"There are things you can say on the other side, that in six full seasons as a manager my record is better, say, than Casey Stengel's record after his first six seasons, but I just say that I'm proud of the job I've done, other than the fact that I haven't won a championship," he says. "Where it's at now is 1992 and beyond. I believe right now we have a team that is as good as any team in the major leagues."
Since Valentine arrived in Texas, 89 managers have come and gone. Only his friend and mentor, Tommy Lasorda, with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Sparky Anderson of the Detroit Tigers have stayed in one place longer among current managers. Each has won at least one World Series. The successes of Valentine have been successes in miniature.
For the first few years he was rebuilding, trying to bring dignity to a second-rate organization that was having trouble selling tickets. For the next few years he was caught under the shadow of the Oakland A's colossus. Last year there was a 14-game winning streak in May that sent the Rangers into first place and started heads spinning. That was followed by 11 losses in 12 games, which brought everyone back to the ground. There still has not been a meaningful game played in September in the history of Rangers baseball. The club finished at 85-77, 10 games behind the champion Minnesota Twins. It also drew 2,297,720 people, a franchise record, more than twice as many as during the first Valentine season.
"It is unusual for a manager to last seven years and not win anything," general manager Tom Grieve says. "But I like to think if you look objectively and ask, 'Could any manager have won our division with these same teams?' the answer would be no. Strategy? I think even Bobby's greatest critics will admit that he knows baseball. I think he deserves to be here when the winning finally comes."
The idea is that this is supposed to be the season. Win or...well, probably else. There still are serious holes in the pitching staff, but the every-day lineup is as solid as any in baseball. This is a team that both scored and allowed the most runs last year in the major leagues. The hope is that the equation can be made more favorable. This is the year, a five-year timetable already overdue.
"The pressure to win is just a fact," Valentine says. "That's all right. I'm not in this for surviving. I never have been. I'm hereto win."
Win or...well, he knows the rules. He always has known the rules.
"I was the kid who got everyone to come out and play," he says. "I was the one outside the window yelling, 'Hey, Joey, let's play baseball.' I think I read the rule book for the first time when I was 13, and I have read it every year of my life ever since. It's something I've always liked to do."
He was touched early with a gift for games. His high school years were a golden blur in Connecticut, and he still is regarded by many as the greatest athlete to come out of the state. John McKay wanted him to play tailback at Southern Cal and replace O.J. Simpson. The Dodgers wanted him to be the shortstop to replace Maury Wills. He was the state 60-yard-dash champion and a ballroom dancing champion and the lead in The Teahouse of the August Moon and the president of the student council at Rippowam High in Stamford. He was that kind of kid.
"I think I always wanted to be a manager someday," he says. "I had a chance to be something pretty good in sports. It didn't happen, but even if it had, I still think I would have wound up doing what I'm doing. I always was thinking this way."