cherishes all his baseball memories, which is evident when you visit his
apartment. Valentine lives about two miles from the Chiba stadium, so he can
bike to work. His top-floor apartment, with a balcony from which, on a clear
day, you can see Mount Fuji, has three bedrooms, two guest rooms and the feel
of an upscale bachelor pad. There are leather couches and cases of BoBeer.
Perched on almost every horizontal surface are mementos: a black bat with the
names of all the Marines players, photos of Valentine with the last three U.S.
presidents (TO BOBBY VALENTINE, BEST WISHES, reads the note from George W.
Bush, his onetime employer with the Rangers), photos of Valentine doffing his
cap, photos of him with the team, photos of him with heads of state, photos of
him with his family. There are, it turns out, few photos in the apartment that
don't have Valentine in them.
What is most
striking about the pictures from New York is Valentine's appearance: His hair
is gray and thinning, brushed back from a widow's peak, and he looks tired.
Today his hair is dark brown, fuller and brushed forward. He smiles often and
works out for an hour and 40 minutes a day. (He teaches a dance class at Gold's
Gym in exchange for a membership.) He looks five, even 10 years younger.
His life is
dominated by the game. He says he doesn't get homesick but rather
"friend-sick," so he flies his buddies out to Japan. He sees his wife,
Mary, every five weeks for a homestand. "Mary's great about it," he
says. "She understands I need something to do. I go on vacation for two
days, I'm sitting on a beach and I'm supposed to relax. Relax? I need something
to do. People say, 'Play golf.' Maybe when I'm 63, but not now. I'm not just
taking money here, this isn't cake. I work 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. But I work out
more, I feel better, I'm not stressed. It's about passion."
Valentine goes out to dinner and talks baseball. Those who know him say he's
mellowed. "With the Mets we had a lot of meetings," says Agbayani, who
played for Valentine on the 2000 World Series team. "[Last] year we had a
few meetings, but he's been very calm. He's so supportive. In the Mets days
he'd be yelling."
Asked about this,
Valentine harrumphs, "Well, there are a lot more reasons to be calm here. I
don't have to deal with a lot of the s--- I had to deal with over
This is partly by
design. In his second stint with the Marines, Valentine was granted nearly
absolute power. Uniforms? He designed them. Draftees and new acquisitions? He
picked them. New team executives? He recruited them. As his right-hand man he
brought in Shun Kakazu, a 26-year-old with a Harvard degree. (He wrote his
thesis on undervalued players in Japan.) Kakazu functions as an assistant G.M.,
going over scouting reports with Valentine and analyzing stats.
To legitimize his
success, Valentine realizes he must also legitimize Japanese baseball, which
Americans have long thought of as "Four A" ball. This becomes harder
with every defection to the States by a Japanese star and every successful
transition to the Japanese system by a marginal major leaguer. So whenever
possible, Valentine proselytizes on behalf of Japan's league. "I made a
statement last year that my team that won the Japanese championship could have
played against the [2005 World Series champion] White Sox," he says,
"and some baseball people said, 'Oh, hell, the talent level doesn't match
up. Bobby's just talking.' My statement was made in the belief that we were
playing at the highest level of any team I'd ever seen play. I knew that
without a doubt. We didn't have as much talent--I never said we did, and I
never will--but with our heart and the way we played, the way we built as a
team and built individually during that season, we could have beaten any team
in the world."
truly believes this is unclear. But the statement certainly attracted
attention-- White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen laughed at it--and attracting
attention is something at which Valentine is an expert. "One of the things
people like and dislike most about me," he says, "is that I open my
mouth, I say stuff." His whole body comes alive when he launches into an
opinion or a story, reveling in triumphs past, foes vanquished. Pull out a tape
recorder and he amps the performance up a notch, moving into broadcaster mode.
He slows down, emphasizes words, speaks in paragraphs, uses exaggerated hand
gestures. When asked over lunch one day if there are common misconceptions
about Japanese baseball, his answer lasts more than five minutes. Only the
arrival of the food keeps him from going on longer.
always been eager to talk, but he is even more eager when a U.S. journalist
comes to Japan. After that initial interest from the Devil Rays and the Dodgers
at the end of 2005, he's had little contact with Stateside teams. (Although
Valentine is under contract with the Marines through the '09 season, he says,
"If a baseball conversation leads to a baseball situation that I feel is a
great fit, one of those opportunities of a lifetime, I'd talk.") Despite
his success, few in the States look to him for advice, something that perplexes
him. "You know what I'm really surprised at is that when teams are
interested in signing a guy [from Japan] they don't call me," Valentine
says. "Information is power, and I got a lot of information here, so I can
make other people more powerful here if they want it."
Does he have any
idea why teams wouldn't call him? "I don't know," he answers. "I