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Tom Verducci
August 04, 1997
Prickly manager Bobby Valentine has softened, and his surprising Mets are playing their hearts out
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August 04, 1997

Valentine Days

Prickly manager Bobby Valentine has softened, and his surprising Mets are playing their hearts out

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So distrusted was Valentine that opponents whispered that he shortened the distance between the mound and the plate in the Arlington Stadium visitors' bullpen so that a reliever, having gauged the break on his curveball, would bounce a pitch when he entered the game. "Ridiculous," Valentine says.

According to Valentine, at least one American League manager thought he had instructed a Rangers employee who worked in the visitors' clubhouse at Arlington Stadium to spy on opponents' scouting information. One time the suspecting manager left a pen and some scouting reports on his desk overnight, noting their placement. The next day he arrived to see that they had been moved.

"I'll tell you this," Valentine says. "One time there was a player who was just killing us. [A visitors' clubhouse attendant] told me, 'He's got a lucky T-shirt. Won't even let me wash it. It could wind up in another locker though.' And that was the extent of it. The extent."

Valentine was accused of everything from undercutting his own advance scouts (his Rangers were the first club to rely on satellite TV instead of written reports) to manipulating the air conditioning at Arlington Stadium. Opponents thought Valentine kept the visitors' clubhouse frigid so that the Texas heat would seem even worse at game time. One summer the air conditioning in the visitors' room didn't work for two home stands—while the units in the Rangers' clubhouse hummed. "I got blamed for that," Valentine says. "That's when [former Texas owner] Eddie Chiles had money problems. Repair companies would take only cash from him. The air conditioning in both rooms had gone out, but he didn't have the cash to get them fixed at the same time."

The Rangers fired Valentine on July 9, 1992, when the team was 45-41. The following season he landed with the Cincinnati Reds, first as a scout and then as third base coach, a job he found tiresome. "Not progressive enough for me," he says.

Then one day during the 1993 World Series, between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Philadelphia Phillies, Valentine attended mass at a church in Toronto and ran into McIlvaine and Frank Cashen, a Mets senior vice president and former general manager. They started talking and continued the conversation in McIlvaine's hotel room, where the New York executives interviewed Valentine for the Mets' Triple A managing job in Norfolk, Va. Steve Phillips, one of McIlvaine's assistants, soon hired Valentine. "I asked him point-blank questions about stories I had heard about him," says Phillips, now the Mets' general manager. "He told me, 'I've grown up. I've learned from the mistakes I've made.' He told me there was a part of his résumé he wanted to finish off."

Says Valentine, "People said, 'The guy's never managed in the minor leagues.' I knew it would be very good to erase that black mark."

He took the Norfolk job, then left a year later for a lucrative offer to manage the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan. Before he left the U.S., Valentine spent three months writing down what he knew about baseball, compiling a personal encyclopedia as a reference for all the questions he anticipated in a different culture. It was the same as packing for a move to a new house. He threw out everything he didn't need. He kept only what he was certain of, not what he merely thought to be true. He came home a year later—despite leading the Marines to their best record ever, he was fired after having a fallout with the team's general manager—proud of having learned, at 45, more than a little about another language and about himself.

Last season Phillips brought Valentine back to Norfolk. By Aug. 26, 1996, Valentine's penance was complete: McIlvaine hired him to replace Mets manager Dallas Green, who the New York brass thought was overly critical of the team's young players.

"[Valentine] walked in," outfielder Carl Everett says, "and started with a clean slate with all of us." Everett, 26, had been buried deep in Green's doghouse. He has flourished under Valentine, even if he hasn't yet made a name for himself around the league. Last Friday the announcer at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium introduced one of the Mets' clutch hitters (.290 with runners in scoring position) as Chad Everett.

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