Cleveland, Washington should consider Valentine
Bobby Valentine's first full season as manager of the Mets was 1997, a year in which I took a job with The New York Times, and I covered him for just that one summer before being moved to the Yankees beat. But in conversations with general managers and scouts and coaches, I find myself constantly citing observations or decisions he made and rationales he used as examples.
He was among the first managers or front-office types I heard really focusing on on-base percentage and pitch counts, and along those lines, he saw the value in John Olerud even after Olerud stopped contending for batting titles. He was the first manager I ever heard attempt to quantify exactly what qualified as a high-stress inning for a pitcher. There was a lot of talk early in the 1997 season about a rising prospect named Alex Ochoa, who had just turned 25, and Valentine mentioned to me privately that there really wasn't any such thing as a good 25-year-old prospect; real prospects, he said, are mashing the ball in Triple-A at age 20 or 21.
There was debate within the Mets' organization late in spring training about the merits of a powerful young slugger named Butch Huskey; a lot of front-office folks thought he could be an effective major league hitter. Valentine saw the lack of bat speed and the heavy body and took care of the Huskey situation quickly that season, playing him at third base for the first couple of weeks, until it became clear Huskey couldn't cut it as a third baseman -- and this allowed Valentine to bring in the guy he really wanted, someone with much less power but much more subtle skills: Edgardo Alfonzo. And the Mets of 1997 stunned the baseball world by winning 88 games that year, an improvement of 17 victories, and damn near made the playoffs.
Valentine's brain operates at full speed about 20 hours a day, and he was extremely wary of those he thought were trying to carve out elbow room for themselves -- and the combination of those two traits probably spurred some of the front-office clashes he had in the Mets' organization. But the team was much better off for having had him as manager, and as his six years as a manager in Japan draw to an end, he's surfacing as a possible candidate for numerous teams, expectedly and unexpectedly. He recently took a job with ESPN as a baseball analyst, but his tenure here might last weeks rather than months or years.
Some of the possible matches for Valentine:To read Buster's potential fits for Bobby V, plus notes from every corner of MLB, you must be an ESPN Insider.
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