Bobby Valentine

June 10, 2009

Bobby Valentine 79

The major league baseball amateur draft occurred yesterday, the forty-first such draft I’ve lived through, not that I’ve ever paid much attention to any of them. Certainly I was least equipped to fathom the one that occurred in June 1968, when I was a two-month-old blob, so I didn’t understand then or for many years afterward that 1968 first round draft pick Bobby Valentine was, for a while at least, a superstar in the making.

From what I have read about him not only as a baseball player but as an all-around athlete (I think he was particularly good at basketball), the player from baseball history he seems to have most resembled in his golden early years was Pete Reiser, the legendary ambidextrous line-drive smashing speedsteer from the 1940s, whose probable Hall of Fame career was derailed by his penchant for smashing into outfield walls. Like Reiser, Valentine’s athletic ability seemed to suggest he was capable of playing any position on the diamond. Also as in the case of Reiser, it seems in retrospect that it would have been wise to confine Valentine to a position that would keep him away from walls—in 1973, while still in the formative stage of his career, Valentine wrecked his leg in a collision and entanglement with a chain-link fence while trying to catch a ball hit by Dick Green.

After that, Valentine settled into benchwarming utility-man duty for the rest of his career as he drifted from the Angels (who had acquired him from his first team, the Dodgers) to the Padres to the Mets. By the time this 1979 card came out, his playing days were numbered, a fact he seems to be grappling with in a moment that seems emblematic of the general somber tone of the 1979 card set. In 1979, everything was ending. The Three Mile Island nuclear plant melted down, Skylab fell out of the sky, Americans were taken hostage in Iran, disco died a fiery ridiculous death, Jimmy Carter looked weary, and Bobby Valentine wondered who, if not a superstar, he could possibly be. The putrid 1979 Mets let him go in the spring, and he joined the laughably bad Seattle Mariners, for whom he completed his comprehensive career tour of all the fielding positions on the diamond by catching in two games, among other things, none of which ended up staving off the end of his playing days.

In the 1960s he had been a Young Superstar To Be, a perfect representative of the youth-driven, hope-laced times. In the 1970s he was damaged goods, a dream coming up short, a perfect representative of the sullen decade of aftermath. And so in the 1980s, he was reborn a brash, driven yuppie renegade bent on success by any means necessary, his quick rise to managerial success on the major league level like some baseball version of Wall Street meets Top Gun. Such a movie would have to have been called Top Step, after the name by which Valentine was known throughout baseball, a disparaging moniker referring to his gung ho habit of managing games while perched as conspicuously close to the action as he could be while still being nominally within the confines of the dugout.

I don’t feel capable of characterizing the muddy 1990s, but I suppose Valentine could be said to have been in synch with that decade as well as he experienced spotty employment, losing his job in the early 1990s and regaining one in the late 1990s. And if I had to choose an emblematic moment for that era I could do worse than picking the time, ten years ago yesterday, that Bobby Valentine was tossed out of a game and then returned, in disguise, with a blatantly fake mustache and shades, one of the most hilarious baseball moments I’ve ever lived to see.

What is your face before you were born? If any Cardboard God knows the answer to that Zen koan, it would be Bobby Valentine, and not just because he has become a beloved figure in Japan, where perhaps he has begun dabbling in Zen. All his life, Bobby Valentine has put on and taken off face after face. The exile, the iconoclast, the journeyman, the golden boy. The one who keeps getting cast out of the game. The one who keeps finding new ways to come back.


  1. I had forgotten about the Valentine fake mustache affair. Good times. Were you actually watching the game when that happened?

    It’s good to have you back.

  2. Man, I am pretty sure I was watching the Bobby V in disguise game on TV, but I’m very shaky on events happening any time after, say, 1985, and up to a few seconds ago. I know it made me laugh however I became aware of it (and continues to do so).

  3. For some reason I didn’t collect the 1979 set as a kid. It’s the only year that I didn’t buy that many baseball cards. I don’t know why exactly maybe it was the frustration of not being able to complete the 1978 set because I couldn’t find a Jorge Orta card.

