Francona and ESPN Friends preview MLB 2012

From ESPN –

Transcript of ESPN Sunday Night Baseball Conference Call

ESPN hosted a media conference call today with the new Sunday Night Baseball team – Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Terry Francona – to discuss a variety of topics pertaining to the start of the 2012 Major League Baseball season.

The Sunday Night team will call four games in five days to open the 2012 season, beginning with MLB Opening Night – defending Champion Cardinals at new-look Marlins – on Wednesday, April 4, at 7 p.m. ET.

The transcript is below:

JED DRAKE:  We have a two‑time world champion, a sportscaster of the year and Cy Young and MVP.  Not a bad place to start.

I’m just the guy that’s fortunate enough to help steer this new ship here that we’ve got with this team of Dan and Orel and Terry.  And suffice it to say this is a job that almost anybody in baseball would love to have.

The three of these guys have bonded instantly, and the camaraderie they have displayed is evident not only on the air but they’re just flat out fun to be with…

We’re on a week‑long run through Florida.  Three games in four days culminating tomorrow, now that we’re all here in Fort Myers with the Red Sox hosting the Yankees.  And as Ben said, we’re in preparation now for a four‑games‑in‑five‑days run to start the season.

I’ll steal a stat from Dan Shulman who mentioned it yesterday, but we’ll see the opening day at three ballparks during that week which is pretty cool.  And if you’re interested from my perspective how things have gone thus far, we’ve done two games and it is everything that I had hoped it would be.

And I’m quite confident that this announce team will not only be every bit as intelligent, as thoughtful, as insightful as we’ve had in the past, but they’re flat out going to be more fun.

And when you have three guys, who genuinely like each other, and there’s a mutual respect and knowledge of where they’ve come from, and you put them together and they are given the task of televising baseball, really fun things happen.

And I expect that our viewers will feel the same way.  We already know from social media that the reactions have been almost uniformly positive.  I’m not surprised.  I expected that.  And needless to say, I’m thrilled as we begin our 23rd year now of Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN.

Q. Terry, I was wondering, what do you think Bobby Valentine’s challenge is going to be first year managing the Red Sox?

TERRY FRANCONA:  Oh, my goodness.  I’ve been asked that question several different ways, given advice to Bobby and things like that.  And I really don’t.

Bobby has his way of doing things.  And that’s part of what’s so good about our game, is you have different personalities and different ways of doing things, and everybody’s goal is ultimately the same thing and that’s to win a world championship.  His is no different than mine or Orel’s when he was pitching for the Dodgers, that’s the way it is.

He’s managed longer than I have.  So he doesn’t need my advice, nor would I offer it, because I don’t think that’s appropriate.

Q. Not so much advice, but your point of view of what you’ve dealt with during those eight years with the Red Sox?  I was saying if you would offer your advice, not so much your advice, but your point of view after eight years with the Red Sox as far as what he’s facing, that’s what I was wondering.

TERRY FRANCONA:  Well, again, it’s up to the individual person.  I mean, eight years in Boston for me felt like, I think we should maybe put it in dog years, because it’s a lot.  It takes a toll on anybody.

It took a toll on me.  But, again, sometimes it’s time for a change.  And in this instance it was.  And now they have a new voice and Bobby has a chance to take over fresh and do it his way and that’s what’s good about it because he will do it his way.

Q. Question for Orel.  Couple of Dodger‑related questions.  First, are you able to talk about your ownership group with Steve Garvey and the process you went through trying to buy the Dodgers, and according to media reports why it’s not among the finalists at this point?

OREL HERSHISER:  Well, I can talk a little bit about that.  I think that we were knocked out at our $1.2 billion range.  And then we weren’t really able to go any higher.  We had raised capital for 800 million to about 1.2, and we felt like it was important to put it in at the highest point at that time.  But we didn’t go any further.

I’ve continued to have some talks with people that are still in the game.  And I look forward to seeing new ownership there.  I think Mr. McCourt is going to be able to leave with his head held high.

