Chronicling Bobby Valentine's Tumble from NL Champion to Sacred Heart University
When last we saw Bobby Valentine, he was up to his neck in trouble trying to run a single baseball team.
Now he's going to try to run a whole athletic program.
According to the Connecticut Post, Bobby V is going to take over as the new athletic director at Sacred Heart University, located in Fairfield in Valentine's home state of Connecticut.
"An intriguing opportunity has been presented to me and it's something I really feel I can enjoy doing and I feel could be mutually beneficial," said the former Texas Rangers, New York Mets and Boston Red Sox manager.
It's not every day you see a guy go from being a major league manager to being an athletic director at an obscure little college in Connecticut. But then again, the shoe fits. The word "normal" doesn't really apply to Valentine.
Maybe it did once, but not for a while now. Bobby V has spent the better part of the last decade morphing into one of the more fascinating creatures the sports world has ever known. Ever since he was on top of the world as a National League champion manager in 2000, his journey has consisted of various oddities and more than a few controversies.
The tale goes a little something like this.
1996-2002: Bobby V Builds His Legend with the New York Mets
By late August of 1996, the Mets were buried in the NL East standings under manager Dallas Green. Already on a warm seat, Green all but sealed his fate when he publicly criticized young pitchers Jason Isringhausen and Paul Wilson for being out of place in the big leagues.
Green was fired a week later and was replaced by Valentine, who had been managing the Mets' Triple-A affiliate.
"Our hope with this change is that the younger players can begin to blossom more," said Mets GM Joe McIlvaine, via the Associated Press.
His hopes didn't pan out right away, as the Mets finished the season 12-19 under Valentine for a final record of 71-91 and a fourth-place finish in the NL East.
But things began to turn around in 1997. The Mets won 88 games that year and finished third. They won 88 games again in 1998, this time finishing second.
"I wasn't fooling anyone with that disguise," he said, via the AP. "If [umpire] Randy Marsh saw it, I believe he would have laughed. This had absolutely nothing to do with the umpires. I did it to lighten up the team."
For his antics, Valentine got a two-game suspension, a $5,000 fine and a permanent fixture in gag reels from now until eternity.
The Mets went on to win 97 games and finish in second place again in 1999, making the postseason as the National League's wild-card team. They made it as far as the NLCS before losing to the Atlanta Braves in six games.
Early in the 2000 season, Valentine found himself in hot water thanks to a controversy that arose from a speech he gave to Wharton School of Business students at the University of Pennsylvania, in which he supposedly strayed a little too far on the honest side about the Mets and some of his former players.
It turned out that quotes from his speech that had found their way to the internet had been fabricated by a Penn student, but Valentine asked Penn to destroy the tape of his speech anyway. The New York Daily News reported that Mets owner Fred Wilpon and general manager Steve Phillips, with whom Valentine had a strained relationship, took the situation seriously enough to a point where they actually discussed Valentine's dismissal.
Ultimately, though, the incident blew over and Valentine was allowed to keep his job. It was probably fortunate for him that the Mets kept winning, as they found themselves in first place as late as September 1 and went on to finish only a game behind the Braves in the NL East. Once again, they entered the postseason as the NL's wild-card team.
The Mets managed to win one game in the World Series against the New York Yankees, taking Game 3 at Shea Stadium. But that was all the Mets got, as the Yankees took the series in five to win their third straight championship.
Mediocrity found the Mets after that. They opened the 2001 season with sub-.500 records in each of the season's first three months and were eight games back in the standings by early September.
The Mets were pretty well out of it when the 9/11 attacks took place and stopped baseball in its tracks. When baseball resumed, Mets fans were treated to one of the most powerful moments in baseball history when Mike Piazza hit a game-winning home run in the team's first game back at Shea Stadium.
The Mets didn't muster enough energy to make a run to the postseason, but Valentine recalled to the Daily News in 2011 that he regretted nothing about what happened in the final weeks of the 2001 season.
