"Six-and-a-half games back and not playing very well in a season we thought we ought to be in contention. I think we were losing ground with the field," Ranger managing general partner George W. Bush said in June of 1992 upon firing his manager.
The manager? None other than Bobby Valentine, a baseball man with nearly four decades of baseball experience sorely needed in the dullard Seattle Mariner organization, made famous for its uncanny ability to create 100-loss seasons regardless of the payroll or who is running it. Valentine has the personality horsepower needed to confront a dogmatic front office that Mariner fans are ready to run out of town amidst a mob of ropes and flaming torches.
The Texas Rangers were 46-41 at the time of the firing, and were in third place in the division, 5.5 behind first-place Minnesota in the days of dual divisions in each league. Valentine then in his 25th baseball season at the age of 41, his eighth with the Rangers, he had been the third-longest tenured manager in the major leagues behind only baseball icons Tommy Lasorda of the Dodgers and Sparky Anderson of the Detroit Tigers. Bobby Valentine had been the youngest manager in the major leagues when offered the job on May 16, 1985. A former Dodger, he had long been a favorite of Lasorda and once was thought to be his heir apparent as manager of the Dodgers.
Almost a decade later on a different team, Valentine was again fired, but this time following a tumultuous and controversial summer of 2002 in New York. The Mets finished with a 75-86 record in spite of their $102 million payroll, in last place in the NL East for the first time since 1993 and below .500 for the first time in six years. It had been a mere two years after Valentine had led them to the first Subway Series in four decades.
Many felt Valentine had taken the fall for then knucklehead general-manager Steve Phillips. Valentine left with an overall record of 536-467, reaching the playoffs in 1999 and 2000. But in late-season 2002 came one of the worst months in team history with a 12-game losing streak where the Mets didn't win a game at Shea Stadium in August, during a NL-record 15-game home losing streak.
Earlier that summer Mets part owner Fred Wilpon issued several dreaded “votes of confidence,” but by mid September was fed up with underperforming players, seven of whom Newsweek magazine had claimed were caught smoking marijuana and goofing off. “The team just did not respond to the manager,” Wilpon explained at a packed news conference after the fact. “Whatever grip Bobby had on the team was gone by the end of the season.”
Sports pundits ripped the move. Ian O’Conner of USA Today wrote a scathing column insisting the Mets had fired the wrong guy, and that the Mets “should've fired his loser of a general manager, Steve Phillips.” Phillips had embarrassed Valentine by refusing to allow him to attend the winter meetings and embarrassed the franchise with rumors of an extramarital affair with a subordinate.”
Valentine himself said, “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."
Sobering words for Mariner fans, given that current Mariners manager Jack Zduriencik spent a large part of July and August this past summer hobnobbing in the dugout with Mariner icons while “evaluating” soon-to-be fired manager Don Wakamatsu, claiming that Wak too had “lost control of the team.”
Mariner fans responded in ways not seen before. Fed up with a perceived meddling by an incompetent front office, radio talk shows and newspaper comments were bombarded with scathing rebukes of long-time Mariner management figures Chuck Armstrong and Howard Lincoln. Fans weren’t buying management’s latest line about “needing change, ” considering the next hire will be the team’s seventh manager since Lou Pinella left in 2002.
If this franchise was a horse, it would have been shot two decades ago.
The Seattle Mariners are in dire need of a manager like the only successful manager in team history: Lou Pinella. Unlike his predecessors, Pinella routinely had shouting matches with owners who felt they knew baseball better than he did. Pinella had no problem getting in the face of decision-makers and publicly scolding them for failed or non-existent moves. Valentine is a guy who shares this trait.
Whatever the real story in the clubhouse as Mets manager, off the field Valentine had been a force for compassion following the unsettling attacks at 9/11. People close to the manager felt his unyielding commitment to the families of victims put things in perspective for Valentine, and perhaps made sports far less important. Gone was the focus, some claimed, which led to apathy towards superstar tantrums during his last season in New York.
He has held various jobs in baseball other than his managing stints. Following his departure from Texas, early in January 1993 Valentine was hired by the Cincinnati Reds to be an advance scout that included consulting player personnel and watching talent on other teams during spring training.
Also spending part of the last decade in Japan managing the Chiba Lotte Marines, Valentine was soon headed back to the United States for reasons other than on-the-field success. Making somewhere around $3.9 million a year, he priced himself out of the market and was told by Marines management that the club would not be able to afford him after the 2009 season, regardless of how many games his team wins. Thus he returned to commentating on ESPN this past season.
Valentine’s players may have been chided for misbehaving, but he too has been known to be part of on-field mishaps and mayhem. In December of 1998 he admitted he made a "bad guess" when he speculated why Todd Hundley blamed him for being replaced by Mike Piazza. Hundley felt Valentine had it in for him, but Valentine blew it off saying, "It's an Italian thing. He thinks that I would do something because he's not Italian or because I am Italian. I think that's ridiculous."
And then who can forget the infamous if not somewhat humorous two-game ban and $5,000 fine in June of 1999? While Met manager, Valentine returned to the dugout during a game versus Toronto donning a fake mustache and glasses after being ejected from a game against the Blue Jays.
He might need that humor if hired in Seattle, since this is only one of three organizations that have never played in a World Series. But clearly Valentine would hold the most baseball experience of anyone in the organization. On a team in Seattle with cranky fans still living in memories of the past, hiring Bobby Valentine should be a no-brainer.