And he’s done some good things there.  But the organization has struggled on the field a little bit, and I really don’t want to talk about the process or any of the internal conversations that have happened yet, because it’s still going on.

Q. Hypothetically, if you’re able to stay in as a bidder through April and beyond, how would that affect your ESPN broadcasting role?

OREL HERSHISER:  Well, my goal was to possibly be an owner of the Dodgers.  My goal was not to be an employee of the Dodgers.  I have a great job.  I love my job.  I’d like to do this the rest of my life.

But if someone ever gave me an opportunity to actually be part owner of a ball club and have a large impact, that would be the community I would want to have that impact.  That’s why I chased that dream.

And that dream really is probably not possible as far as the ownership, but I’m getting feelers as far as employment, but I’m really telling people I love my job with ESPN.  I love the camaraderie.

I absolutely love being with Terry Francona and Dan.  And this is a fantastic team.  And like Jed said, we’re having a ball together already.  And so it would be a very, very hard group to leave, and I have no plans to do that.

Q. Last question, I wanted to ask:  You know how the Dodgers react to the roller coaster ride last year; they finished strong.  How do you think the Dodgers as a team will ride out this season’s roller coaster with the ownership situation and maybe midseason they feel more like they’re in shape to go out and get better players?

OREL HERSHISER:  Well, I think the Dodgers could end up surprising some people, because I thought Don Mattingly did a very job through the chaos of last year.  And I think they did a good job keeping their focus.

They won 82 games, which a lot of people would say, you know, it’s amazing you got them over .500.  And new ownership is probably going to want to make an impact to whoever it is.  So I wouldn’t look at the Dodgers, if they’re in the hunt, you know, halfway through the year, I wouldn’t look at them as somebody that’s not going to acquire players.

I would look at them as a shopper probably when we get to that point because I think new ownership is going to want to show the fans that we’re in this to win and we’re in to turn this around, and it would be good for all of baseball if the Los Angeles Dodgers started creeping back to the top.

Q. Terry, I’m sure you’ve had a chance to think about calling a game in the booth when the Red Sox are playing.  Obviously you know a lot about the team.  Maybe too much about the team.  How hard or easy or awkward or difficult would that be for you?  And will you get into what happened in September?

TERRY FRANCONA:  Well, I think calling the game’s the easy part just because of my history with the organization so long.  I haven’t had to do a ton of homework, because like you said, I know a lot about them.

As far as being awkward, doing the game is not awkward at all.  I mean, I’ve never been to this ballpark.  I’m actually looking forward to see the ballpark and ‑‑ you can’t spend eight years in one place and not get really close with a lot of people.

I didn’t particularly like the way my tenure ended.  That doesn’t mean it’s not going to be really fun to see a lot of people tomorrow.  At the same time, I got a job to do and I don’t want it to be a side show.  So I’ll certainly be cognizant of the fact that there’s a game to play.  That’s the reason we’re there.  And try to keep it that way as much as possible.

Q. Do you think you might get into the September, what happened in September during the broadcast?

TERRY FRANCONA:  You’d have to ask ‑‑ Dan can tease it up if he wants to.  Again, I’ve talked about it a thousand times.  It probably will come up during the telecast.

And, I mean, we talked about, again the Braves had a similar thing and we did a Braves game yesterday.  So we talked about it a little bit.  It’s not something that’s off limits.

But if it seems pertinent to the telecast, we just want to do a good job and have fun and try to enlighten people while at the same time hopefully they’re enjoying it.

Q. For Orel and for Terry, if you could give your thoughts on whether you think Marlins have a good chance to overtake Philly or Atlanta, and what would concern you?

OREL HERSHISER:  I love the acquisitions of the Marlins.  Spent a lot of money and brought in a lot of talent.  And I think the first issue will be melding these guys together and creating some chemistry.  So they’re all pulling on one end of the rope.