Valentine wasn't just focused on baseball in those days either. There was a point where he worked two straight days coordinating supplies for relief workers at Ground Zero, and he also donated thousands of dollars to various charities. He was given the Branch Rickey Award for his efforts.
The 2002 season began with a return to form for Valentine and the Mets, as they went 16-10 in April. The season itself, though, did not turn out to be a return to form. The losses started to pile up in May and the club's fate was sealed for good when it went 6-21 in August.
The end result was a 75-86 record and a last-place finish in the NL East.
A few days after the end of the season, Bobby V was fired. Phillips called it the "the right move for the organization." Valentine, for his part, told Ian O'Connor of USA Today that his dismissal was the product of sabotage:
[I] told Fred [Wilpon], 'You got bad information.' What (Phillips) has done isn't proper. He's done what he could so I wouldn't be around. I told Fred that that he had to give the next manager authority in the clubhouse and on the field, that he had to get Steve off the field and out of the clubhouse. You can't let a GM high-five guys and joke around after a win and then after a loss act like it's the end of the world. Get him out of there for the sake of the next guy.
Valentine would see his wish to have Phillips get the boot granted in the middle of the 2003 season, but by then he had a new gig.
2003-2009: A Brief Stop at ESPN, Triumph in Japan...And an Unceremonious Exit
After he was fired by the Mets in 2002, the Worldwide Leader seized its chance by signing Bobby V as a Baseball Tonight analyst. He traded a uniform for a suit and a tie and got paid to sit and talk about baseball.
He didn't stay long, however. In 2004, Valentine decided he wanted to manage again...
Valentine had first gotten his feet wet in Japanese baseball in 1995 when he managed the Chiba Lotte Marines for a season before he was fired. They hired him again for the 2004 season.
Chiba Lotte had been a nothing team before Valentine came along, but he turned them into a contender in no time at all. In just his second year on the job in 2005, he led the Marines to an 84-49 record and a sweep of the Hanshin Tigers in the Japan Series for the club's first championship since 1974.
All the while Bobby V was managing in Japan, he was developing a wide following of fans who treated him like a rock star. Said baseball blogger Deanna Rubin to Daigo Fujiwara of the Boston Globe:
When he was managing there, he was super-popular with fans, mostly because he was super-accessible. He'd go out and greet fans and sign stuff for everyone sitting in the stands before pretty much every single game. And he used to ride a bike to the stadium, so people were always saying how they saw him out riding his bike.
Burgers and beers were named after Valentine. He gave lectures at universities. ESPN produced a documentary film about him in 2008 called "The Zen of Bobby V." In the words of the Fujiwara, it was "Bobby-mania."
And then it all came crashing down in 2009.
"It's an amazing thing, I find it hard to put into words what this means to me," said Valentine about the fan support, via the AP. "These fans decided this is what they are going to do and they go out and do it. These are people with jobs: executives, students, housewives, it's an incredible thing."
The pressure from the fans inspired twisted thoughts to start swirling within the Chiba Lotte infrastructure. Famed author and journalist Robert Whiting wrote (via Hardball Talk) that a smear campaign was begun in an attempt to quell the unrest over Valentine's looming departure:
They whispered that he was taking kickbacks from foreign players, that he had recruited one gaijin player from a local bar, and that he had hired his own son to design new Lotte uniforms, while collecting a hefty royalty on their sale.
They also claimed that he had sexually harassed Lotte female employees, that he was anti-Japanese and even racist, noting he used terms like 'the f—–g Japanese way.'
The petition to have Valentine retained eventually collected over 100,000 signatures, but he decided in July of 2009 that he wasn't going to be returning to Chiba Lotte in 2010.
The Marines finished the season with a record of 62-77, and then Valentine was gone.
2009-2011: Return to ESPN, Multiple Flirtations, Public Safety Hero
Valentine rejoined ESPN in September of 2009, returning to action just in time for the postseason. Steve Phillips was also an analyst for ESPN at the time, but he and his old rival didn't have to breathe the same air for very long. Phillips was let go by the Worldwide Leader in October after he admitted to having an affair with a production assistant.
