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Bobby Valentine's Super Terrific Happy Hour (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday November 6, 2007 10:16AM; Updated: Tuesday November 6, 2007 10:16AM
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No stage is too small for the ex-ballroom dance champ.
No stage is too small for the ex-ballroom dance champ.
Kyodo News/AP
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Managing the Marines is, in many ways, the perfect job for Valentine. He wields near-complete control over the team -- acting as both coach and de facto general manager -- in a city that idolizes him. At roughly $3.5 million a year, he makes more money than any major league manager in the U.S. except Joe Torre. The U.S. press dogged Valentine during his tenures in Texas and New York, but the Japanese media is docile to a fault. A year and a half ago the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays called to try to lure Valentine back to manage in the U.S., but he didn't seriously pursue either lead. "This is an opportunity of a lifetime," he said of running the Marines, "and I'm living it."

Still, something eats at the man. Spend time with Valentine and it becomes clear that he has everything except what he truly craves. And that is why he agonized over his team's slump last season, why he bristled when some rival club executives in Japan suggested that his 2005 success was a fluke, why he is so eager to show off the spoils of his success. It is why he beats the drum for Japanese baseball, hoping he can make a noise loud enough to carry over the stadium, past Mount Fuji and across the Pacific to a country that remembers a different Bobby Valentine, one who never won the World Series, who was fired from two jobs and deemed by one newspaper as the game's most despised figure.

So Valentine campaigns to change not just a culture and a game but, in the end, a reputation: his own.

Valentine was in Japan once before. In 1995, after the Rangers fired him, he came to Chiba and managed the Marines for one season. It did not go well. He fought with management and feuded with the players -- though the fans loved him. Despite leading the Marines to a 69-58-3 record, their first winning season in 13 years, he was fired. Now when he speaks to Japanese audiences, something he is frequently invited to do, he starts with a self-deprecating crack. "I am the only guy in the history of the world to manage in the American League in the MLB and the National League in the MLB and the JPL of the Japan professional baseball league," he'll say. After pausing for applause, he'll add, "I'm also the only one to be fired in the American League ... and the National League ... and the JPL of the Japan professional baseball league."

In the case of the JPL, fired and rehired. Eight years after his first stint with Chiba, Valentine returned as a conquering hero. He'd been to the World Series with the Mets in 2000. He'd also become notorious: Valentine was the man who wore the fake glasses in the dugout after getting kicked out of a game, who fought with Mets management and New York beat writers, who had the balls to say what he thought even when the ballsiest thing might have been to keep his mouth shut.

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