I think the Phillies are definitely vulnerable with the injuries with Utley’s knee and with Howard’s Achilles and now the infection.  It would be really important for the Marlins to get off to a fast start, I think, because then Philadelphia has a pretty easy schedule early on the first month or two, but they’ll have a very weak roster as far as when they have a chance to be at full strength.

And they’re always going to be in it as pitchers they have, but the Marlins can pitch right with them, and they’ve got a lot of exciting players and Hanley Ramirez looks poised to have a huge year, even an MVP type year.

And I think it’s going to be a very tight race.  And I think the Phillies might end up more like the Giants where they just outpitch and don’t score much.  Their bullpen will be a key.  And I think the Marlins have a chance to have a very good all‑around team.

TERRY FRANCONA:  From my side of it, I think the NL East has become intriguing, and Orel and I talked so much about it the last couple of days, along with Dan, that we probably share a lot of the same sentiments.  It was really neat this winter to see the Marlins become really relevant during the winter meetings.

And that doesn’t ensure you’re going to win the division, but they made a lot of interesting acquisitions, and they became a player.

And like Orel said, Philadelphia is a little bit beat up.  Now they have tremendous pitching.  That’s not going away anytime soon.  Atlanta basically has the same team that had one of the best records in baseball until August 25th, and the Nationals are really trying to be relevant in that division also.

So it’s going to be interesting.  I tell you what; it’s going to be a lot more competitive than it’s been in the past with those four teams I just said.

Q. Any concerns you guys have about Florida, be it, whether beyond just Johnson’s health, this would be an obvious one, is there any concern about you have about Bonifacio hitting well two years in a row and Hanley coming back with a .244 year, or moving over to shortstop, their bullpen, any concern either of you would have?

OREL HERSHISER:  I think when you see guys coming off down years that have tremendous talent, I don’t worry about it.  Because I think that really kind of perks at their ego and they really go into the off season going I am going to get better.  They’re not trying to maintain greatness.

They’re slightly embarrassed, and they say I’m going to make some changes and really come in and make a statement.  I think you see that with players sometimes, especially great players like Hanley.

I think he’s going to be on a mission.  It’s very hard to have success and to continue it because you have to find that thing that drives you and puts you over the top.  And very few have that.  And I think Hanley had a tough year, and he’s going to be on a mission.  That’s going to be ‑‑ I just can’t wait to watch him play.

Q. Any thoughts, Terry, I know being in the opposite league last year, but any thoughts?

TERRY FRANCONA:  I guess my thought is if you go into spring training and you need or expect several players to have big years to win, you’re probably not ready to win.  I’m not saying that’s the Marlins.  I’m talking in general.  If you go into a year, if you think our guys just have the year they’re supposed to have, we have a chance to win.

Now, you’ll probably follow them every day.  You might know that a little bit more than we do right now.  But, again, they made an impact in the winter meetings.  And they’re going to be tough to play.

They have some things they have to answer.  Can Josh Johnson stay healthy?  If he does, he’s a force.  But there’s some things that haven’t happened for a while.  And it will be fun to see how it plays out.

Q. Kind of funny, Washington following Miami on this situation.  But anyway, I’m interested in the entire panel’s view of how the Washington Nationals have improved themselves and are they a legitimate contender in the East?

DAN SHULMAN:  I think they can be a contender.  I think especially with the extra wildcard.  I mean, if Strasburg is healthy and effective and the additions of Jackson and Gonzalez to the rotation, this is a team on the rise.  And I think everybody’s felt for couple of years now this is a sleeping giant and they’re eventually going to become a major force.

I don’t know if they’re ready to do it this year, but I think they’re certainly heading in the right direction, and certainly capable of a plus .500 finish.  And if things go well maybe contending for a playoff spot.

OREL HERSHISER:  They jumped 11 wins last year.  They came from like 69 to 80 wins, and now you’ve got Steven Strasburg that is really kind of starting to mature.  I saw they announced him as the opening day starter.

That tells me great things about his health and his makeup and what they expect to put on his shoulders.  I expect him to have that breakout year and stay healthy.

