By Rich Coutinho
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I have spent much of my baseball life around Bobby Valentine — covering him in his early days as a Mets coach, then as a manager in Texas, and of course as the manager here in New York with the Mets. He is as good a baseball man as I’ve ever known and I know he sometimes rubs people the wrong way, but I’ve learned a lot being around him. That is why I think he is the man who could lead the Boston Red Sox out of the wilderness.
I remember when he came here to manage the Mets, and he took on some very popular players because he knew they were not part of the solution even though, on the surface, they seemed to be productive players. I am talking about guys like Todd Hundley, Lance Johnson, Bernard Gilkey and Pete Harnisch. He knew it would be painful to take them on, but he had no fear about doing it, much in the same way he has tackled those same situations in Boston this year. Valentine is also a great judge of the fringe player.
Guys like Benny Agbayani, Matt Franco, Dennis Cook and Turk Wendell performed better under his watch. And when the chance to get Mike Piazza presented itself, Bobby V begged ownership to take the plunge, and they did. In 1999, the Mets were two games behind two teams for the final Wild Card spot with three games to play, and he did something I will never forget. Many of the players had begun to pack their offseason bags, but the manager unpacked them, telling the world, “We have a lot more baseball to play.”
There are a bunch of misconceptions about Valentine, including his resistance to other’s opinions about baseball. Nothing could be further from the truth. Simply put, Valentine will have a healthy debate with anyone if it is done one-on-one and not in front of a group of onlookers. I can personally attest to that fact. I have thought a lot about Valentine lately, and was particularly remembering stuff yesterday because of 9/11.
I would love to share a story with you.
After the World Trade Center attack baseball was delayed a week, but the Mets had a workout at Shea Stadium right before the series resumed and I had a chance to visit with Valentine. I explained to him I was having a hard time coping with all of this, knowing that much like me, he had lost friends in that building. And I will never forget what he told me on that day. The then-Mets manager said, “If we do not resume our normal lives, then the terrorists win. And being a reporter is what you do. Don’t let them win.”
For a fleeting second, I got a taste of what it would be like to play for Bobby V as he told me exactly what I needed to hear. He snapped me out of whatever malaise I was in. So every time I hear people ramble on about him, I think of that moment. He did not do it for show. He did not do it for recognition. He saw someone who needed coaching and he was going to say what needed to be said.
Managing in the Boston media market is a complicated journey but I firmly believe that Valentine has sifted out the troublemakers, and to not let him finish the job would be foolish. I’d also say this — with Bobby V at the helm, the Mets might have made the playoffs in both 2007 and 2008. He would have made sure nobody “packed their bags” in any fashion. That is why letting him go would be a huge mistake, and one that Red Sox ownership would live to regret.
Mets fans, how would Bobby Valentine back in Queens sound to you? Let us know in the comments section below…