Welcome to another edition of This & That. The NHL playoffs are off to a terrific start. The NBA regular season is winding down. The NFL is getting ready for the draft next week. But baseball is underway, and I’m going to concentrate (for the most part) on what we have seen in the first couple of weeks of the 2012 season.
The biggest move of the off-season was undoubtedly Albert Pujols’ decision to leave the Cardinals for a 10-year deal with the Angels worth over $250 million. I’m not telling you anything that you didn’t know already. So, predictably, the kind of start he is getting off to with his new club is getting a ton of coverage.
For those of you wondering (and I am not really sure how many are after nine games, but I digress) Pujols is hitting just .243. He hasn’t hit a home run yet and has just 4 RBI. All weekend long I have been hearing analysts (whether it has been on ESPN, TBS or the MLB Network) wonder what’s wrong with him. And every time I have heard it I have laughed.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Pujols. I went back and looked at the kind of start he got off to last season with St. Louis. Through his first nine games in 2011, Pujols racked up a .143 average. He went deep just once, and he drove in four runs. When the season ended, he still hit .299 with 37 home runs and 99 RBI. Those might not be vintage Pujols numbers, but they are still pretty good. And those numbers still got him the kind of contract he was looking for as a free agent.
So my message to all of the analysts is simply this. Don’t worry about Pujols. His numbers will be there when it’s all said and done. He might have lost a tiny step, but he hasn’t lost that much that you have to worry about his numbers over the long haul. He is still a good bet to hit over .300. He is still a good bet to get close to forty home runs. He is still a good bet to get to 100 RBI.
Having covered Pujols I can tell you that he is keenly aware of most of the things that are being said about him. He pressed last year, trying to prove he was worth the money he was asking for from the Cardinals. Knowing how sensitive he can be I have no doubt that he is pressing now, trying to prove that he is worth all the money the Angels have committed to him. Once he settles down – and he will – he will be just fine.
Now let’s talk about Boston’s Bobby Valentine. His Red Sox are not off to a good start, at least not the kind of start they were expected to get off to after their collapse last fall. And Valentine has already found himself in sticky situations a couple of times. There was the interview on radio station WEEI where he seemed to call into question the credibility of former Red Sox starter Curt Schilling (not a smart move). Then there is the situation he recently got into with Kevin Youkilis.
Valentine had to apologize to Youkilis for questioning the player’s commitment. Youkilis is not a guy that Valentine can take shots at in the media. But, if you know anything about Valentine (and I do), you know that he does things according to the beat of his own drummer.
Valentine has always spoken candidly. It’s one of the reasons why the media loves him. It’s also one of the reasons it took him a long time to get another shot at a big league managing job after the Mets fired him nearly ten years ago. His mouth also got him into some trouble when he did Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN last year (let’s just say Matt Holliday of the Cardinals won’t be sending Bobby V a Christmas card anytime soon).
Valentine has a brilliant baseball mind. He always has. But he also loves the spotlight. He loves to be the guy the fans are talking about. He loves being the center of attention. It’s why I always thought he was an odd choice for the Red Sox as Terry Francona’s replacement. It’s why he has gotten off to the kind of start that he’s gotten off to. (And by the way, you do know he’s doing a weekly show in New York City, right?) It’s why I wouldn’t be stunned if his tenure in Boston doesn’t last very long.
Lastly, if you didn’t get to see the CBS special on Mike Wallace on Sunday night, you really should try to watch it online. Wallace wasn’t a sports guy, but everyone in the sports media – whether it’s in radio, television, print or online – could learn a lesson from what Wallace had to say about the way he conducted his interviews.
Wallace said he always tried to imagine what the average viewer at home would ask the interview subject if he or she had the chance to do the interview. I wish more people in sports media would have that mindset. Ask the questions your viewers, listeners and readers would want you to ask. If those questions make the interview subject uncomfortable, so be it. I would much rather see someone struggle to answer a question than get asked soft questions.
It isn’t always easy in this day and age. But I always appreciate it when I see or hear it. We need more people like Wallace and the late Howard Cosell doing the interviews that matter. We need more people like Bob Costas.
Doing an interview is an art form, and those guys know how to pull it off. Not everyone does.