And I love the energy of the team.  I think Jayson Werth is going to come back.  I think he’s really going to make an impact.  And I think this is really going to be a very interesting division.  I mean, we’ve been following the American League East for so long and really watching those teams, and Tampa Bay has made a dent on the Boston’s and New York’s

And all of a sudden Washington has a chance to make a dent on the Braves and Phillies.  And it’s going to be fun to watch

TERRY FRANCONA:  I echo Dan and Orel’s comments, and would add as they get closer to contending; you’ll have to find out what kind of organizational depth they have.

Because if you go into a season, the 25 players they’ve put together, started to look pretty interesting.  But when you contend you’re going to need another 10 or 15 throughout the year and that’s where the organizational depth is going to start to come into play.

Q. Terry, I was wondering where do you see the Red Sox finishing this season?

TERRY FRANCONA:  You don’t know.  Every time the Red Sox go to Fort Myers, whether I’m the manager or they have somebody new, they always have a chance to win.

Again, you start predicting now, the Red Sox, the Yankees, Tampa, and even Toronto to some extent, you know you can make all the predictions you want.  But it’s all going to come down in my opinion to which pitching staff stays the healthiest, because the staff that stays the healthiest is going to be the most productive.

And we won’t know that until we get way in the season.  Red Sox have a good team.  You know, last year we were on pace to win over 100 games and fell apart in September.  That doesn’t mean they can’t ‑‑ they’re not going to just go away this year and turn into a bad team.

Q. Terry, whenever you do a Red Sox game, whatever you say is going to be overanalyzed and blown out of proportion because you were the manager of the team.  So you’re paid to speak your mind.  How do you feel about this?  Whatever you say is going to be blown out of proportion?

TERRY FRANCONA:  It’s been out of proportion for eight years.  It doesn’t really matter.  I always say what I think is honest.  And again, I can’t control how people blow it out of proportion.  You understand my point.  I’ll do the best job I can and let people handle it however they want.

Q. And you’re going to be, I assume, talking to Bobby Valentine before a game that you work.  And what will that be like interviewing Bobby Valentine in your old office?

TERRY FRANCONA:  It’s not interview him as much as getting information for the game so we can do a good job and give the fans that are watching the game the correct information.  But the first time I walk back in that office I’m sure it’s going to be a little strange.  It’s an office I occupied for eight years.

Q. And, Jed, do you have any comment what you expect out of Terry when he’s working Red Sox games?

JED DRAKE:  He said it already.  I expect him to be candid.  I expect him to give insight that will be exceptional and special because of his knowledge of these players and their strengths and weaknesses, and I expect that he’s going to go right down the middle of this.

We were asked or these guys were asked before whether with the collapse in 2011 is going to come up tomorrow and the answer is yeah, of course it is, come on.  And Terry is a big guy.  He’s got big shoulders.  And as you said he’s only talked about this like a thousand times.

So it’s not like this is earth shattering news stuff.  So no sweat, no problem.  We’re all going to take this straight ahead.  And while I understand ‑‑ and I appreciate the unique situation ‑‑

I helped manufacture it, if I dare may say.

But once we’re a week into this, it’s going to be like old news.  But I get it we’ll be doing opening day and Verlander is going to be pitching against the Red Sox, and it’s going to be something like tomorrow night, and it will be a challenge for Terry but one that he’s imminently capable of handling as he’s shown throughout his baseball career.  Now he’s just shifting gears and now it’s a broadcasting career.  All is good, all is in order, all will be fine.

Q. How did you pull off that trade, Terry for Bobby V?

JED DRAKE:  We had nothing to do with Bobby leaving, certainly.  But when the Sunday night slot became available, I instantly had thought of Terry.  Thought of Terry in terms of our baseball team even before Bobby had left.

But once Bobby did leave, then we sort of put on the full court press.  And it was a series of conversations.  I enlisted John Gruden’s support to reach out to Terry, which he did.

We had last night with Gruden last night in Tampa and it was an equally fun night.  You can only imagine the two of them sitting together as all of us were sitting enthralled with the two of them together.