    The 1979 set always struck me as odd in the arbitrary way they chose the color of the team nameplates. Why are Mets surrounded by a Brown colored name plate?? Where’s the Blue or Orange? I think the Dodgers have a lavender colored name plate.

    I thinks it’s also interesting that the old “topps” logo is featured on the front. They would change their logo in 81 or 82 I can’t remember exactly, but it’s a reminder of the pre-baseball card as a commodity days. To me, the 1979 set is the last set before everything started going crazy in 1980 when that Geoge Brett rookie card started selling for $20 a card. The last set you didn’t have to put in plastic or that you couldn’t flip.

    The ’79-80 Mets sets are also a collection of “Who” and “That guy was on the Mets” and it’s one of the only sets from 1967-1993 that have almost no representatives from either world series championship club. I think Jerry Koosman & Ed Kranepool were in the 79 set and Jesse Orosco was in the 1980 set.

    This has to be one of the most pensive portraits I’ve ever seen on a baseball card.

    Valentine was a tremendous athelete in high school. I think he set a bunch of sports records for the state of Connecticut. I think he had a football scholarship to USC, He had an academic one to Yale I think.

    He was a very good manager but he was very odd as well. He could do great things as a manager but then it seemed like he would get bogged down on some little trivial detail. Then something would upset him and he would do something petty just to get back at someone. It also seems like he burns a lot of bridges for no good reason.

  4. I thought he was an underachiever as a manager, but I also think that he is exactly what the current Mets need.

  5. Bobby V is the only 3 time all-state football player in Connecticut history. He used to appear at winter baseball clinics in Conn. when he was an active player and I met him at one with my dad. Years later he opened a restaurant in Stamford, Conn. and when my family walked in, Bobby was clearing and wiping down tables and putting down new silverware. We were shocked that he was actually working and not just greeting people.
    He immediately recognized my dad from previous clinics and came over to talk. Bobby talked about the mets and baseball in general as if we were old friends. Years after this,
    I was playing college baseball and Bobby was friends with my coach. He showed up at practice one day unannounced to teach baserunning. He acted as if he remembered me and displayed no arrogance about being a well known player with my teammates. Many years after this my dad and I went to the last game of the 2000 mets season. My dad yelled out to Bobby during batting practice and he waved and said he hadn’t seen him in quite a while. My dad was shocked again that Bobby recognized him. I realize he rubs people the wrong way, but he seems like a very good guy in real life. I also would love to see him back managing the metsies.

  6. I just saw on ESPN.com that Valentine’s team, the Chiba Lotte Marines, scored 15 runs in 1 inning in their last game.

    The last line in the article:

    This is likely Valentine’s last season with the Marines. He was told his contract will not be renewed at the end of the season.

  7. Okay, I’ll be the representative for the one in five people reading this who “played with/against Bobby’s son when he was in high school in Stamford.” Or was it his nephew? Or was it Bridgeport? Whatever. I don’t know about Zen, but I’ve always felt the man was on drugs of some kind. And I’m still mad at him for calling out Carl Everett for being out of the batter’s box. He seemed to know that Carl was a powderkeg, and that noting to the umps that he was breaking a rule could ruin him, which I feel it did.

  8. Nice to see a Cardboard Gods post!

    I always get jealous when I see a card that I didn’t have. Is it irrational to be jealous of baseball cards that came out thirty years ago? Or does it make perfect sense? What was my set of baseball cards before I collected them? The sound of one pack opening…. [That’s a poor Zen joke, so feel free to chuckle knowingly.]

  9. Josh, I’m so grateful you mention the man with the mustache in the dugout. My Mom’s a rabid Mets fan, and I make a birthday card for her every year with yearly, topical issues invoked, but always, always there is some reference made to the mysterious 1999 intruder in the Mets’ dugout. It never fails to make her laugh. It is a moment of premeditated insanity that only baseball can provide.

