Living with Bobby Valentine's Ghost

Jason BurkeCorrespondent IJuly 11, 2009

24 May 1998: Manager Bobby Valentine #2 of the New York Mets in action during a agme against the Milwaukee Brewers at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York. The Mets defeated the Brewers 8-3.

Citi Field is a state-of-the-art facility. A throwback to old-time baseball with an eye towards the future. Filled with a vast array of unobstructed views, intimate feel and quirky dimensions. It is truly a ballpark in every sense of the word.

So why does it feel more like a morgue?

It wasn't so long ago that the core of these Mets' players—Wright, Reyes, Beltran, and Delgado—were part of a reorganization, headed by Omar Minaya, to bring back the good old times from Shea and deliver them into Citi Field.

However, after 2006, any good feelings were all but destroyed by a subsequent epic collapse and corresponding mini-collapse.

This year, in particular, a new ballpark should have provided a new sense of excitement—an awakening for both fans and the organization.

A sentiment which didn't hold true for either.

In fact, as the Mets continue their campaign in this lost season, more and more fans seem to be harking back to a time when the Mets had risen from the obscurity of the early '90s to become possibly the best team in the sport not named the New York Yankees.

Most have a strange affinity, an admiration to the group in 2000 who fell short to one of the greatest dynasties of all-time.

A team led by the greatest hitting catcher of all-time, Mike Piazza and surrounded by talents Edgardo Alfonzo, Robin Ventura, Mike Hampton, Al Leiter and many more.

While most fans understand that they can never have that group back, one integral piece is twisting deep in the Pacific: Bobby Valentine.

Bobby V is currently managing the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan and rumored to be coming back to the states after the season.

With a fan base that becomes ever more impatient with the current command in place, ranging from the Wilpons to the Minayas and the Manuels of the world, it isn't uncommon to find a fan mention Bobby V's name now and again.

And with a team in such disarray due to the talent which has been spending more time with the medical staff (over $67 million in payroll) than on the field, one can't help but wonder if the players would respond to a different voice. One other than Manuel's.

More importantly, when you look at Valentine's Mets resume, most will see the good in '99-'00 and the disappointment lying in '01 and '02.

But when taking a look at Valentine and how he compares to this current makeshift roster, one should be looking more towards 1997.

The team which finished 88-74, third place behind the Atlanta Braves and eventual champion Florida Marlins.

The significance of that team is much more relevant because he had a lineup consisting of complimentary players, such as John Olerud and Edgardo Alfonzo, with no one to compliment, yet. Sure, he had a power hitting catcher whom provided the only pop for a punchless lineup but his name was not Mike Piazza it was Todd Hundley.

He had an all-star pitcher in Bobby Jones, who was 10-2 with a 2.33 ERA by June and flamed out by season's end compiling a 15-9 record and yielding an average of 3.64 earned runs per. And he probably got the most out of Rick Reed, who was 13-9 with a 2.89 ERA. After that he had the likes of Dave Mlicki, Armando Reynoso, and Brian Bohanan.

The point is that even though Bobby V had a flare for the dramatic, probably spoke out of turn, and challenged the wrong people in the organization, he never had a player like David Wright penciled in everyday or a pitcher the caliber of Johan Santana to head a so-so rotation in 1997.

It is a common misconception that fans and media elites make when they assume Valentine didn't have much talent on his teams. He had plenty of well paid, highly talented major leaguers who hit the ball and fielded their positions well.

Yet, he was also able to develop and get production from players like Benny Agbayani, Melvin Mora, and Timo Perez.

Is it so out of the realm of belief to suggest that Valentine couldn't push the buttons of this team a little harder? That the team might be in a better position to succeed and make a run at the end?

Maybe we're a little too hard on Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya. After all, who knew that the season would take this kind of turn?

But it's hard not to be, especially, with Bobby Valentine's ghost hovering over there heads.


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