Commentary

Ex-Mets: Bobby Valentine a fit for Sox

He earns high marks for strategy and style, but what about the drama?

Updated: November 23, 2011, 5:23 PM ET
By Adam Rubin | ESPNNewYork.com

Steve Phillips Henny Ray Abrams/Getty ImagesPhillips and Valentine rarely saw eye-to-eye during their time with the Mets.

Manager Bobby Valentine and GM Steve Phillips had no shortage of drama during their shared tenure leading the New York Mets.

In April 2000, early in a season the Mets ultimately reached the World Series, Valentine nearly was fired for criticizing front-office moves while speaking at the Wharton School of Business -- mistakenly believing his candor would be confined to the campus instead of finding its way into the media and back to Phillips.

The relationship became so toxic that two years later, Phillips routinely would position himself outside the home clubhouse at Shea Stadium and quiz reporters about what Valentine had just said in the manager's daily pregame media briefing. Phillips then would offer a rebuttal.

In fact, when Valentine ultimately was fired after that season, his response to owner Fred Wilpon was: "And he stays?"

[+] EnlargeBobby Valentine
AP Photo/Bizuayehu TesfayeValentine brought his trademark intensity to Boston on Monday.

Yet a decade removed from their Flushing drama, Phillips wholeheartedly endorses Valentine for the Boston Red Sox managerial job, predicting no soap-opera sequel with the front office if Valentine ultimately is hired.

Valentine appears to be the front-runner to succeed Terry Francona, following a lengthy interview with Red Sox management and ownership at Fenway Park on Monday. And Phillips, now a morning host on Sirius/XM's "Mad Dog Radio," praised Valentine's in-game acumen and ability to utilize his players. The ex-Mets general manager also assumed a healthy dose of the responsibility for their relationship souring.

"I look at Bobby as kind of a fixer," Phillips said. "He comes in with energy and a different perspective. He's not an old-school guy. He's a new-age thinker when it comes to baseball and is a student of the game and somebody who looks at things a little bit differently. He's got the ability to handle a large market. And my sense is he probably would look back and say, 'I would have done this a little bit differently and that a little bit differently.' He's got some perspective now to be able to do that.

"He and I, people always want to point to our relationship. There were times when it was really good. We had a lot of success together. At times our relationship wasn't always the greatest, but I will say: Forever I kind of always blamed Bobby for that. And I recognize now that a big part of that relationship, I damaged with my stuff that got in the way of it. Forever I thought it was Bobby's stuff. He brought whatever he did to the relationship, but part of the reason it wasn't a good one all the time was my fault and I want to acknowledge that. I wasn't the best manager for him sometimes."

Phillips added that Red Sox GM Ben Cherington and the rest of the Red Sox front office need not be concerned about a repeat of the New York divisiveness.

"We all learn and gain perspective as we get some distance between things," Phillips said. "And you can't argue his baseball IQ. You can't argue with his communication skills. You can't argue his creativity. He's a good fit for an organization that has veterans but also wants to play young players.

"He's one of the best teachers I've ever come across in the game. He was the most impactful coach in the minor leagues that I ever had any dealings with at all. And he also is very astute at recognizing situations in the game to figure out who best fits that situation on his roster -- that ability to evaluate a player in a way that resolves an issue that could come up in a game. If you want to work a platoon situation, Bobby's good at that. He's got creative ways of handling the pitchers, but it works. And he's battle-tested. He's gone through the trenches a little bit himself."

Precision is what Valentine's former players appreciate.

"I appreciate his attention to detail," said Chicago White Sox third base coach Joe McEwing, whom Valentine managed in New York from 2000 to 2002. "He doesn't miss anything. He observes. He sees everything. On the field, off the field, his attention to detail as far as fundamentals and the little things as far as timing of bunt plays, spacing on cutoffs and relays, everything is precise. He's a very intelligent baseball man and one I definitely learned a lot from."

Said former Mets right-hander Steve Trachsel: "He's always been overly prepared for his opponents and games as far as matchups and all of that. He's had a lot of success and really enjoys being in the spotlight. He can actually take some of the pressure off some of the guys in the clubhouse who don't like being in it. So I think that's a plus. And being in Japan, as big as he was, and in New York is going to help him in Boston."

[+] EnlargeBobby V
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesValentine took the lead after 9/11, and not just on the field.

Valentine may be a perfect fit for a Red Sox clubhouse portrayed as too lax in the final days of Terry Francona's tenure.

