WITH THIS WOULD-BE MANAGER, V IS FOR LOSER

By Murray Chass

November 27, 2011

The Boston Red Sox, trying to replace the Chicago Cubs as modern-day lovable losers, may be on the verge of extending their September swoon into a December descent. They may not realize it, but if they hire Bobby Valentine as their manager they could be adding injury to insult.

If the Red Sox brain trust thinks Valentine is the antidote to what has ailed them, they need to get a second opinion. They should at least expand their due diligence and delve into his history more thoroughly than maybe they have.Bobby Valentine8a 225

I don’t know if the Red Sox plan to hire Valentine to replace the eminently likeable Terry Francona, but appearances seem to indicate they are headed in that direction. They have dismissed most of the other candidates for the job, and they need someone to fill out lineup cards next season.

Ben Cherington, the team’s new general manager, said Friday that Gene Lamont and Torey Lovullo, both coaches for American League teams, remained under consideration with Valentine, adding “I wouldn’t rule that out,” when I asked him if there might be additional interviews.

If the Red Sox decided to interview one or more other candidates, it could be a sign that they are not prepared to offer Valentine the job.

“We haven’t made a decision yet,” Cherington said. “We’re going to be working on it. We’d like to have a decision sometime in the coming week.”

I called Cherington because Larry Lucchino, the chief executive officer, told me that ownership had decided that Cherington would speak for the organization on the subject of the manager. “We’ve had too many voices speaking,” Lucchino said.

Nevertheless, I asked Lucchino what he thought about Valentine’s interview. “Bobby did a terrific job when he was here,” he said.

Then Lucchino asked me a question. “What do you think of him?” he asked.

I would rather not have people I am interviewing ask me questions. In this instance what I thought about Valentine or any other candidate shouldn’t matter. I am not the one hiring and paying the new manager.

On the other hand, Lucchino asked a reasonable question, and the primary problem I had with it was whether I should offer some vague, non-committal comment or answer honestly. Of course, I chose honesty because I expect honest answers from the people I question.

“I have found him to be the most disliked man in baseball,” I said. And I added, “He doesn’t like me and I don’t like him.”

I didn’t offer any details, but if Lucchino wants to know why I made those statements, I will enlighten him here, which is a more appropriate place for a reporter or columnist than the telephone.

Among Valentine’s peers, it would be difficult to find one manager who likes him. Ray Ratto, a San Francisco columnist, once gave the reason, describing Valentine as “a relentless self-promoter who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else.”

During the winter meetings several years ago, two veteran managers, whom I will not name because their conversation was private, were talking about Valentine and one said, “I’d burn out my bullpen in a minute to kick his ass.”

In the same conversation, one of the managers remarked, “Valentine’s team has to be 10 games better than anyone else because everyone hates him and plays harder to beat him.”

Brian McRae 225One of Valentine’s players with the Mets, Brian McRae, echoed that view in the final days of the 1998 season. The Mets had a one-game lead in the wild-card race and were 24 ½ games ahead of Montreal in the division, but the Expos won both games of their series.

After the second loss, which dropped the Mets into a wild-card tie and sent them on to a season-ending five-game losing streak, McRae told reporters, “They don’t like us. Their coaches don’t like Bobby. Not only don’t they like us, they don’t like our manager and it gives them extra incentive. They want to kick our butts. Everybody has added incentive to beat us, and we’re still in the position we’re in.”

Earlier in the season, McRae said, “He’s not a typical manager. He does weird and goofy things. . . . I’m not saying he’s right or wrong. He’s a different type manager and it’s our job to adjust to what he’s doing.”

Players might have been able to adjust to Valentine’s different game tactics, but his comments about them were another matter.

During the division playoff series against Arizona in 1999, a Sports Illustrated article quoted Valentine as criticizing his players for their September play, which took them from one game out of first to eight games out.

“You’re not dealing with real professionals in the clubhouse,” he said. “You’re not dealing with real intelligent guys for the most part. A lot can swim, but most of them just float along, looking for something to hold on to. That’s why, I’m sure, they’re having a players-only meeting. Because there’s about five guys in there right now who basically are losers, who are seeing if they can recruit.”

By then, nothing that Valentine said or did surprised Mets players. It didn’t take them long to see through what has come to be known as his transparent phoniness.

I don’t like quoting the New York Post, but the tabloid once ran this headline when Valentine was managing the Mets: “Why Wait? Can the Phony Now!”

Valentine managed the Mets only the last 31 games of the 1996 season, but in spring training the next year a group of half a dozen or so players held a meeting in Vero Beach, Fla., to discuss whether they should try to get him fired.

Valentine kept his job and was at it later that season when he targeted Todd Hundley, the Mets’ catcher, for his sarcastic criticism, singling him out to reporters as someone who needed to get more sleep, meaning he was out running around and drinking.0301021P TODD HUNDLEY METS

After the Mets traded Hundley to the Los Angeles Dodgers, he spoke about Valentine to two reporters at Vero Beach one day in spring training in 1999. I was one of those reporters, and the article I wrote that day lit Valentine’s fuse.