While Valentine was working with ESPN, it didn't take long for MLB clubs looking for managers to start sniffing around. After the Baltimore Orioles fired Dave Trembley early in the 2010 season, Valentine admitted that he had been contacted by club owner Peter Angelos.
"I did go down there and I did talk with the owner and the general manager and they have a whole lot of problems and they seem like they're really putting their heads together to try to solve them somehow, some way," said Valentine, via ESPN.com.
But nope. Not long after he had met with the Orioles, Bobby V withdrew his name from consideration for the job.
Not long after that, the Florida Marlins fired manager Fredi Gonzalez and turned their attention to Valentine. Then-SI.com writer Jon Heyman actually reported shortly after Gonzalez had been fired that it was a done deal that Valentine would be coming aboard.
Except it wasn't. Valentine didn't take the job, and something the Marlins did during the courtship ticked him off enough for him to rip the organization on TV.
"If this is a major-league process, I hope I'm never in the process again," he said on Baseball Tonight, via the Palm Beach Post. "It's very disturbing, confusing and it was insulting at times, but it's over."
After the Orioles and the Marlins passed him by, reports linking Valentine to other jobs came fast and furious. In July of 2010, he expressed interest in managing the Chicago Cubs. In August, he was linked to the Seattle Mariners. Later in the year, he was linked to the Milwaukee Brewers.
But nope, nope and nope. Nothing materialized. Valentine remained at ESPN and life went on. His job remained to put on a suit and tie and to talk about baseball for the cameras.
"I'm going to give this my best effort," he said, via the Stamford Advocate. "The thought of trying to do good in a very public way is a very exciting challenge in my life."
There was some skepticism in the ranks after Valentine was hired, but he proved he had the goods for the job when he helped clear up a devil of a traffic problem on a snowy day in late January.
Valentine spent the 2011 baseball season doing Sunday Night Baseball broadcasts with Dan Shulman and Orel Hershiser. Once the season came to an end, he started drawing more looks from major league clubs.
This is where the ominous music starts playing.
2011-2012: Boston Conquers Bobby V
The club's search for a new manager dragged on...and on...and on, eventually getting to a point where it felt like the right man for the job didn't actually exist.
It didn't help that there was a difference of opinion within the club's infrastructure about who the right man for the job was. ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes reported that new Sox GM Ben Cherington favored Dale Sveum, but ownership favored Valentine.
Though he was taking over a club that had been exposed by the Boston Globe as a dysfunctional mess shortly after the 2011 season ended, Valentine said at his introductory presser that he didn't want to hear anything about the club's negative reputation:
Reputation is something that other people think about you, and right now, this group of guys has a reputation that's not warranted because everything I've heard about the players who were in uniform last year, and the coaching, says nothing but they had great character.
A few months later, Valentine was doing things in spring training that seemed custom-designed to try and erase the very reputation that he had decried.
One of his first acts was to ban beer in the clubhouse, a seemingly direct response to the reports that had come out about Boston starting pitchers drinking beer during games while the September collapse was going on. Valentine also ran a tougher camp than Red Sox players were used to under Francona, and they were none too happy about it.
When the season began, Valentine's first notable act was to throw veteran third baseman Kevin Youkilis under the bus by charging that he wasn't "as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past."
In baseball, them's fighting words. And not just for the player who is lying there under the bus.
Youk came out with a fairly level-headed response to Bobby V's claim and he naturally got around to apologizing, but second baseman Dustin Pedroia made it clear which side of the fence he was standing on.
"We've got Youk's back," said Pedroia, via WEEI.com. "He's played his [butt] off for us for a long time. Anytime he steps on the field, he's a great player. We're here to win, and we're here to win with him."
Let the record show that all of this was happening just a few weeks into the season. Valentine and the Red Sox still had over five months of baseball ahead of them, and it already looked like it was going to be a miracle if they made it to the end unscathed.
