When former infielder John Valentin was elected to the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in the spring of 2010, it was a homecoming of sorts.  “It was an unbelievable honor to be recognized that way,” John said.  “And it meant so much to me because I was a part of the Red Sox organization for so long [14 years], to be included with all those great players made it all feel worthwhile.”

John Valentin played with the Boston Red Sox from 1992 to 2001, helping them to the postseason in three seasons.  He was a fixture at shortstop for his first five seasons, and demonstrated his versatility by moving first to second base, and then to third base for the balance of his career.  In 1995 he hit 27 home runs and stole 20 bases, making him one of only five players in Red Sox history at that time to hit 20 or more home runs and steal 20 bases in the same season.

When he learned that he had been elected to the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame, John remembers, “I was somewhat surprised, but it was a nice surprise.  I wasn’t the biggest player, or the fastest player, but I worked hard to get the most out of my skills.  It’s nice to have that recognized.”


John Valentin was born in Mineola, New York, but he grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey.  Valentin, who celebrated his 57th birthday this past February, acknowledges that he was a city kid.  “I spent most of my time on the playgrounds, playing baseball and basketball and learning to compete.”

Asked if baseball was his first love, John answers honestly, “I really enjoyed baseball and basketball equally, and I may have favored basketball early on.  Right through high school, I was focused on both sports.”

“I had to choose one sport at the college level, and I accepted a baseball scholarship to Seton Hall University.”  As a freshman he was a teammate of Craig Biggio, who would go on to a 20-year career with the Houston Astros and election to the Hall of Fame. The following year they were joined by future Red Sox teammate Mo Vaughn.

Playing with two future major league stars provided Valentin with a benchmark for his skills.  “That was really the first time I thought seriously about a baseball career,” he admits.  “You could see that Craig and Mo had big league potential, and I was playing at a comparable level.  That’s when I began thinking about a career in baseball.”


After his junior year at Seton Hall, the Red Sox drafted John Valentin in the fifth round of the June draft.  His first stop was with the Red Sox farm club in Elmira, New York, where he led the league in fielding for the 1988 season.  After spending 1989 in Winter Haven, Florida, and then in Lynchburg, Virginia, the next year he was promoted to New Britain, Connecticut, in Double-A.  Valentin struggled at the plate in 1990, batting only .218.  He remembers doubting his prospects.

“I remember thinking that if I couldn’t handle the pitching at that level, how was I ever going to hit in the major leagues?  Looking back, I realize that I was still developing physically, and I was behind the players who grew up in warm areas,” he says.

John began the 1991 season in New Britain, but an injury in Pawtucket gave him his chance to play in Triple-A.  He hit well at Pawtucket, including a .328 average in August, and he showed increasing power.  “My hitting improved at Pawtucket because I was filling out and gaining experience.  My fundamentals were always strong.  My high school coach at St. Anthony’s, Mike Hogan, really taught us how to play the game the right way,” he recalls.


John Valentin opened the 1992 season in Pawtucket, but the Red Sox called him to the major leagues in late July.   He still remembers almost every detail of his first major league game on July 27, 1992, at Fenway Park against the Texas Rangers.

“I remember I went 0 for 3 against Kevin Brown [six-time All-Star pitcher], but when I came up in the eighth inning I hit a drive over shortstop, bringing in a run.  It was a close game and my RBI made a difference.  I remember how good that felt.”

In 1993, Valentin established himself as the Red Sox everyday shortstop.  He led American League shortstops in fielding chances, and his 40 doubles ranked third in the league.  Arthroscopic surgery on his right knee limited him to 84 games in 1994, but he earned a place in the major league record books for one play on July 8 at Fenway Park.

In the sixth inning of a game against Seattle, the Mariners had runners on first and second with no outs.  Valentin picks up the play-by-play from there.  “The Mariners put the hit-and-run on, and Marc Newfield hit a line drive that I caught right at my shoe tops, and I tagged second for the second out on the play.  I looked up and there’s Keith Mitchell running right at me.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure if there were three outs or not.  I figured the worst that could happen was that we had four outs, so I tagged Mitchell.

“At the time I didn’t realize what a big deal an unassisted triple play was,” Valentin recalls, not knowing that at the time he was only the tenth player in big league history to accomplish this.  “Then I led off our top of the inning with a home run.  I’m the only player to make an unassisted triple play, and follow it with a home run on the next play.”


In Valentin’s first three seasons with the Red Sox the team had never seriously contended for the postseason.  But there was reason for optimism in 1995.  “We felt good about our offense.” John remembers.  “We were worried about our pitching, but we felt we would contend.”

