The roster of managers this spring includes 12 managers who did not hold those jobs last spring. None of the new managers is named Bobby Valentine.
Despite his return from a seven-year exile in Japan and a desire to return to the major leagues, Valentine found relatively little interest in his services in the widest-open managerial market in years. The few teams that did consider him and interviewed him obviously opted to hire others, in all instances younger and less experienced managers.
Based on developments, it appears that Valentine’s reputation has finally caught up with him and left him on the outside looking in, currently as the replacement for Joe Morgan on ESPN’s Sunday night baseball cablecasts.
From previous columns, you might have the impression that I am not a Valentine fan. You would be correct, although in his earlier days, when he managed the Texas Rangers, I actually liked him.
But then two things happened. I learned from a Texas writer that Valentine deliberately pitted writers against each other by dividing them into groups that determined how he dealt with them. On a more personal basis, he began doing and saying things about me that gave me good reason to dislike him because he was imagining things that weren’t real.
With no basis in fact, he told people I had a vendetta against him, and he accused me of being a hit man – his term – and doing “dirty work” for another baseball writer, with whom he had a full-blown feud.
Given that he was no longer in baseball, or at least the part of baseball I write about, I was prepared to ignore him and not write about him again. But then I learned that he could not ignore me.
In a recent speaking appearance that I learned about from a YouTube segment that someone sent me, Valentine related the tale of the fake mustache he wore so he could reappear in the dugout after he had been ejected from a game in 1999. But in Valentine’s speech at the St. John’s Baseball Bullpen Winter Banquet, I shared the stage with the mustache.
In Valentine’s telling of the story, he was managing a team that was struggling at the moment, and he told about the difficult day he was having because three of his coaches had been fired and the team had lost its sixth and seventh games in a row, though the losses were actually the Mets’ seventh and eighth in a row.
Telling about the news conference before the Sunday night game at Yankee Stadium, Valentine said:
“Murray Chass, one of the only people I think really has a black heart that I’ve ever met in my life, was sitting in the front row, was a New York Times reporter, and he wanted me to leave, he wanted me to be fired, actually he wanted me to die. None of those things happened that day.
“But he did ask me why I didn’t leave, why I wasn’t fired, what I was going to do between now and Sept. 1 to turn the team around.”
Then Valentine, told about the fake mustache, for which he was suspended for two games, and he said, “Murray Chass writes the article the next day, how much I disrespected the game. Ten thousand dollars and three-game suspension later, I’m back in the dugout.”
Not surprisingly, Valentine was wrong again. I never wrote that he disrespected the game. Maybe out of a guilty conscience he thought that’s what I thought and imagined that I had written it. But disrespect or a synonym didn’t enter my mind; goofball did.
“The Mets’ version of Inspector Clouseau, that master of disguise, could be in trouble,” I wrote the day after the mustache incident. “Bobby Valentine is under investigation by the National League for donning sunglasses and a fake mustache – or was it a strip of black tape? – and returning to the dugout after his ejection from the game Wednesday night.”
“And then came Inspector Clouseau. Ejected in the Toronto half of the 12th inning for arguing a call against Mike Piazza, Valentine reappeared on the bench in a disguise: black Mets T-shirt, baseball-type cap, sunglasses and a fake mustache.”
“The television camera,” I wrote later in the column, “quickly spotted him and focused on him periodically the rest of the game, but he later tried to deny he was that masked man.
”’It was somebody else who didn’t look like me,’” Valentine said weakly.
“But just as Inspector Clouseau never tricked anyone, Valentine did not fool the league office.”
In a subsequent column, I wrote that Valentine admitted his guilt, quoting him as saying, “If I had known what the responses would be and how seriously the outside world would take it, I never would have done it.” He also said that what he did was stupid, but again, I did not write that he had disrespected the game.
What I did question Valentine about was his decision to stay on as the Mets’ manager when half of his coaching staff was fired. He always talked about his loyalty to his coaches, but he demonstrated no loyalty when his coaches were fired.
“Is there precedent in the business?” he asked when the question was raised.
“I didn’t know if anyone had ever done it,” he said later when the subject came up again, “and I wasn’t going to be the first to do it.”
But it had happened before, and the manager who put his job in jeopardy to defend his coaches was a man Valentine later maligned in an act of revisionist history.
In 1989, George Steinbrenner was set to fire four Yankees’ coaches when manager Dallas Green protested.
”That’s not the professional way to do it; that’s not the baseball way to do it,” Green told Steinbrenner, “and you’re not going to do it here. It’s only going to lead to more agitation. Why don’t you just fire the manager and then make all the coaching changes you want?”
In those days Steinbrenner didn’t readily take advice, but in that instance he did. He fired Green and the coaches.
Valentine argued for his coaches, but he didn’t put his job on the line, as Green did. The only thing he did was ask the coaches what they thought he should do. They didn’t say he should resign or put himself in position to be fired, and he didn’t.