  10. You’re right that 1979 was a pivotal year. It marked the moment when the conservative backlash, which had been ebbing and flowing since the mid ’60s, gathered steam and momentum that would last, really, for another 30 years. Xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, neoconservatism, it was all there. R.E.M. really captured it in “Ignoreland”. I remember reading in Time magazine or someplace some learned opinion criticizing the Carter administration’s “inability to control events in Iran”, and even in my early teens it seemed strange that people assumed that, except for a want of trying, they obviously could. I think it was this strange, paranoid atmosphere that the Giant Prospects captured in their brilliant debut (and only) album, “1979”.

  11. great comments basilisc.

    I was thinking about this article and Josh’s comments about 1979 and how things changed so drastically after that. To me that time period ended when the “We are Family” Pirates won the world series. That Pirate time with such a eclectic group of players; Black players, White players, Latino Players, Odd looking players, Young Players, Old players, seemed to embrace and represent the possibilites of the optimism of the 60’s-70’s.

    Only a year 1-1/2 later you had the Iranian Hostages, Soviet invasion of Afganastan, Olympic boycot, Reagan election, John Lennon killed, Reagan shot, the Pope shot, The Conservative Backlash, The baseball strike, the air trafic controllers getting fired. It’s like by summer of 1981 all that optimism from 60’s was gone and the Yuppie was born.

  12. From what I’ve heard, Giant Prospects’ “1979,” great as it was, was but a shadow of the band’s (regrettably few) live shows.

  13. I just heard the “We Are Family” Pirates referenced on Saturday. On Friday night the Penguins became the first road team in any sport to win a Game 7 championship game on the road since that 1979 Pirates team.

  14. I also was bothered by Topps assigning the Mets the brown in 1979. Brown was for the Padres. The Mets shoulda got orange like they did in ’74.

    Bobby Valentine. What can you say?

    In 1978 he was a guest at a banquet we attended with our dad and made my then 14-year-old sister swoon by being handsome and charming. Nearly 20 years later he romanced me back into baseball with that heroic 97 Mets team after I’d pretty much abandoned the sport for good following the strike.

    The whole Bobby-in-disguise thing was just surreal, as it came in the middle of this tumultuous stretch where he was battling the press, the fans, members of his own team and GM Steve Phillips, who’d just fired all his coaches and prompted his now-famous offer to put his own head on the chopping block if the Mets didn’t drastically improve over the next 55 games (they went 40-15). It kinda drew a line in the sand: People who thought it was awesome on one side, people who found it appalling on the other.

    Bob Klapisch just this weekend officially began the old media drum-beating for Valentine’s return to the Mets, but fans have been calling for it for awile now. I am thinking he’ll be back but only if the Yankees don’t fire Girardi first.

    Glad to see CG back!

  15. Thunderfan24, good one.

    That’s pretty amazing that’s it’s been about 30 years in Baseball, Basketball, and Hockey since that’s happened.

    There’s been 8 chances in baseball: 02,01,97,91,87,86,85,82 and the Home team won every game 7.

    I know it’s happened 5 times in the NLCS-ALCS since 1985: 06 Cards (Ouch), 04 Red Sox, 03 Marlins, 91 Braves, 85 Royals.

  16. mbtn01,

    The whole color thing on the 1979 team nameplate was so arbitrary. I think the Dodgers were on a pink/lavender background? I guess they wanted every time to have a different color but it looks kind of dumb.

    There are 3 guys that don’t get near enough credit for turning the Mets franchise around in 1997: Bobby V., John Olerud, and Edgardo Alfonzo.

    It’s as if Piazza came in 1998 and sudendly he turned the whole franchise around. People tend to forget the 1997 season when it started getting turned around. Also, people tende to forget that the Mets won the same amount of games in 1998 as they did in 1997.

  17. Man, as a kid I was convinced Valentine and Buckner were going to lead the Dodgers to glory for years, and they both got hurt. And another superstar lock in my mind was Bill Seinsoth who died before he got a chance to play a game for the Dodgers.

  18. “There’s been 8 chances in baseball: 02,01,97,91,87,86,85,82 and the Home team won every game 7.”

