Bill Conlin: Utility man Valdez is feather in Phillies' cap

Wilson Valdez, a career journeyman, has played for six major league teams and in 22 different cities.
Wilson Valdez, a career journeyman, has played for six major league teams and in 22 different cities.
Posted: September 24, 2010

NO, GENE, CHARLIE is not going to throw Hamels, Halladay and Oswalt on 3 days' rest so they can wrap this thing up over the weekend. Don't even think about it.

I know, I know, bleep happens. Guys steal home with Hall of Famers at-bat. Certain players spit the bit. Certain managers, too . . .

Heard from No. 4 on my iPad, but there was nary a post in my mailbox suggesting that Ruben Amaro Jr. must have had somebody attending class for him at Stanford because, how could anybody that stupid become a big-league general manager?

No frothing-at-the-mouth rants by the CliffLeeistas, either. Maybe it dawned on them that the All-Star lefthander's recurring physical problems are tied to his 4-5, 4.10 ERA record since his trade from the going-nowhere Mariners to the runaway Rangers. But we can all dream about a late October matchup of Lee vs. Roy Halladay. What a morality play that would be.

No anonymous haters demanding that Raul Ibanez be released and delivered to the nearest old folks home, or maintaining that senile old Charlie Manuel has blown more games than any manager in Phillies history.

There is no diuretic more powerful than a 10-game winning streak climaxed by the early interment of the Braves. The flush that refreshes . . .

Oh, they'll be back. Have no fear. The haters, I mean, not the Braves.

Meanwhile, the acquisition of Oswalt on July 29 for a generous package - J.A. Happ has been splendid for Ed Wade's team - was the obvious rally-around-the-flag moment for a team beset by injuries, a flaccid offense and a bullpen in disarray. A note here: Starting with the club philosophy-altering signing of Jim Thome, Oswalt became the sixth star-level player acquired by GMs Wade, Pat Gillick and Amaro who actually wanted to play here. That includes Placido Polanco, who couldn't wait to return to the team that traded him away for a setup reliever now living in confined quarters provided by Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. Lee, Halladay and Oswalt all but wept with happiness. And when Lee learned he had been moved to Seattle, he reacted with the stunned look of a man who had just learned of a loved one's death.

But a major league baseball season is like an artichoke with 162 layers, a surprise waiting under each.

The Phillies were just a couple of weeks removed from the World Series loss to the Yankees when superscout Charley Kerfeld reported from the Dominican Republic that a 32-year-old journeyman named Wilson Valdez would be worth signing as the Lehigh Valley IronPigs' shortstop. And possibly as the insurance policy needed if Polanco or Chase Utley went down. The veteran with the split Anglo/Hispanic name (common in the DR - think Juan Samuel, Rico Carty, Robinson Tejeda, Ricardo Joseph) had played every position but pitcher and catcher during a career that has now spanned 1,027 minor league games. He has appeared in major league games for six teams and for 16 more minor league teams. The balletic shortstop who can flick rocket throws like a man throwing darts when necessary could wallpaper a large home with the stickers from his luggage.

It is fair to ask if the Phillies would be in their current position of command in the NL East had Kerfeld not called Amaro and minor league development chief Chuck LaMar to recommend Valdez. He is a player well known through baseball as a reliable defender whose bat had compromised his ability to hold down a big-league job or roster spot.

Valdez was playing for Gigantes del Cibao in San Francisco de Macoris, a mountain town in the interior of the North Coast. Polanco and Albert Pujols are Gigantes alumni, as are ex-Phils Fabio Castro and Pedro Feliz.

Amaro also signed Dodgers free-agent infielder Juan Castro to be the Rollins' insurance policy and utility infielder. But when Phillies starters began to drop like flies in a Flit-storm, Valdez was called up and wound up playing second for Utley, then third when Polanco was sidelined with his dented elbow. When Rollins went down a second time and now a third, Valdez slid seamlessly into the job and has been simply superb.

And has hit a little bit, as well, capably manning the No. 8 hole at a time when Carlos Ruiz began driving in runs as the league's most potent bottom of the lineup hitter.

It has been written that Valdez, who has 1,069 minor league hits and 205 stolen bases (he was a burner in his 20s), checks out of his hotel when the Phillies go on the road. That is so he won't be charged for the room while the ballclub is away. Wilson probably lives out of his suitcase, as well. Play in 22 different cities - not to mention brief gigs in Korea and Japan - you learn to be ready to move in a hurry when you come back to the room and the dreaded message light is blinking.

Ironically, the Phillies had this very big piece of the puzzle tucked away before Halladay was a reality or Oswalt was even a rumor. In his comprehensive pre-spring training rundown of the Phillies' rostered and non-rostered invitees, Daily News beat writer David Murphy listed Valdez as "Inventory."

Murph defined inventory as, "Non-prospect likely to begin season at Lehigh Valley."

And so it came to pass . . .

The rest has become part of 2010 Phillies lore, a layer of the artichoke to savor.

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