It may have happened if the Red Sox were winning games under Valentine, but that wasn't happening. They barely escaped April with a .500 record and had a hard time staying at .500 in the weeks that followed.
The Red Sox were still right around .500 in mid-June, and the word around the campfire was that the natives were restless. ESPN's Buster Olney wrote that the Boston clubhouse under Valentine was "toxic."
Denials came from all over after that, but the notion of a toxic clubhouse was eventually revisited a couple weeks after the July 31 trade deadline when Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reported that Red Sox players had complained about Valentine to ownership after he had hung Jon Lester out to dry in a blowout against the Toronto Blue Jays in late July.
The meat of the report:
[First baseman Adrian] Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia were among the most vocal in the meeting, in which some players stated flatly they no longer wanted to play for Valentine, the sources said. The tenor of the 2 p.m. meeting at The Palace hotel in New York turned ugly almost immediately, according to the sources, whom Yahoo! Sports granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about internal matters.
Not all of the Red Sox players attended the meeting, the sources said, highlighting the chasm that exists not only between some players and Valentine but among players in the clubhouse. The perception that Valentine is being scapegoated unfairly to divert attention from mediocre performances by star players exists among some players, according to sources.
Pedroia came out and denied that he wanted Valentine to be fired, but the report hung in the air like a dark cloud while the Red Sox were piling up losses in August. Eventually, his sense of doubt let itself be heard.
He had this to say a few days after Passan's report came out, via the AP:
I'm not doing a good job. I didn't get paid to do anything other than get to the playoffs, win a lot of games, be in the thick in things right down to the end, even be in first place. The team I'm managing is not there. Simple. So my job has not been a good job, if I had to assess.
As if he wasn't generating enough of them before, the strange headlines started coming fast and furious after the big August trade. Among the notables were his "Who cares?" remark when he was asked who his starting pitchers would be in an upcoming series against the Kansas City Royals, and then a late arrival to O.Co Coliseum in Oakland that had people wondering how much he still cared.
Valentine denied that he had "checked out" in an interview on WEEI in early September...but he didn't exactly do so in a calm, professional manner.
"What an embarrassing thing to say. If I were there right now, I'd punch you right in the mouth. Ha, ha. How's that sound? Is that like I checked out?" he said.
The fun didn't stop there. The month of September contained a feud between Valentine and right-handed reliever Alfredo Aceves and a public declaration that the Red Sox had the "weakest roster" in the history of September baseball.
Fittingly, Boston's season ended with a losing streak. The Red Sox lost their final eight games, capping things off with a three-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees in which they were outscored 28-7.
The season ended on October 3. The final record that went into the books read 69-93, the Red Sox's worst record since 1965.
On October 4, Valentine was fired.
“A lot of things didn’t go well," he said, via the Globe, "but an experienced manager is supposed to put his finger in the dike and keep the water on the other side."
If there is a next time for Valentine in the major leagues, he'll have to actually remember to live by these words.
2012-2013: Sacred Heart University for Now...But Later?
After the season he just went through, Valentine could have been forgiven if his first instinct was to slink away into the background.
That was never going to happen, though. That's just not his style.
Will Bobby Valentine ever manage again in the major leagues?
As Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated first reported, that radio show became a reality in January.
And now comes the news that Bobby V is headed to Sacred Heart University to tackle a new adventure as the school's athletic director. He'll be overlooking a total of 31 varsity programs, including a baseball club that could use a boost. The Pioneers managed a record of just 25-32 in 2012.
But what of a possible return to the dugout? Has Bobby V managed his last game?
Red Sox owner John Henry doesn't think that's necessarily the case. Here's Gordon Edes:
There's no telling which team will emerge or when it might happen, but there's one thing we know for certain about any teams that might have Valentine in their sights:
More Henry on Bobby V: "I think you blame is--me, Larry, Tom." I think he should manage again. He'd be a great manager for the right tram— Gordon Edes (@GordonEdes) February 11, 2013
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