NEW YORK –- Terry Francona sent a text message to Bobby Valentine apologizing for causing any commotion in the Red Sox clubhouse on Saturday.
The former Red Sox manager held court in the Boston clubhouse seated on a stool near Dustin Pedroia’s locker while about a half dozen of his former players pulled up seats around him in front of a room chocked full with members of the media. Francona is now an ESPN analyst in town to do Sunday night’s broadcast.
“Yes, he sent the text manager,” Valentine, the team’s current manager, said prior to Sunday night’s rematch between his club and the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. “But it wasn’t necessary.”
Francona and the Red Sox parted ways last year after they were eliminated from the playoffs when the Rays won and they lost on the final day of the regular season. The Red Sox aided and abetted their own collapse by going 7-19 during the month of September. Valentine replaced Francona and under his watch this year the 50-51 Red Sox have continued in a lateral spiral.
They are 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Yankees in the American League East after splitting the first two games of the three-game weekend series, Boston’s first in New York this season.
When asked about it on Sunday, Francona wouldn’t confirm nor deny that he sent the text message.
“That’s personal,” he said. “I don’t talk about my text messages.”
Valentine has been in the eye of the storm all season, his first managing in the Major Leagues since a seven-year tenure with the Mets ended in 2002.
After the Red Sox lost the opener on Friday night, 10-3, Francona entered the clubhouse on Saturday initially looking for Cody Ross and Pedroia sidled up to him. Clay Buchholz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Nick Punto and David Ortiz were among the players who joined the group, creating an awkward and unusual scene.
Valentine was ensconced his office with the door closed as this transpired. When he was advised later of Francona’s presence, he wasn’t particularly happy about it.
“We’ve got drama,” Valentine said after Saturday’s game that the Red Sox won, 8-6, with two runs in the top of the ninth. “We’ve got pregame drama, we’ve got in-game drama, and we’ve got postgame drama. Man, we’ve got drama.”
SAN DIEGO — You never know who you’re going to run into at the ball game and on Tuesday night at Petco Park it was Bill Walton, the former center who was one of my closest friends back in the day when having a great big man meant everything in the pre-Magic, pre-Michael, even pre-Dr. J. NBA.
Walton threw out the first pitch prior to his hometown Padres tilt against the Reds and needed three shots at it to get the ball from the rubber over the plate without a bounce. But give him his space. He’s nearing 60, survived spinal fusion and three years on his back. In his day, he was the best big man at moving the ball around the court I’ve ever seen.
“I come from the era of three to make two,” Walton explained. “That was from 15 feet. This is 60-feet, 6-inches. That’s a long way. That’s two-thirds of the court.”
Walton was so counter culture back then. There was the relationship with Jack Scott. He never told me whether he harbored the kidnapped turned fugitive Patty Hearst. But he was a Dead Head and great to talk to. And when he was signed by the San Diego Clippers, I jumped at a chance to cover him even though a foot injury kept Walton from playing any more than one game a week. I learned more about the tarsal navicular bone back then than I could have ever imagined. But that was life covering Bill. He was eclectic and loved basketball. Still is. Still does.
Here’s a little piece of his philosophy: “Basketball has nothing to do with size and strength. Skill. Timing. Position. It’s a thinking man’s game. You win when you’re the smartest and you make the emotional commitment to be the champion.”
Walton was referring to the Lakers bringing star point guard Steve Nash into the fold to play alongside Kobe Bryant in the same backcourt.
“I’m just as excited as I can be,” he said.
Walton was wearing a Padres jersey with his trademark No. 32 on the back. On the front were mustard stains, signs of a night well spent at the ballpark.
Walton is a San Diego native through and through. Played his high school ball at Helix High. Played his college ball up the road at UCLA. Won his NBA championships leading the Portland Trailblazers and playing understudy to Robert Parish with the Boston Celtics. His characteristic red hair is all white now. He has outlived two of his heroes: Coach John Wooden and Jerry Garcia, the lyrical soul of the Grateful Dead. And he considers himself “the luckiest guy in the world.”
“San Diego is home for me. I’m the proudest and most loyal San Diegan there is,” he said. “This is the most fantastic place in the world to live.”