His numbers over his last 162 games, from July 26, 1993, through Sunday, are staggering: .319 batting average, .540 slugging percentage, 54 doubles, 20 home runs and 92 RBIs. And he's a shortstop, but he isn't Cal Ripken Jr. or Barry Larkin. In fact, he's a relative unknown who plays in a city, Boston, that tends to overrate its players. He's John Valentin, and he's a big reason why the Red Sox were 11-5 at week's end and leading the American League East by 1� games over the Yankees.
While teammate Mo Vaughn led the league in home runs, with eight, Valentin was ranked among the top seven in runs (18), total bases (42), slugging (.689) and on-base percentage (.453), while hitting .328 and playing superb defense.
Boston coach Tim Johnson, who was a coach with the Expos last year, says Valentin is a better player than Montreal shortstop Wil Cordero, who has been called the next Larkin. "And I love Cordero," says Johnson.
Valentin is 28, Cordero is 23. When the six-foot Valentin was 23, he weighed 160 pounds and wasn't much of a hitter in the minor leagues. "I had the talent, but I didn't have the strength," Valentin says. "I couldn't give 110 percent one day, then do it again the next day and the next day and the next day. That's why I hit .220. Five years ago, hitting the ball off the wall at Fenway Park would have been a big deal to me." But he filled out to a solid 185 pounds, has learned how to pull the ball and regularly dents the Green Monster.
Vaughn, who roomed on the road with Valentin when they were Seton Hall teammates, says he knew Valentin would be a good major league hitter. "John competes with himself to be the best," Vaughn says. "He never settles for anything."
Valentin grew up a tough, streetwise kid in Jersey City, where he played backup point guard for Bobby Hurley's father at St. Anthony High. "You grow up a little faster living in the city; it's more of a grind," Valentin says. "You learn how to fight back. That's the attitude I've had my whole life: Either go in the tank or fight back."
He stayed a city kid in college, choosing to attend Seton Hall in nearby South Orange, where many of the games were played in cold weather. "We played in snow flurries," Valentin says. "That toughens you up too. I think playing in those conditions makes you better."
Now Valentin is among the best in the league—just look at the numbers. "I see them and think, Wow, I can do that?" he says. "But then I think, I can do that."
Errors by the Dozen