"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

The Straw that Stirs the Hub

Guest Post

By Alex Salta (aka Raging Tartabull)

In the years since 2003 it’s become a popular myth that the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry has always been and will always be some kind of Baseball Forever War. Fans of both teams know better–“The Rivalry” has always had its peaks and valleys, and ever since Manny Ramirez of took his talents to Chavez Ravine we’ve been in a punchless valley .

This rivalry needed a jolt to the system and just got one in the form of one of the most volatile managers this side of Billy Martin. Bobby Valentine was only 35 when he started to make his bones as a major league manager in Texas, guiding bad Rangers teams to decent records in a division dominated by the Bash Brothers A’s. Then, after a brief stopover in Japan, he took good but flawed Mets teams to the playoffs back-to-back years losing in the NLCS and one of the best damn 5 game World Series you’ll likely see.

Valentine always had a little Billy in him. The undeniable tactical acumen, the chip on the shoulder, the paranoia that “they” would take it all away from him if given the chance, the charm and the spite. Anytime you steer a team where Jay Payton and Benny Agbayani are daily outfield fixtures to a pennant, it goes a long way to proving you are more than capable as a manager. Conversely, his years-long public feud with former GM Steve Phillips showed that both men knew how to hold a grudge with the best of them.

He could manage his ass off, and he would make sure you knew about it too. This is a man who once referred to the Mets managerial job as “the highest place in any job in the country, in the world, the thing that I live and breathe and die for every second of my life.” Comments like that either suggest tremendous commitment to the New York Mets, or tremendous commitment to promoting the brand of Bobby Valentine, Inc. What side do you think Fred Wilpon felt it landed on? A month after saying it, Valentine was on his way out the door at Shea.

Like Martin, Valentine knew what it was like to climb to the top of the heap in New York and still feel like you weren’t getting enough credit for it. Billy had Reggie and George, Bobby had Steve Phillips and Saint Joe.

Valentine managed the Mets from 1996 through 2002, the exact timeframe when Joe Torre convinced the town that could turn Bigelow Green Tea into wine; Valentine could never hope to be anything more than second banana, content with whatever scraps of media adoration were left over after the latest Yankee victory.

And Valentine was not one to be content with scraps. Mets fans could tell you that; hell everyone from Phillips to George W. Bush can co-sign that one.

Eventually, it all fell apart in a cloud of bizarre press conferences and whatever Tony Tarasco and Mark Corey had in that limo. The Bobby Act had grown tired in Flushing, someone needed Art Howe to come along and light up a room for a change. Bobby eventually packed his bags for the Far East and joined Buck Showalter in the “Managers Everyone Loves When They Aren’t Actually Managing” Club.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox spent the next decade turning themselves into a latter-day version of that Yankee team with tough pitching, long at-bats, and a manager that columnists loved to compare to some kind of mix between John McGraw and Jonas Salk.

Yankees vs. Red Sox became the dominant baseball storyline of the mid-aughts. It got ratings, it sold papers, kept the chatrooms and blogs humming. Still, the rivalry couldn’t sustain the fevered pitch indefinitely. The games between the two teams got longer and longer, the intensity unmistakably lower, and the atmosphere became almost dull.

Then came September 2011 and the grand collapse in Boston, blown saves and extra crispy thighs for all. The Sox got tired of Francona’s “Keep Calm and Win Ninety” style, Prince Theo left town and took his glow with him. The Red Sox needed someone new to come along and light up the room. They–and that “they” is Larry Lucchino–decided Valentine was their man.

Well now he’s back center stage, in a town where he isn’t going to have any trouble finding attention. He’ll manage against the Yankees 18 times next year, and the Joe in the other dugout may be hugely successful in his own right but no one is nominating him for sainthood either. No, it will probably be Bobby who is center stage for those 18 games. Don’t believe it? Just ask him.

Alex Salta is a New York-based writer, he can be reached at alex.salta@gmail.com.

For more on Bobby V:

Andrew Cohen in the Atlantic

Steven Goldman at Baseball Prospectus

Jonah Keri at Grantland


1 Sliced Bread   ~  Dec 2, 2011 11:20 am

Good stuff, Raging, but wouldn't you agree Martin and Valentine are far more different than they are similar? Sure they both abuse pitchers, and think they know more than anyone, but I think the comparisons pretty much stop there.
Even if they're both insubordinate, think about how differently they approach it. Valentine goes the smarmy and passive aggressive route, Billy was the drunken bull in the china shop.
In a nutshell I think Martin earned his attention, and Valentine has mostly made a name for himself seeking attention. Very different animals I think.