In 1995 John Valentin had what can only be described as a “career year.”  Known as a slow starter, he began the season by hitting safely in his first seven games.  On May 2 at Yankee Stadium he teamed with Mo Vaughn to earn another entry in the record books.  John hit a grand slam home run in the third inning, and in the fourth inning Vaughn hit a grand slam to give the Red Sox an 8-0 win.  That marked the first time that two grand slam home runs had accounted for all of the runs scored in a game.

On June 2 in a game at Fenway Park against the Seattle Mariners, Valentin reached a new level.  In that game he hit three home runs, added a single and a double, and scored four runs in a 6-5 win over the Mariners.  His 15 total bases was a major league high for shortstops, but his offensive explosion had a deeper meaning for Valentin.

“That three-home-run game allowed me to feel that I truly belonged in the majors.  Before that I played every game like I was fighting to stay in the big leagues.  That game allowed me to relax a little bit about staying around.”

Looking back on his breakout season, Valentin says, “When I signed with the Red Sox I weighed about 160 pounds.  Over the years I put on 20-25 pounds and I worked hard in the off-season to build up my strength,” he explains.  “I became a better hitter as my at-bats increased and I learned how to hit for power.”

The 1995 Boston Red Sox captured their first American League East Division Championship since 1990, and John Valentin finished in the top ten among American League hitters in five major offensive categories.  The Sporting News awarded Valentin their Silver Slugger Award as the 1995 American League shortstop in recognition of his outstanding season.

The Red Sox appearance in the American League Division Series was brief, as the Cleveland Indians swept them in three games.  But John Valentin gave his team their only lead of the series with a two-run home run in third inning of Game One, and he finished with a .400 on base average, and a .583 slugging average.


In 1996 John Valentin reached personal bests in hits and at-bats despite missing 25 games first with a shoulder strain, and then with an ankle injury.  A highlight of the season was hitting for the cycle against the Chicago White Sox on June 6.  At the time, he was the only player in baseball history who had completed an unassisted triple play and hit for the cycle.

In 1997, Valentin was asked to switch infield positions, first moving to second base and then to third.  John acknowledges that a switch in fielding positions is difficult for a veteran player.  “When you have spent your whole career at one position, it’s hard to adjust to a new position.  Shortstop is the most versatile infield position, so that gave me an edge.”

John Valentin continued his strong offensive production in 1997, leading the American League in doubles (47),and placing 8th in the American League with 70 extra base hits.  In 1998, John played in career-high 153 games while leading the Red Sox in walks and runs.  The team’s 92 wins earned the Red Sox their first Wild Card entry in the American League Division Series.  John Valentin had three hits and scored four runs as Boston coasted to an 11-3 win in Game One, but the Indians came back with three straight victories to win the ALDS and end the Red Sox season.


In 1999, John Valentin continued his consistent play at third base and he was a key contributor on offense.  The Red Sox won their second straight Wild Card and finally defeated Cleveland in the ALDS.  Sparked by Valentin’s seven RBI and eleven total bases in Game Four, the Red Sox defeated the Indians in five games, and moved on to face the Yankees.  They fell to New York in five games, but John’s home run off Roger Clemens in the first inning of Game Three paved the way to a 13-1 Red Sox win.

In 17 postseason games during his career, Valentin batted .347 and drove in 19 runners.  Asked to account for his playoff success, he says, “I was always a guy who wanted to be in the middle of things when the game was on the line.  And I was never the Red Sox ‘go-to guy’ in the lineup, so I figured it was my time to shine.”

In 2000, John Valentin suffered a career-threatening injury, when he ruptured a tendon in his left knee fielding a ground ball against Kansas City in May.  The injury ended his season and limited him to 20 games with the Red Sox in 2001.  He signed with the New York Mets, the team he rooted for as a youngster, for the 2002 season, and he played his last major league game on September 29 that year.


Asked for his memories of Red Sox fans, Valentin responds, “I only have fond memories of playing in front of Boston fans.  I really appreciated their support over the years.  Through all of the ups and downs you always felt they were pulling for you.

“It really is an honor and a privilege to be included in the Red Sox Hall of Fame,” he said during a return to Boston on May 29 for the imduction of Trot Nixon, Jonathon Papelbon and Dustin Pedroia who joined him in the Red Sox. Hall of Fame.  I’m looking forward to seeing the fans and lots of old friends.  Feeling a part of the Red Sox is very special.”


Herb Crehan is the author of LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE: The Sox of ’67, and Red Sox Heroes of Yesteryear.  This is his 29th season as a Contributing Writer for RED SOX MAGAZINE and he is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research.  Comments and suggestions for future articles may be sent to hcrehan@comcast.net.