In the same week that Valentine played Inspector Clouseau, he played history revisionist, too, in patting himself on the back for the job he had done as Mets’ manager.
”I took a terrible, disruptive situation and contained it, straightened it and made it whole,” he said. When he was asked if he was referring to the past week, Valentine said, ”I was referring to the abyss that was here two and a half years ago.”
However, Valentine’s predecessor, Green, cleared up the mess Valentine referred to before Valentine replaced him. And life under Valentine wasn’t as harmonious as he liked to portray it.
”He comes into a whole new situation and goes right after I guess the most popular guy,” Todd Hundley said of Valentine after he left the Mets for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1999. And: ”You see him coming from a mile away. He thinks he’s working in the shadows, but he’s not. You can see right through him.”
I cite Hundley’s comments for two reasons: they are relevant, and they are at the core of Valentine’s obsessive hatred for me.
In spring training of 1999, reporters for the New York Post and the Daily News unsuccessfully tried to get Hundley to talk about Valentine. Seeing that Hundley hadn’t expressed his views about his former manager, a Times editor assigned me to go the Dodgers’ camp in Vero Beach to talk to the Mets’ former catcher.
A Newsday reporter was there the same day for the same reason, and we spoke to Hundley together and wrote similar stories with Hundley’s criticism of Valentine.
The manager, however, held it against me that I didn’t call him for a response whereas the Newsday reporter did. I explained to him that I didn’t call him because he had already responded to the Times’ reporter who was in the Mets’ camp. He was unable apparently to understand that concept.
As far as Valentine was concerned, that story was the clincher. I had a vendetta against him. I heard later that spring that he was telling people about the alleged vendetta.
When I saw him after I had heard of his ridiculous accusation, I asked him why he thought I had a vendetta against him. He cited that story and one I had written in August 1997.
That story was about other teams’ complaints to the National League office that the Mets were using mini-cameras at Shea Stadium to steal signs, a nefarious practice they believed started after Valentine became the manager.
My byline was on the story and I wrote it, but it really wasn’t my story. Buster OIney, who covered the Mets for the Times, had been tipped to the story by a player on another team, but he didn’t want to write it because he didn’t want Valentine getting mad at him. So he told me about it, I developed it further and I wrote it.
A year and a half later, Valentine remembered it when I wrote the Hundley story, put the two together and concluded that I had a vendetta against him. At the same time, he accused me of being a hit man for Marty Noble of Newsday, with whom he was feuding, and doing Noble’s dirty work.
The so-called vendetta and my role as a hit man made an indelible impression in Valentine’s weird mind. In January 2003 my nephew was in the workout room at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas with a friend when Valentine came in.
My nephew’s friend had shared a cab with Valentine the day before and introduced my nephew to him as “Murray Chass’ nephew.” Hearing that, Valentine told my nephew that I was “a despicable human being.”
“Look on the bright side,” my lawyer nephew told me. “At least he still referred to you as a human being.”
STRIKE TWO FOR CABRERA
Miguel Cabrera, Dave Dombrowski said, is “as down as he can be, he feels terrible. He’s very disappointed with himself.”
And the Detroit Tigers’ general manager? How does he feel?
“You deal with what you need to deal with,” Dombrowski said by telephone from the Tigers’ Lakeland, Fla., spring training complex. “You know it’s one of those things you have to stay on top of every day. You have to whenever you have an addiction. We’ll help him however we can.”
The Tigers thought they were helping Cabrera after the 2009 season, which he finished with a hitless three-game series against the Chicago White Sox and helped drop the Tigers into a tie for the American League Central lead. The Tigers lost a one-game playoff to Minnesota.
Cabrera’s hitless series came after he was taken to jail intoxicated but not arrested following a fight with his wife. Dombrowski retrieved his slugging first baseman from jail at about 5 o’clock Friday morning.
This time Cabrera was arrested and charged with driving under the influence after a police officer found him with his smoking broken-down car in Fort Pierce, Fla. Dombrowski told reporters in Lakeland that Cabrera, 27 years old, was driving the 2005 car to Lakeland because he planned to ship it to a family member in Venezuela.
Cabrera is scheduled to earn $20 million this year, the fourth year of an eight-year, $152.3 million contract. Last season he led the American League in runs batted in (126) and on-base percentage (.420), was second in batting average (.328) and slugging (.622) and third in home runs (38).
The total of his on-base and slugging percentages was only two percentage points behind Josh Hamilton. He also finished second to Hamilton in the A.L. most valuable player voting.
Hamilton had his own substance demons early in his career and knows exactly what Cabrera is going through.
“Miguel has been showing up for his workouts early in the morning,” Dombrowski said, “and he’s been at home in the evening with his family. He has complied with everything. We don’t know what happened, why he fell off his program.
“We all know when you deal with alcoholism it’s a daily battle. He has a problem. He knows that. We know that. We’re willing to work with him.”