Boston Red Sox manager Valentine watches pitchers work out at the Red Sox new Major League Baseball spring training facility in Fort Myers

When simply “stating the facts” is actually criticism

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Bobby Valentine talked yesterday about his reputation for criticizing ballplayers. He bristled at the notion.

He says he has never thrown anyone under the bus ever, and that when he is construed to have done so — like, if he says that Mark Melancon got all of his running in backing up the bases after giving up hits — it’s because he’s simply stating facts, not ripping anyone:

“A statement of fact should never be misconstrued as criticism. I don’t think it is, or should be. I don’t have time to deal with intelligence or morality. I can’t deal with those. If ignorant people misinterpret simple statements, it’s not my fault. If factual statements are misconstrued as criticism, that’s somebody else’s problem.”

Maybe I’m about to go too far down the rabbit hole here, but I think this is a fascinating subject that actually illuminates some stuff about how blogging works. And I think I’m taking Valentine’s side here to some degree. But there’s an important caveat.

I can’t think of how many times I’ve simply passed along a fact like “the Mets finances are troubled” or “an unfortunate event happened in Citizens Bank Park involving an unruly fan,” only to have people accuse me of being a hater.  When I hate — or troll or whatever — I would hope that it’s pretty obvious. I have a lot of fun with that. But simply stating facts? Bah, that’s not hating. Fred Wilpon did screw up the Mets finances. That guy did intentionally puke on that little girl at CBP.  Those things happened, even if a bunch of people got all mad after I wrote about, saying stuff like “there you go again, picking on the [Mets of Phillies].”

When someone reacts all hurt about that kind of thing, it says way more about them than it does about whatever it is I have to say. Mets fans don’t like to be reminded that their franchise has issues and Phillies fans don’t like to be reminded that there is a history of ugly things happening in the stands. But that doesn’t change the facts of it all.

But here’s the caveat:  Context matters too. If I have a reputation of hating or trolling — and I’m so happy I do! — it stands to reason that my straight-up statements about the subjects of that hating should fall under greater scrutiny. I try to be fair, but I have a higher burden on me when it comes to subjects I’ve criticized in the past. I have to be careful to play it more straight than usual because I’ve dug myself a bit of a credibility hole, even if it was intentional and, in my view, acceptable to have done so.

Indeed, I want you to hold my feet to the fire on, say, an objective piece of analysis about the Phillies more so than you would other teams, because if you don’t, I get lazy.

Back to Valentine: he’s right. Simply stating the facts, however poorly those facts reflect on a given player, is not ripping them. But if he has a pattern of stating the facts about some players more than others, or if he rarely states the facts, as it were, about other players, that creates a pattern of its own that, in the whole, can be construed as being unfair or throwing guys under the bus or what have you.

To suggest otherwise is to play it a bit too cute.

Josh Hamilton has knee surgery, out 2-3 months

ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 24:  Josh Hamilton #32 of the Texas Rangers in the dugout before a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on July 24, 2015 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
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Josh Hamilton is not and never was a key part of the 2017 Texas Rangers plans. He was in camp and under contract and had at least a chance to make the team, but the Rangers fate as a ballclub did not depend on him. It would merely be nice for them if he revealed that he had a bit left in the tank and if he could, like a lot of other superstars in baseball history, give them one last season of decent production in part time play as a matter of depth and flexibility.

As such, this development is more unfortunate for Josh Hamilton and those who root for him than it is for the Rangers as a club, but it is unfortunate all the same:

That’s the fourth surgery he’s had on that knee in less than two years and the 11th knee surgery he’s had overall in his baseball career. It’s sad to say but safe to say that Hamilton’s days in baseball are numbered if not over completely. At some point an athlete’s body can only take so much.

Reid Brignac is trying to become a switch hitter

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Reid Brignac #4 of the Atlanta Braves poses on photo day at Champion Stadium on February 26, 2016 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Veteran utilityman Reid Brignac is in camp with the Astros on a minor league deal. The 31-year-old is close to being done as a major leaguer as he owns a career .219/.264/.309 triple-slash line across parts of nine seasons. In an effort to prolong his big league career, Brignac is now attempting to become a switch-hitter, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports.

I’m going to try it out this year. It was something that I just thought long and hard about and I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to try and see how it goes.’ I used to switch-hit when I was younger off and on, nothing consistent. I could always handle the bat right-handed. I play golf right-handed, so I do a lot of things that way that feel natural.

I just want to get to the point where I’m trying to stay in games, not get pinch-hit for, not starting games because a lefty is starting. … That could help me stay in the games longer. I’m trying to add a new element. I play multiple positions and now if I can switch hit and be consistent at it, then that can only help me.

As Brignac mentions, he’s also verstile. He’s a shortstop by trade, but has also logged plenty of innings at second base and third base, and has occasionally played corner outfield.

There aren’t any examples — at least that I can think of — where players began switch-hitting late in their careers and actually succeeding in the major leagues. As the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But here’s hoping Brignac bucks the trend.