  They’re not worried about the closer.  They feel everyone has a job to do — and they do it well.  And the lineup seems to work the same way.  It’s not about (Matt) Holliday, it’s not about (Jon) Jay or any one guy in the lineup.  It’s about the grouping.  And the grouping plays together well.

TA: And the Reds are no slouch.  They’re a team that could be a threat.  And the Pirates, let’s not leave them out.

BV: The NL Central now has some teams that display talent and athleticism.  I think the Pirates have a lot of guys on that team that just go out and “out-athletic” you, if you will.  The Reds are going to be there at the end.  They’re going to be there with the Cardinals.  There’s no reason they shouldn’t be neck-and-neck.  And the team that stays the healthiest and gets the best pop is going to win that division.

TA: I’ve got to think that the biggest surprise in the National League is the Dodgers.  Is that a team that could fight its way back?

BV: I think they can fight their way back.  They didn’t handle their injury situations very well.  They haven’t handled some of the off-the-field adversity that has occurred very well.  But they luckily have not been buried, because that division hasn’t had the excellence that the Central Division has shown.  With a hot streak, they could get right into the middle of things by the All-Star Break.  And then they could just play good baseball and wind up on top.  But it’s going to take a real good team effort, and Don Mattingly is going to be challenged.

TA: Do you see the same thing for the Angels?

BV: I think the Angels are a little further behind, not only in their division, but also in their depth.  They got (Jared) Weaver back, which helps support the starting staff, but their bullpen is still very shaky.  Their defense has been below average.  And obviously, the big boys — (Josh) Hamilton and (Albert) Pujols — haven’t carried that team like many people expected them to.  So I think their road to the top is going to be a lot more difficult than the Dodgers.

TA: This scandal, involving Biogenesis in Miami.  How damaging is this to the game overall?

BV: I think our entire posture on this situation has damaged the game.  I think it’s been handled poorly from the start, whenever the start was.  I don’t know when guys starting using performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, but I would think that it was about the same time that they were being used in other sports, professional and amateur.  And for some reason, cycling and baseball decided to go after their big stars…to discredit their play.  This continues now with — what they’re saying — 20 guys involved?  What happens with the next clinic that gets involved?  What happens with the next group of people that says, ‘Oh, I thought what we were doing was going to be okay?”  There’s been such a gray line since the beginning of this testing period that I think we’ve shot ourselves in the foot.  And we’re going to limp around a long time because of it.

Tom Ackerman is Sports Director at KMOX.


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