Reggie on Bobby: Mind over blather

TAMPA, Fla. -- The straw who once stirred the drink says it is not Bobby Valentine's mouth that will add juice to the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. It's his brain.

Like Valentine, Reggie Jackson is unafraid to use his words as weapons, taking out anyone who he deems not at his legends level. But he won't lay a glove on the Boston Red Sox's new All-Star agitator, Valentine.

"The rivalry stands on its own," Jackson told ESPN New York. "If Bobby Valentine can get them playing better, that is what is important that he brings to the table for the Red Sox. I don't think Bobby gets enough credit for his brains. He is a very bright guy."

For the first time Tuesday night, Bobby V's Red Sox face the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field, and Mr. October will be there. Yankees GM Brian Cashman has already called Valentine's appointment as the next chapter of the rivalry, and Valentine has authored the first words, creating mini-stirs by first saying he hates the Yankees, then tweaking Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter.

Jackson has known Valentine for four decades, dating back to when a 23-year-old Valentine mangled his shin at Anaheim Stadium while playing for the California Angels. Valentine -- the Connecticut high school legend, the fifth pick in the '68 draft -- saw his standout playing career effectively ended in 1973.

"I was there the night he got hurt," said Jackson, who was with Oakland A's then.

Jackson watched the "tough, strong, Italian kid" have his career basically die in the Big A grass.

"The medicine wasn't there yet," Jackson said.

Valentine, now 61, has been chasing glory ever since that day. He has had the spotlight of Arlington, Flushing and Japan, but now he is in the middle of American sports' fiercest rivalry.

Valentine is always a double-threat with his mouth, as he can produce eye-rolling in both dugouts with the one snide comment or wave of his hand.

Valentine, in trying to honor Jason Varitek, recently brought up the fact that the retiring Red Sox captain "was able to beat up Alex."

Upon rehearing that quote, Jackson pulled the pin on a verbal grenade and tossed it in Varitek's unsuspecting direction.

"What's Varitek's first name?" Jackson asked.

It is Jason.

"They don't ask that about Alex," Jackson said, making his point clear and taking on the role as A-Rod's designated press secretary.

"I had to ask you Jason Varitek's first name. They don't ask that about Alex. They are not going to ask that about Alex Rodriguez. You are going to know his first name and his last name. And besides it, there are going to be 2,000 ribbies, 700 home runs and whatever else he adds up to. He may have a negative in there, but love him or hate him, you cannot ignore him. I can't put Varitek in that paragraph."

It was classic Jackson, shooing away a player he deemed unworthy to be in the heavyweight division.

Jeter is in that class, of course, and that is why Jackson chuckled that Valentine had opined that Jeter was out of position in Oakland that fateful night in 2001, when he made an unforgettable play on defense.

"Jeter would be out of position a lot of times," Jackson said. "So would [Hank] Aaron, so would [Willie] Mays, so would [Lou] Gehrig, so would [Babe] Ruth and all the other great players. They don't play the same way as everyone else does. Derek Jeter is not out of position, he is just extraordinary."

Jackson seems to hold Valentine in that type of acclaim as a manager, but not for his mustache collection or his words.

"That comment by Bobby to me is nothing, nothing at all," Jackson said. "The media made a little something of it. I'm sure he chuckled inside."

What is something is the type of manager Jackson thinks Valentine has become over the years.

"Bobby Valentine is going to go down as a great manager," Jackson said.

On Tuesday night, Valentine will be in a dugout for his first Yankees-Red Sox game.

"They will be better this year, because they are going to fight a little embarrassment," Jackson said of Boston. "They are going to fight hard."

Reggie thinks they are going to do it with a "great manager." And, in the end, Valentine's mind will add more than his mouth.