Bobby V's Super Terrific Happy Hour
With his progressive and creative baseball mind and his Veeckian flair for showmanship, the controversial former Mets manager is a national hero -- halfway around the globe
Posted: Tuesday November 6, 2007 10:16AM; Updated: Tuesday November 6, 2007 10:16AM
The Most Hated Man in Baseball is now adored.
His name graces a street, a brand of bubble gum and a lager. He smiles back from ATM screens, lectures to college classes, draws throngs when he appears in public. Six thousand miles from New York City, Bobby Valentine is a star.
"You gotta check this out," he says as he cues a music video on the desktop computer in his apartment in Chiba, an eastern suburb of Tokyo. From the speakers comes a synth-pop beat, and on the screen members of the Japanese band DEEN bounce into view. They are greeted at a fake press conference by Valentine, who "signs" the musicians to the Chiba Lotte Marines, the team he manages. The camera rises to focus on a disco ball, and when it pans back down, the room has been transformed into a dance club. There, amid swirling lights and pulsating music, is the 56-year-old Valentine, now in a tight blue shirt unzipped to display a healthy acreage of chest. He does the cha-cha with a beautiful young woman, twirling across the floor and shaking his hips to the rhythm. The video ends with Valentine winking at the camera.
"It went to Number 5 on the charts in its first week," says Valentine, his dark eyes wide with delight. "The kids here love it."
There is no irony in the video -- the song is called Shining Ball, and the chorus translates as "this [baseball] diamond is just so beautiful" -- or, for that matter, in Valentine. The former Mets and Texas Rangers manager has embraced Japan, and it has embraced him back, if at times awkwardly. Here baseball is about teamwork (the phrase for it is wa), but the Marines are not about wa. The Marines are about Bobby. He is a combination of manager, mascot and star player. There is a small shrine to him at the entrance to the Chiba stadium, and the concourse walkways are lined with 10-foot-high Bobby V murals bearing his aphorisms, informing fans, for instance, that The team is a family. A happy family makes the team stronger. He is a visiting professor at four Japanese universities, his number 2 jersey is a hot seller, and of course there is BoBeer, the Sapporo brand that bears his likeness. Not that long ago, readers of Weekly SPA!, a magazine that caters to young businessmen, voted him the person in Japan they would most want as their boss. There is a phrase for the effect Valentine has had on the game, and for his style of managing: Bobby Magic. Or, as it's usually pronounced here, Bubby Magic.
The adulation stems from the 2005 season, when Valentine inherited a band of rookies and veteran underachievers and led the Marines to their first Japan Series title in 31 years. Two weeks later they won the Asia Series, besting the Chinese national team and league champions from South Korea and Taiwan. Four months after that, eight of Valentine's players helped Japan win the World Baseball Classic. Last season the Marines faltered, finishing 65-70, but they still set attendance records, in part because of Valentine's Veeckian flair for promotion.