Thursday, December 1, 2011

Boston V Party: A Very Bad Idea

Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of fate.

This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a bygone vexation stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition!

The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous.

Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it's my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.

-- V for Vendetta (film version)

(Translation: "Behold! Before you is a humble stage performer, cast, against his will, by the whims of fate, to the roles of both victim and villain. The face you see now is not just some meaningless costume. It is a remnant of the People's Voice, which has since gone and disappeared. However, this past annoyance stands courageously reborn and has sworn to conquer the evil and corrupt, who promote greed and the violent suppression of free will! The only choice is vengeance; a personal war held as a promise, but not in vain, for the importance and self-evidence of this quest shall one day exonerate the watchful and the righteous. But in truth, this thick soup of words has become too excessive. So, let me simply finish by saying that it's my very good honor to meet you, and you may call me V.")


The Boston Red Sox have hired Bobby Valentine to be their new manager.

This is not a good idea. Robert John Valentine, born May 13, 1950 in Stamford, Connecticut, and played in the major leagues from 1969 to 1979 for several teams including the Mets, has managed in 15 different seasons in the majors, from 1985 to 1992 with the Texas Rangers, and 1996 to 2002 with the Mets. Only twice, with the 1999 and 2000 Mets, did he get into the Playoffs. Only once, in 2000, did he win a Pennant. And those 2000 Mets lost the World Series convincingly to the Yankees.

My grandmother, once a Brooklyn Dodger fan but later a Met fan, used to deride Dodger manager Charlie Dressen: "Ugh! That Dressen was so STUPID!" she would say. I tried to tell her that Valentine was dumber, but she wasn't buying it.

Bobby V's biggest brain-lock came on June 26, 1998, in the first ever regular-season home game for the Mets against the Yankees. (They'd played a 3-game series at the old Yankee Stadium the year before.) In front of a packed house at Shea, the Mets led 4-3 in the top of the 7th inning. But with 1 out, starter Al Leiter walked Chuck Knoblauch and gave up a single to Derek Jeter. The tying runs were on, and the go-ahead run was at the plate, in the form of Paul O'Neill, a dangerous hitter.

O'Neill was lefthanded. So was Leiter. In true workhorse fashion, Leiter had already thrown 110 pitches. Here were Valentine's options:

1. Leave Leiter in, keep the lefty-on-lefty matchup, and hope that Leiter has enough left in his tank to get 2 more outs, and then let the bullpen take over for the 8th and 9th.

2. Bring in Brian Bohanon, another lefty, who would finish the season with an ERA+ of 154 and a WHIP of 1.174 -- both quite strong.

3. Bring in Mel Rojas, a righthanded pitcher who did some fine relief work for the Montreal Expos from 1992 to 1996, but had been mostly ineffective for the Cubs in early 1997 and for the Mets from mid-'97 onward.

Clearly, the right (or, more accurately, the left) choice was to bring in Bohanon. If you don't have enough confidence in him, you could leave Leiter in, as it takes a tough man to pitch to a tough man. Valentine chose to bring in Rojas.

And so this contest goes down in history as "The Mel Rojas Game," and you mention it to a Met fan at your peril. Rojas threw low and away, a pitch hardly any player would swing at, let alone hit. O'Neill somehow got his bat on it with enough force to send the ball the opposite way, into the "picnic area" behind Shea's left-center-field fence. A 4-3 Met lead became a 6-4 Yankee lead, and the Yankees went on to win, 8-4, with Ramiro Mendoza getting the win in relief of Hideki Irabu. A little more than a year later, Rojas would pitch in a major league game for the last time.

Dumb, Bobby V. Very, very dumb.


The decision for which Bobby V most gets ripped came in Game 5 of the 2000 World Series. The Yanks and Mets were tied, 2-2, with 2 outs in the top of the 9th. Jorge Posada is on 2nd, Scott Brosius on 1st, neither much of a baserunner. Luis Sojo, already one of those unlikely Yankee postseason heroes, is up. Again, the Met pitcher is Al Leiter. This time, he's thrown 141 pitches, a lot even then, a staggering total today.

The Yankees lead 3 games to 1, so if they win this, they win the Series, and, having beaten the Mets in a World Series, clinching at Shea Stadium no less, well, for Met fans, never would the words of the old song be more poignant: "For it's root, root, root for the home team. If they don't win, it's a shame."

Valentine's options in this case?

1. Leave Leiter in, even though he's lefty and Sojo is righty, and hope that Leiter has enough left in his tank to get 1 more out, and then try to win the game in the bottom of the 9th; failing that, let the bullpen take over for the 10th.

2. Bring in Armando Benitez, keeping a righty-on-righty matchup, as the mercurial closer had already saved Game 3 of the Series, but had also already blown a 9th-inning lead in Game 1, blown a 9th-inning lead in the Division Series against the San Francisco Giants (the Mets ended up winning in extra innings anyway), and had blown quite a few big games for the Baltimore Orioles in 1996 and '97, including giving up the Derek Jeter homer that involved Jeffrey Maier in the 1996 American League Championship Series at the Tony Fernandez homer that won the Pennant for the Cleveland Indians a year later. (And Fernandez, although a good fielder, was no power hitter.) Benitez was like a box of chocolates: He could give you something that tasted really good, but he could also give you a mess. And he was nuts.