But in the end, I think what won Terry over is that, as John told him, it’s a good group; we care deeply about what we do.  We work hard, but we have fun at it.  And as Terry said to me he likes to work.  And if that’s the case, we’ve got a place for you.  And it all worked out.

Q. Terry, there were actually suggestions last year that the Red Sox Yankee rivalry was dying.  I don’t imagine you agreed with that.  Do you think it could ever be the way it was in ’03, ’04 when the Red Sox hadn’t won in 85, 86 years and the Yankees were that evil empire?

TERRY FRANCONA:  I don’t know.  But what I do know is that you can’t manufacture a rivalry.  The fact that you play 18 or 19 times a year now with the unbalanced schedule, you’re not going to have 18 or 19 nail biters.  That’s just not the way baseball is.  But, again, being a part of those games for me, the talent on both sides of the field was so good, that was enough for me.

Like I said, I don’t think you have to manufacture it.  Good baseball games, they’ll come and, again, there will be some clunkers sometimes, but there are so many good baseball players on both sides, you’re going to see a lot of good baseball.

Q. But do you think it was the way it was back then, seemed to be more volatility and people not liking one another; it seems a little pained, do you think it’s lost ‑‑

TERRY FRANCONA:  I don’t know that there needs to be volatility to have a good series.  Again, there are some awfully good players on both sides.  And then I think the players enjoy it.  I think the fans enjoy it.  I think the media enjoys it.

Again, you can’t manufacture ‑‑ Tampa’s kind of gotten in the way the last couple of years.  And I don’t think they feel like going anywhere soon.  So, again, that’s what makes these things so special, is that you don’t manufacture it.

Q. Sounds like you wouldn’t agree with people who think that the Bobby Valentine presence will add to it because there seems to be instances where he’s almost trying to get things stirred up a little bit?

TERRY FRANCONA:  If that happens in the media that’s one thing.  But that doesn’t change how the game’s played on the field.  Again, everybody’s personality is different.

I tried to ‑‑ again, you saw me for eight years.  I wanted to let the players have the say so on the field.  But everybody’s different.  That’s part of what’s so good about the game.

Q. Anybody who wants to tackle this, there’s been so much buzz about Albert Pujols returning to the Angels, tell me a little bit about what you think the Angels will be like this season and obviously what he brings to the club.

DAN SHULMAN:  Well, actually we were just asked to submit our picks to espn.com and I have the Angels winning the World Series.  And Albert’s a great hitter, and he had a couple of off months last year and some injuries, but at the end of the season the numbers were pretty good.  And had he been healthy the whole year the numbers would have been great.

I think he’s going to have a great year.  And I think Vernon Wells will have a better year if Kendry Morales is healthy, and Mike Trout, one of the best prospects in baseball, they’ve got unbelievable depth right now.

The thing that nobody talks about is the rotation is as good as anybody’s in baseball.  Their top four guys are all terrific.  So I think Albert will have a big year and I think the Angels are as good as any team in baseball right now.

OREL HERSHISER:  I agree with you.  I don’t know if I’m picking for the World Series that I’m about to fill out that form this afternoon before our meeting.

But I’ve got them winning the west, either that or being the wildcard for sure, right there with Texas.  And I think Albert’s impact is going to be huge, because when your best player ‑‑ and Terry and I have talked about this and Terry said it on the air, about Justin Verlander yesterday, the Tiger game, when your best pitcher does it right, they work hard and they get there early and they do the fundamentals and they work on all the details of the game and they concentrate every at bat and every ground ball, it just impacts the whole team, the whole organization, because everybody’s proud.

And that’s what Albert is going to do for the Angels and right up Mike Scioscia’s alley because Mike is that kind of guy, a reputation of being a great manager.  That’s because he’s so consistent.  That’s what Albert is.

Q. Don Mattingly said the other day that LA is still the Dodgers town.  What kind of thing, with Albert Pujols coming to the Angels, what do you think the impact is going to be between the Dodgers and Angels in the greater Los Angeles area?

