BOSTON – Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine and former GM Theo Epstein planned to talk a little baseball and raise a little money for charity.
Then Valentine’s father-in-law, ex-big leaguer Ralph Branca, stole the show.
In a discussion about big markets and small markets and how players respond to being booed, Branca took the microphone and reminded the crowd that he knew a little bit about the topic. Branca gave up one of the most famous homers in baseball history, Bobby Thomson’s three-run shot that gave the New York Giants the 1951 NL pennant over the Brooklyn Dodgers.
“Me get booed? Never,” Branca told a few hundred people at Fenway Park on Monday night. “I did lose a few.”
Then, alluding to the critically panned performance by Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler before the AFC championship game last week, Branca said he wants to sing the national anthem before Game 1 “when the Red Sox are in the World Series this year.”
As his son-in-law threw up his hands in wonder, Branca then led the crowd in an impromptu singing of “God Bless America.”
Branca spent most of his 12-year career in New York with the Dodgers, plus short stints with the Yankees and Detroit Tigers.
“I’ve been a Yankee and Met fan,” he said, alluding to Valentine’s time as Mets manager from 1996-2002. “I’m a Red Sox fan upside down, inside out, I’m part of Red Sox nation. God bless you all.”
The event was planned as a fundraiser for Theo Epstein’s charity, Foundation To Be Named Later. The “Hot Stove, Cool Music” roundtable and associated benefit concert has raised $300,000 this year and more than US$4 million for local charities since their inception in 2000.
Also sitting in for the discussion were: Epstein, current Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, Pittsburgh Pirates GM Neal Huntington, New York Yankees centre-fielder Curtis Granderson and MLB network analyst Sean Casey, who played for five teams — big market and small — in a 12-year career.
Cherington said he is prepared to go to arbitration hearings with David Ortiz and Alfredo Aceves; the Red Sox did not have a single arbitration hearing in Epstein’s tenure as GM. Ortiz has asked for $16.5 million and the team offered $12.65 million; Aceves was offered $950,000 and he asked for $1.6 million.
Valentine said he doesn’t know how the shortstop situation will be resolved. The Red Sox traded Marco Scutaro to Colorado this month, leaving them with former utilitymen Mike Aviles and Nick Punto as potential replacements. Also in the mix is 22-year-old prospect Jose Iglesias, who spent most of last season at triple-A.
Scutaro hit a career-high .299 last year. He was traded to the Rockies for right-hander Clayton Mortensen.
“I’ve never seen any of the guys play except for Punto a little on television. We’ve got seven weeks together, we’ll practise together, we’ll play together, that will all work itself out,” Valentine said. “I think it’s always good for guys to get a chance to work and think they have a chance to make the team so they work a little harder.”
Granderson said he was pleased with the Yankees’ off-season pitching acquisitions, including the trade with Seattle for all-star right-hander Michael Pineda and the signing of free-agent righty Hiroki Kuroda from the Dodgers.
“It seemed like that was the big question as the season went on,” Granderson said. “It looks like the front office addressed the issue. Now it looks like we have too much (pitching).”
But he isn’t ready to pronounce the Yankees the winner of the off-season.
“I’d be very shocked and surprised if Boston doesn’t make any more moves,” he said.