Hundley hated Valentine. He said Valentine had become too personal with him and was jealous of his popularity. Hundley also said the manager used him to deflect attention from other players, citing the drinking story as Exhibit A.

In Hundley’s view, the problem with Valentine began when the manager appeared to be jealous of the player’s standing with the fans. ”He comes into a whole new situation and goes right after I guess the most popular guy,” Hundley said. ”It’s not my fault I’m the most popular guy.”

Hundley was especially upset at the timing of Valentine’s comments on his sleep habits because his mother was being treated for cancer and his wife was pregnant.

”I’m talking to my mom while she’s going through chemotherapy,” Hundley said, ”and I’m helping my wife with taking care of our two kids and he’s saying I’m out and about.”

And Hundley addressed Valentine’s transparency.

”You see him coming from a mile away,” he said. ”He thinks he’s working in the shadows, but he’s not. You can see right through him. I didn’t have to remember what I said to who and keep track of all this other junk. I’m not going to lie. It seemed like he had to keep track of, I said this to this guy, this to this guy, this to this guy and he got caught up in his web.”

At another time Hundley was quoted as saying, “The more Bobby Valentine speaks, the more people will realize why he has the reputation he has in the game.”

His reputation also includes the way he deals with reporters. A reporter who covered him in Texas told me a long time ago that Valentine has a divide-and-conquer strategy by which he pits the writers against each other and divides them into two groups: those who will do his bidding and those who won’t. Guess which group gets Bobby’s leaks?

They are Bobby’s Boys, and they will write anything to make Valentine happy because he makes them happy by leaking stories to them. Valentine’s interview with the Red Sox provided Bobby’s Boys with their latest opportunity to extol his virtues.

Writing in The New York Times, where he covers the Yankees, David Waldstein noted that the Red Sox interview process “has been described as lengthy and intense” and wrote of his hero, “For Valentine, who espoused the statistical principles of Bill James and sabermetrics years before they became fashionable, it was a chance to flex his strategic muscles in front of a bright staff.”

Waldstein, who first came under Valentine’s mesmerizing magic covering the Mets for the New York Post, told of news media reports that Dale Sveum, who took the Cubs’ job, had been Cherington’s first choice, suggesting “that Cherington resisted including Valentine, a forceful personality brimming with ideas, favoring instead the perhaps more controllable Sveum.”

“But,” the Times report said, “according to one of several people in baseball canvassed by Cherington for a report on Valentine, he is actually intrigued by Valentine and not opposed to hiring him.”

Valentine undoubtedly talks a good game; that’s why ESPN hired him. But ESPN doesn’t have to worry about a won-lost record. While it’s a fact that Valentine managed the Mets to two consecutive wild-card berths in 1999 and 2000 and the World Series in 2000, it’s also a fact that in 14 years with the Rangers and the Mets he never managed a team that finished in first place.

Presumably, the Red Sox, who have not participated in post-season games the last two years, have studied Valentine’s history (and not just tested his knowledge of Jamesian sabermetrics) and know that he ranks third in history among managers who have managed the most games without finishing in first place.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, this is the rank:

  • Jimmy Dykes             2,962 games
  • Frank Robinson        2,241
  • Bobby Valentine       2,189

Because the Atlanta Braves lost to Cincinnati Aug. 31, 2000, the Mets entered September in first place. That is the only day in his managerial career that Valentine has had a team in first place in September.

With the addition of a wild card in each league, the new playoff format will put greater emphasis on finishing first than has been present under the existing system because the playoff between the two wild cards in each league will be one game. It will be too risky for a team to be satisfied with the wild card.

As for my personal problems with Valentine, later in the spring training of the Hundley story, I began hearing that Valentine was telling people I had a vendetta against him. When I saw him, I asked what he was talking about.

Bobby Valentine Disguise2 225This supposedly bright man had combined the Hundley story with another one I had written about other teams complaining to the league office that Valentine was using a television camera at Shea Stadium to steal signs. Those two stories, Valentine said, showed that I had a vendetta against him.

It didn’t matter that another New York newspaper ran a similar Hundley story and that I wrote the sign-stealing story because the Times reporter who covered the Mets was afraid if he wrote it Valentine would be upset with him and not talk to him.

Not only did this constitute a vendetta, but Valentine also accused me of doing dirty work and was a hit man – Valentine’s words — for another reporter from a different newspaper, with whom Valentine was feuding.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I did not have a vendetta against Valentine and I wasn’t a hit man for anyone. If I’m going to do anyone’s dirty work, it will be my own.

Valentine, meanwhile, demonstrated a large dose of class several years later when a mutual acquaintance introduced my nephew to him in the workout room of a Las Vegas hotel. Told that he was “Murray Chass’ nephew,” Valentine said of me, “He’s a despicable human being.”

Relating the story to me, Kenny said, “Look on the bright side; at least he still referred to you as a human being.”

Well, Larry, if you have read this far, are these enough details to answer your question? And I haven’t even touched on the problems front offices have with him.

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.