DAN SHULMAN:  I think Arte Moreno has done a great job since he took over the Angels.  And I think the Dodgers have an uphill climb.  I’m not sure if it’s a completely Angels city but they’ve made an impact and they’ve changed the market.  So I think the Dodgers, the new ownership of the Dodgers when they come on, they know they’re buying kind of a depressed product that needs to have the glory days kind of come back.  And that’s going to be a challenge.  But it’s a challenge I think that the new ownership will be up to, whoever it ends up being.

Q. My question is:  In the last six months we’ve witnessed the Tebow‑mania in the NFL and Jeremy Lin in the NBA.  Do you think there’s a baseball player that can become such a surprising hit this season?

TERRY FRANCONA:  I think it’s going to be Shulman‑mania.

DAN SHULMAN:  That’s a good question, the thing about Jeremy Lin, he came out of nowhere and there’s nobody in the world who could have anticipated that he would be the guy.

But what I like about baseball sometimes is the rookie who ends up having the most impact is not a guy who even starts the season in the Major Leagues, it’s just a guy who comes up in May or June when there’s a need for his team.

And I’m not sure if this fits the bill, but I think the one guy we’re all looking at is Bryce Harper for Washington, and I think we all believe he’ll be in the majors sometime this year whether it’s May or June and there’s going to be a lot of attention on that when he gets up.

So it’s not often a 19‑year‑old plays in the Major Leagues, and it’s not often a young man has the physical tools that he does.  So I think he’s the guy that I’m looking for and wondering what he’ll be like when he gets to the Big Leagues.

OREL HERSHISER:  I think Steven Strasburg, his teammate, even though Steven’s already been up, we really haven’t got a complete taste of him yet.  And we did a little bit.  Everybody had Strasburg‑mania, and the fastball.

Another big story could be Justin Verlander.  Justin just had an amazing year, lowered his ERA down to .240, where it’s around .35.  Wins 24 games, goes 24‑5, Cy Young and MVP.

It will be interesting if he gets off to a hot start and he repeats and be that dominant again and is he going to be kind of the pitcher of the 2010 era and on.  So will he take 2010 all the way up to 2020 and be the guy?  He has the chance and the ability to do that.

Q. Orel and Terry, could you talk about your fingers about Prince Fielder going to the Tigers and what do you think he might bring to the table for the Tigers this year?

TERRY FRANCONA:  As everybody knows, Victor Martinez hurts his knee during his winter conditioning drills.  And a week later, approximately eight days later, they sign one of the preeminent run producers in either league.

Jim Leyland’s words:  Victor was the ideal person not only to complement Miguel Cabrera but protect him in the batting order.  When they lost it was a huge loss, and then they get a guy that may even be a better run producer.  And so it’s exciting for Detroit.  Their lineup is potentially lethal.

And if Austin Jackson finds a way to cut down on those strikeouts and he gets on base, they’re going to be bludgeoning some people.

Again, when you get down to October, there are a handful of teams and you gotta ‑‑ there’s some things that have to go your way.  But they’ve got a genuine ace and they’ve got a really good lineup.  So they’re going to be someone that everybody has to contend with.

OREL HERSHISER:  I think Prince Fielder brings an edge to that team also that they need.  I think Victor Martinez was the competitor on that team that really went out there and ground out at‑bats in key situations against big pitchers, in big situations.  Gave in and got the base hit when it really wasn’t a guy.

That you could really go deep off or drive the ball.

When I look at Prince Fielder, he’s the same type of guy he goes up there and he gives them that edge, that emotional edge that everybody in the ballpark and on the team knows that they are there to win.  They’re not just there to show up.  They’re there to win, and Prince carries himself that way, and I think it’s going to be huge.

Cabrera is an unbelievable talent.  But Cabrera, when he makes an out, is not really angry.  He is kind of the teddy bear guy that everybody respects around the league and respects his talent.  But Prince is going to give that team an edge just like Justin Verlander’s 100‑mile‑an‑hour fastball.

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