2 RagingTartabull   ~  Dec 2, 2011 11:45 am

[1] Thanks! I think their similarities lie in the fact that both are a)very much aware of their ability as a manager, and b) have a self-destructive streak that manifests itself in different ways, but is unmistakeably there.

Billy earned his attention sure, but I think Bobby did as well. Bobby's crowning achievement as a manager is 2000, for Billy there is obviously '77 but I'd argue that HIS best job as a manager was 1976 where the Yanks cruised to their first pennant in 12 years with relatively little drama before losing to the Reds.

Billy is darker, for sure, but I definitely think they are cut from the same cloth in a lot of respects.

3 Alex Belth   ~  Dec 2, 2011 11:54 am

Bobby was a big time prospect as a player, Martin was always a scrapper, though Valentine became a role player after that awful injury with the Angels.

4 RagingTartabull   ~  Dec 2, 2011 12:32 pm

I think Bobby's failure as a player post-injury is what fuels that paranoid streak, he was supposed to be a star and an exploding knee in the Anaheim outfield stole it away from him. He can't prove to you his physical gifts, so damned if he's not going to prove his intellectual ones.

With Billy I think it was shouldering the blame for the Copa brawl and being exiled from New York, he was supposed to spend his entire career hanging out with Mickey and Whitey at Toots Shore and instead he ended up in Cincinnati. He always had to prove he was the "proudest" Yankee in the room.

5 OldYanksFan   ~  Dec 2, 2011 2:09 pm

Bobby V will either be very good for the Sox or very bad. Both Theo and Tito were good men, and the Sox lost big with their departures. I obviously don't have the inside story, but it appears the players themselves fucked up big-time, and neither Tito or Theo could control them.

If there is some contrition from the players, they may respond to Bobby's hard line. If they are however, looking for a fight, it could be great for Yankee fans to just sit back and watch the show.

6 ms october   ~  Dec 2, 2011 6:12 pm

good article raging.
and i agree with oyf.
i think it will be interesting to see how valentine acts and responds when all the attention is on him without his having to work so damn hard for the attention. it will also be interesting to see if he has grown over time.

7 Chyll Will   ~  Dec 2, 2011 7:17 pm

[5],[6] Agreed, and also he may already serve as an ultraviolet scanner of sorts by exposing some griminess (i.e. certain players) that the Sox may believe they can do without. They're heavily vested in this now, moreso than any of the players they have signed, so if they continue to fuss and a name gets attached to it, that player had better not blink or he'll miss how fast he gets traded/released/sent down/hung out to dry.

One thing that's been overlooked and might work in their favor is how he handles Matsuzaka though; he might be able to get something deep out of him simply by having extended conversations with him on the bench or in the clubhouse. You never know, it could also backfire, but I can't see how it doesn't help unless Valentine wears him out by mid-season.

8 The Hawk   ~  Dec 2, 2011 7:24 pm

Good stuff!

9 joejoejoe   ~  Dec 3, 2011 12:16 am

I'm still grinning like a goofball over that Art Howe line. Nice piece about baseball, history, and the once and future public safety director of Stamford, Connecticut.

[7]Good points about Matusuzaka Chyll Will. It's my understanding that Valentine is revered in Japan so maybe that will help the Red Sox a bit with their Japanese player investments.

Also, Theo already has about a half dozen press conferences in the books here in Chicago, including a meeting with Mayor Emanuel. I didn't think GMs could be stars but it's happening here with Theo as Cubs super poobah or whatever title they invented for him.

10 RagingTartabull   ~  Dec 3, 2011 11:51 am

Thanks for reading guys, I'm glad you enjoyed it! And obviously big thanks to Alex and the Banter crew for having me.

[7] I'll be honest, the Dice-K point never even crossed my mind. It is certainly possible, but I think a lot there hinges on Matsuzaka's physical condition which is pretty up in the air obviously. But I'm sure having another guy in the room who speaks the language can't possibly hurt.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
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