"I don't really know a lot about the Red Sox clubhouse, but Bobby has always been one to tell guys how it is," Trachsel said. "If he sees something he doesn't like, he's going to let you know it. And if you're not performing to his expectations, he's going to let you know it. The key is how some guys react to it. Some guys don't like being told the truth. Some guys don't know how to react to it and take it the wrong way when he's just trying to get the best out of you."

"You know who is in charge in the clubhouse," said former Mets assistant GM Jim Duquette, who originally hired Valentine with the organization as Triple-A Norfolk manager for the 1996 season. "If there are troubles, he's going to have a pretty good handle on where and how to fix them because there isn't anything he hasn't seen before. I think he also brings a level of credibility, and you have to take notice as a player. You look at his track record, even though he hasn't won a World Series yet, in terms of his winning percentage and games managed, there are not many more qualified than him."

Valentine was adept at playing matchups even before the data refinements of the past decade made it simpler and in vogue.

"Not necessarily second-guessing him, but you'd ask him a question about why he played this matchup or this hunch or whatever and he could back it up with stats, he could back it up with past history with what he's had with other players or guys who are similar," Trachsel said. "Now, obviously, you can get a lot of that stuff on paper. But a lot of it, he would even memorize. He's into it that much."

Said Duquette: "He put guys in spots to succeed well before any of the current metrics existed where you can look at what guys are hitting against sliders, curveballs, changeups and everything else. He just had a knack for being able to do that with role players -- match them up against that night's starting pitcher, and more times than not it was more than a hunch, and it would work, which is not an easy thing."

If Valentine is hired, that should lead to some fascinating matchups with opposing AL East skippers, who are all highly regarded -- Joe Maddon, Buck Showalter, Joe Girardi and John Farrell.

"What a dynamic group of managers and baseball guys," Phillips said. "It's a shame it's not the National League, only because it would be great to see them match wits in National League baseball -- the double-switches and pitchers hitting and that sort of thing."

Valentine, who lives in Connecticut, already qualifies as a New Englander. But McEwing figures Valentine will be only more entrenched in the region as manager.

"He's great in the community," said McEwing, who watched Valentine help lead the effort at Shea Stadium after 9/11 to ready supplies for Ground Zero workers. "He explores the community and becomes one with the community. I think that's big when you're a manager. You have to be around and be able to deal with the media and control the clubhouse. He's done all three."

In New York, even little things became battles of will with Phillips.

Valentine in 2002 put infielder Marco Scutaro in left field in St. Louis against his better judgment, and Scutaro had a costly misread off the bat of Eli Marrero. Valentine then threw Phillips under the bus, saying the front office had informed him Scutaro could play the outfield.

Earlier that season, when Phillips claimed McKay Christensen off waivers without consulting Valentine, the manager buried the outfielder, forcing him from the roster.

Yet Phillips believes Valentine must have mellowed somewhat at age 61, nearly a full 10 years since his last major league managerial gig.

"Bobby's a smart guy," Phillips said. "And 10 years is a long time. It doesn't mean he's not going to work as hard. It doesn't mean he's not going to be as intense and a student of the game. But I sense some mellowing, that edge is maybe not so sharp. I think time will do that and perspective will do that."

Why has Valentine not reemerged in the majors in a decade since his Mets gig? "These manager positions, they're a custom fit," Duquette said. "Some of it was that he wasn't the right fit for them. Some of it was he didn't like the fit for himself. He interviewed with a couple of teams. Plus, he had a pretty good job and he was damn good at it with ESPN."

Phillips agreed.

"I think part of that was Bobby's choice," his one-time adversary said. "When you get out of a job, you don't know necessarily what your window is to get back in. I think maybe within that early window Bobby went to Japan. So the window is kind of reopening. Being on ESPN humanizes him a little more from a public perspective to where he becomes that relevant voice again.

"I'm sure he interviewed well. He's a very articulate, bright guy. He fits the Red Sox -- what I'll call 'Moneyball' philosophy -- although I don't think that's clearly defining their philosophy. Bobby is a numbers guy, for sure. What he believes in will certainly match the philosophy in Boston."

One other thing's for certain: He'll never be dull.

Adam Rubin has covered the Mets since 2003. He's a graduate of Mepham High School on Long Island and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He joined ESPNNewYork after spending 10 years at the New York Daily News.
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