3. Bring in John Franco, a man with 420 career saves, more than any lefthander and any National Leaguer in history (he finished his career with 424), and who had already been the winning pitcher in relief in Game 3; but was 39 years old, had already pitched the last 2 nights (Games 3 and 4), and, well, there was a reason why he was no longer the closer and Benitez was (namely his 1998 season when he went 0-8 with a 3.62 ERA).

Tough choice. All 3 options have good reasons to choose them, and all 3 have red flags.

Was Valentine thinking of the Mel Rojas Game at this moment? I was. Personally, I didn't care what decision he made, because A, I'm a Yankee Fan; and, B, it didn't really matter who pitched to Sojo, Sojo was going to have to bat against him anyway... unless, of course, Yankee manager Joe Torre wanted to put in a lefty hitter to face either Leiter or, in case Valentine brought him in, Franco. (Torre's only lefty choice remaining on the bench was Luis Polonia, and, with extra innings looming, it was perhaps premature to use your last remaining lefty hitter.)

Valentine decided to leave Leiter in. Leiter's 142nd pitch was slapped at by Sojo. It went up the middle for a hit. Posada rounded 3rd, and he huffed, and he puffed, and he slid in, and the throw hit him and the ball rolled away. This allowed Brosius to score a potentially vital insurance run. Mariano Rivera finished it off in the bottom of the 9th, and the Yankees won, 4-2, to take the Series.

Met fans have debated this Valentine move ever since. Was he right to leave Leiter in?

With 11 years of hindsight, I think he was. Age 39 or not, Franco had to be tired. And Benitez simply could not be trusted in that situation again, especially against the Yankees. Leiter was one of those guys who, reaching a point where he could no longer pitch with his arm, found ways to pitch with his head and his heart, and it often worked. This time, it didn't.

Met fans often think that, had Rey Ordonez not been hurt, he would have snared Sojo's grounder, as backup Mike "I Need Viagra For My" Bordick did not, and that would have ended the inning and given the Mets a chance, and rendered Valentine's decision the right one. No way: Ordonez was not that good, and the ball was right over 2nd base, so the most Ordonez could have done, even with Sojo being about as fast as my 4-year-old nieces now are, and with about as much coordination, it would have been an infield single, bases loaded, 2 out -- although, Shea being a National League park, the pitcher's spot was up, and the only hitters Torre had left on the bench were Polonia and the righthanded, once-feared, but now seriously declining Jose Canseco.

At any rate, the criticism that Valentine gets for this decision is unfair -- but I don't think it would have happened if he hadn't botched the Rojas Game 2 years earlier.


Let's not forget that, in 1998, the Mets needed to win just 1 of their last 5 games to clinch at least a tie for the NL Wild Card spot. They lost them all, and finished 1 game behind the Giants and Chicago Cubs, who had a Playoff for that spot, with the Cubs winning. Surely, Valentine could have managed those last 5 games better. Indeed, he didn't need to manage ALL 5 better -- only ONE of them, and there would have been an unprecedented (and still never-done) 3-way tie for an MLB postseason berth.

Or that, in 1999, the Mets trailed the Atlanta Braves 3 games to 2 in the NL Championship Series, and were tied in the bottom of the 11th inning, but the Braves loaded the bases, and instead of bringing in righthander Octavio "Heartbreak" Dotel to pitch to the righthanded Andruw Jones, Valentine brought in the lefty Kenny Rogers. Clearly, to paraphrase the singer Kenny Rogers, Bobby V didn't know when to hold 'em, or know when to fold 'em. Rogers walked Jones, the most famous base-on-balls in baseball history -- unless you prefer the one a year later when Benitez walked O'Neill to give the Yankees the chance to come back in Game 1 of the Subway Series.


After getting fired as Met manager in 2002, Bobby V became a talking head for ESPN, then went back to managing in Japan, as he had done between Texas and Flushing Meadow. He was successful there, and then returned to ESPN, doing his damnedest these last 2 seasons to show baseball fans just how smart he thinks he is.

Now, he's going to manage the Boston Red Sox, a team with quite a few strengths, but also a lot of problems, including big egos, big stomachs, big injuries, and big psychological issues.

And while it's true that, if you can handle the media in New York, you can handle the media anywhere, the truth is that the New York media already knew and liked him from his playing days with the Mets; the Boston media does not really know him all that well, and, as is usually the case with outsiders in that oh-so-insular city, is unlikely to give him the benefit of the doubt.

And speaking of Boston being an insular city, what do you think the Boston fans will think of Bobby Valentine? Suppose the Red Sox get off to a start like they had this season. Will they give him a pass, saying, "Give him a chance, he inherited a mess and he needs time to straighten it out"? Even if they do, which would only be fair, suppose the Sox have a finish resembling the one they had this season. Results do matter. Will the Chowdaheads say, "Give him a break, he's only had one full season"? Or will they throw him to the wolves?

Silly question: Sox fans can be rather wolfish themselves -- and that's a quality that many of them not only admit that they have, but they tend to enjoy it!

To paraphrase David Byrne, Bobby Valentine may ask himself, "How did I get here? This is not my beautiful ballpark! This is not my beautiful team!"

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