The Zen Of Bobby V: Bringing Back Valentine Will Make Him King Of Queens
The New York Mets are a franchise lost.
No, the team is not stranded on an island in any literal sense; they are lost as an organization stretching from the very top, in owner Fred Wilpon, to the very bottom with the guys who clean up the spittle soup and sunflower seeds in the Mets dugout.
It is hard to believe that three years ago the Mets were celebrating their first division title since 1988 which culminated an impressive 2006 regular season that saw the Mets dominate every other team in Major League Baseball. Even though the team lost the NLCS a month later, there was little doubt at the time among the fan-base and in the media, that the Mets would return to October and finish the job.
Then, a year later, the Mets experienced an horrific seventeen game collapse in the final two weeks of September 2007 that cost the Mets a playoff berth. It was at that very moment when Luis Castillo watched an 0-2 fastball go right down the middle to strike him out, leaving thousands of Met fans silent, that things began to change for all the wrong reasons.
The Mets returned later that winter in preparation for the 2008 season in deep denial. They brought in Johan Santana as a way to heal the wounds, but, in retrospect, even Santana's best games were not enough to hide the ghosts and goblins haunting the Mets organization.
There were rumblings that the players hated manager Willie Randolph, rumors that former assistant General Manager Tony Bernazard was conspiring with players to get Randolph fired, and even bizarre accusations by Randolph that the Mets own network, SNY, was intentionally trying to make him look bad. Then, at 3:00 in the morning on June 17, after a long flight to Anaheim, California, Omar Minaya fired Randolph and replaced him with Jerry Manuel.
Manuel brought some stability; he was a calming force in the clubhouse, and the Mets worked their butts off for him in the second half of 2008, but, what transpired was another choke job in September which cost the Mets another trip to October.
Now, in 2009, the entire bottom fell out as Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, John Maine, Billy Wagner, J.J. Putz, Gary Sheffield, and Oliver Perez spent countless hours, days, and months on the disabled list.
Normally, one could excuse a team for possessing such bad luck, but the Mets, as they have been managed for years now, found ways to take the injuries out of the equation and create even more embarrassing headlines.
Bernazard's ripping of his shirt and challenging the players to a fight in Double-A Bingamton is an example. Minaya's outrageous tirade that New York Daily News reporter Adam Rubin had actively lobbied for work in the Mets organization is another.
The front office shenanigans prompted Mets owner Jeff Wilpon to give Minaya his version of the "kiss of death" by stating to the New York media that Omar was "his general manager," echoing the very same words Minaya once used to endorse Randolph before he dropped the axe on the former Yankee great.
The question is, where will the Mets go from here to fix the self-inflicted wounds.
Far away from New York City in the land of the rising sun, home of sushi, Godzilla movies, and samurai heroics lives a man once vilified.
A man who, a decade before, led the Mets to their first World Series trip since that very good year of 1986.
A man who found a way to get the most out of some of baseball's least recognized players and guide the team to the top of the National League.
A man who delighted in rubbing rival managers like Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa the wrong way.
That man is looking for a new contract.
That man is Bobby Valentine.
After a horrible 2002 season that saw a Met team loaded with talented players, such as Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, and Jeremy Burnitz, fall flat, the Wilpon's decided that the time had come to fire Valentine, who never wanted the above highly touted players on his team in the first place.
The man to blame for putting together that disastrous team was general manager Steve Phillips, who used his political clout to get on the good side of the Wilpon's in order to keep his own job. Phillips was eventually let go after the Mets continued to stumble during the 2003 season; however, the mistake the Wilpon's made firing Valentine has hung over the franchise for too long.
Since that time, Valentine has become a cultural icon in Japan. He won a Japanese World Series title with the Chibe Lotte Mariners in 2005, and built a winning tradition there. He has become so popular among the Japanese that many are protesting the Mariners front office decision not bring back Valentine once the 2009 season comes to a conclusion.
Now would be a good time for the New York Mets to bring Valentine back before the Mariners come to their senses and realize their mistake.
The Mets don't figure to be the only team looking to speak to Valentine. Many feel that the Washington Nationals would love to bring Bobby in to manage their underachieving franchise and turn it around. But, still, Bernie Madoff scandal or no Bernie Madoff scandal, the Wilpon's could certainly afford to serve up the kind money that the Nationals couldn't offer.
Naturally, the Mets would have to terminate Manuel and Minaya at the end of this season for failing to bring in a solid, winning product, injuries aside since that merely raises another management issue involving the training program and the medical staffing. They should promote from within, giving John Ricco the general managership and agree to permit Valentine to not only manage the team his way but to allow Valentine to have clout in player personnel decisions.
Valentine knows a lot about finding the best players for his teams. He knew what Benny Agbayani could do for him even though everyone laughed at him for his choice; still, Agbayani gave the Mets some huge hits during the 1999 and 2000 postseasons.
He knew what he could get out of Jay Payton, and Payton was a fiesty hitter for those teams earlier in the decade.
He saw something special in a pitcher like Rick Reed, who turned out to be the Mets second best pitcher behind Al Leiter from 1999-2001.
He understood that the only position Mike Piazza could play was catcher, even though Phillips and, later, Valentine's replacement, Art Howe, tried to fool everyone into thinking that mighty Mike could play first base.
He was even smart enough to know that Mo Vaughn was not going to be the same player he used to be in Boston after suffering a hideous knee injury while playing for the Angels. That injury led Valentine to protest Phillips' decision to bring Vaughn in, but Valentine had no final say in the matter and was overruled .
Valentine knows talent, and in this league, it is ever so important to have people who are able to dig deep into the minor league systems and into the ghettos of baseball to find the gems. That's what Valentine can do. He can rebuild the Mets into a winning team for the long haul.
If Valentine came back to New York to manage the Mets, one thing would become clear. Divisiveness and selfish play would be unacceptable. That means Valentine would likely have no room for someone like Jose Reyes, whose cocky and overzealous dugout celebrations would likely drive him crazy. He would not tolerate Carlos Delgado's propensity to play politician in the clubhouse, and he would have no patience for Billy Wagner's big mouth.
Valentine would likely look to players like David Wright, Daniel Murphy, Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana as the building blocks of a winning franchise. All four players play the game with old school fire. That is Bobby Valentine's brand of baseball.
If Valentine could win with a group of players like those in the late '90's and early 2000's, imagine what he could do with Wright, Beltran, Santana and Francisco Rodriguez leading the way.
The one caveat with Valentine is his personality. Many feel that Valentine has the kind of abrasive behavior that turns people off, which is reminiscent of another New York manager that worked in this city: Billy Martin.
Martin and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner were always at each other's throats, and Martin was even infamous for his scuffle with Reggie Jackson in 1978, but the fellow won games. He captured two World Series and three AL pennants for the Yankees from 1975 to 1979, before Steinbrenner had had enough and fired Martin during the 1979 season.
After spending three years of exile in Oakland, the Yankees forgave Martin for past disagreements and brought the popular skipper back to the Bronx. Subsequently, Martin won 91 games in 1983, was fired again, and was brought back again in 1985 and went ahead to win 91 more games in that year.
Some guys just know how to win. Bobby Valentine, similarly, knows how to win, and the Mets should remember that.
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