    In the ’60s and ’70s, it was the road teams who dominated Game 7, winning in ’62, ’65, ’67, ’68, ’71, ’72, ’75 and ’79 and losing only in ’60, ’64 and ’73.

    We need some more seven-game World Series.

  19. I think after the ’95 strike/lockout/death-of-baseball it was Bobby, more than any other figure, who got me sort of interested again… it was ’98, and V was the first larger-than-life manager the Mets had had in quite some time.

    With all the insane million-dollar contracts, the expansion franchises, the extra playoff teams, the steroid nonsense, (even then, we knew SOMETHING was up with all those HRs being hit..) Bobby embodied my renewed interest in baseball by codifying my decision to stop treating it as a sacred cow, and start seeing it for what was…which is – at the basest level- *Entertainment*.

    And love him or hate him, Bobby Valentine was The Great Entertainer.

    Apparently he is so popular in Japan, that Chiba Lotte Marines fans have been turning out in mass protests to counter their front office’s decision to terminate his managerial contract (for “financial reasons”) following the season.

    It’s a footnote, but Valentine first came to New York on “Black Wednesday,” June 15, 1977, in a transaction on the undercard that saw the Mets trading their most charismatic and feared slugger, Dave Kingman, to San Diego. (The Padres also threw in a pitcher rather cruelly named – in a sound-alike sense – Paul “Seibert.”) While the trade of Tom Seaver the same
    day srtipped the Mets franchise of their best player, and Their Identity (as well as any sense of class, or any hope of contention that still remained in Flushing), the purge of Kingman removed any sense of drama from the team’s lackluster plate appearances the rest of the way out.

    Any potential for late-inning theatrics or Big Home Runs went out the door with Kong’s departure (and Bobby’s quiet arrival), as indeed no Met ended up hitting more than twelve round-trippers that whole season.

    As for the milieu of the Seventies coming to a thudding anti-climactic halt, one need only make the following comparison:

    Listen to “Volunteers” by the Jefferson Airplane, released at the close of the 1960’s. It’s an alternately bizarre and brilliant pastiche… a unique sounding artistic statement, filled with boundless indulgence, anti-establishment sloganeering, drug references, and giddy in-joke manifestations of chaotic creative expression.

    Now go and listen to the soulless arena rock Jefferson “Starship” was tossing off at the end of the seventies…Ultra-commercial lightweight fluff (with loud guitars)and a high-pitched lead singer sounding virtually identical to Foreigner, Journey, and every other big-name, money-making stadium act that came down the pike looking for gold and platinum records.

    I know…it’s enough to make you ask the big questions…

  20. “the steroid nonsense, (even then, we knew SOMETHING was up with all those HRs being hit..)”

    As I recall, we all thought it was the “juiced ball,” not the juiced players.

    As for Starship, think about this: they got even worse! With that Sarah ballad, and their song about building SF using rock n roll architecture that for some reason was a pop song. And all that was BEFORE that Mannequin tune….

  21. verily, I concur with gedmaniac on both statements.

  22. Bobby V loomed large in my youth in Stamford CT. He was a total hometown superstar, and his accident was spoken of in sad, hushed tones. He was generally held in pretty great regard.

    When he opened Bobby V’s, his sports bar (still a relatively new-ish concept at the time), in Stamford it was mobbed. When I came home from college I spent many a night was spent swilling Southern Comfort, beer, and baseball there.

    Bobby V’s was mostly known for being right next to “the Villa,” an old man bar of lurid story in my late ’70s Dazed and Confused high school days, before the so-called renaissance (cough) of downtown Stamford. Long before the age of 18 the braver football players and more disaffected youth of Stamford Catholic High would go and drink among the toothless alkies shaking and drooling on their stools, dreaming of the steam tables at the Blarney Rocks of the big city.

    To end with a total non sequitur, as is my wont, one of my brother’s friends dated Bobby V’s niece, a very nice girl from the Chiapetta side of the family. She was of course, known as Chia Pet. I recall she could get great Mets tix every once in a while.

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