View Full Version : Posnanski: Bobby V. is the man

05-19-2005, 01:19 AM

Forget popularity, Bobby V. is the man

Valentine says he would listen if Royals called


Well, OK, finally I've got my candidate.
A week has gone by since Tony Peña walked out in the middle of the night, and almost as long since the Royals' decision-makers said they want to hire a manager with experience.

I have tried to get excited about the treads and retreads that keep being named as candidates. The best I had come up with was, “Well, Art Howe might not be so terrible.” The problem is that this is not a slogan you could build a season-ticket campaign around.

Let's be blunt: The Royals need to do something bold here. They are on pace to lose 100 games for the third time in four seasons. That's even worse that it sounds; this kind of sustained losing hasn't happened since the 1970s.

There are stadium issues. There are money issues. The Royals are losing the town. You can't put a Jim Fregosi or Jimy Williams Band-Aid on this wound. No, the Royals are losing blood. They need the shock paddles.

So, I look at the names. Gene Lamont. Jerry Manuel. Grady Little. Fine. Decent managers. Good baseball men. But no one seems to have the boundless energy and magic to turn this thing around. No one gets the heart pumping a little bit. No one. And then a name hits me.

There is one exciting choice. There is one guy who could get all of baseball talking. There is one guy who could save the Kansas City Royals.

I pick up the phone. I dial a cell phone in Hiroshima, Japan. A voice answers. “Hello.” “Bobby, if asked, would you come to manage the Royals?” “Hey,” Bobby Valentine says, “are you trying to start some trouble?”

Oh yeah, we need some trouble. Right here in River City. With a capital T that rhymes with V that stands for Valentine.

Three years ago, the Royals passed on trouble, passed on Buck Showalter, the obvious winner, the guy who had led two teams to the playoffs. The Royals passed on him because some thought he was too difficult. In the end, of course, Tony Peña proved to be even more difficult. Losing is pretty difficult. The Royals cannot miss again. They cannot pass over the winner again.

Let me tell you about Bobby Valentine: He went to Texas in 1985 when the Rangers had lost 99 games and were drawing barely a million people.

The next year, he took a bunch of kids, worked them like mad, prepared for each game like it was the bar exam, coaxed and dragged and bullied 87 victories out of that team his first year. More than that. He energized the town.

“When I came to Texas, people thought the Texas Rangers should wear badges,” he says, and he's right, but within five years the Rangers were drawing 2 million fans.

He worked with young players such as Rafael Palmeiro and Kevin Brown and Pudge Rodriguez, got them all off to their starts. He never could get over the hump in Texas, never could beat the good Oakland teams, but his teams had winning records four out of his six years.

Five years later, he went to the New York Mets, and that team was in absolute shambles. The Mets were big losers - 103 losses in 1993, 91 losses the year he took over. They were bad guys. They were not drawing at all in the biggest city in America.

He came and started selling “M-E-T-S” everywhere. His first year, the Mets won 88 games. Two years later, they made the playoffs. The year after that, they reached the World Series. By then, the Mets were drawing about 2.8 million fans.

These are the facts. There are other facts, too, of course. There is the fact that a lot of people in baseball despise Bobby Valentine. More facts: The Sporting News ran a cover shot with the headline, “Why Does Everyone Hate Bobby V?” He was called “Top Step” in Texas because that's where he would stand - top step of the dugout, where the cameras could get a good shot - and he would yell at opponents.

Valentine will, at functions, call himself “the most hated guy in baseball,” and when I ask him if he would like to be the Royals' manager, he suggests that the team would not hire him. “Why not?” I ask. “Because they don't know me,” he says. “And generally, if they don't know me, they probably don't like me.”

Why is he despised? Generally, it's because many people in baseball find him: A. Arrogant. B. Manipulative. C. Condescending. D. All of the above.

Maybe all of that is true. Here's what I know: Valentine is relentless. He's funny. He's very smart. He demands winning. His teams do win. And after 9/11, he more or less showed up at every single fund-raiser that Rudolph Giuliani could not attend.

I've heard enough good stories about Valentine to believe that there's more there than The Sporting News cover, more than just the guy who wore the Groucho glasses and sneaked back into the dugout after getting ejected.

Here's something else I know: If Valentine is really and truly hated, well, it wouldn't hurt the Royals one bit to have the most-hated man in baseball running the team.

Right now, nobody in baseball cares about the Royals. Nobody cares if the Royals live or die. Hire Bobby Valentine. Make them care.

Bobby Valentine says he would listen if the Royals called but, at first, he says it's probably not a great fit.

Valentine is a hero in Japan these days. He's manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines, and they are in first place in the Pacific League, and Vee is running the whole show. He's manager, general manager, uniform designer and hero. He's also getting paid a lot of money.

“It's really cool and exciting,” he says. “I'm really happy with what I'm doing.”

So his first reaction is, “I'd listen, but it's probably not a good fit.” But then he begins to talk about the Royals' situation. He says the Royals can win. He admits it would not be easy, but he believes in his heart that it can happen.

He was still in the States in 2003, when Tony Peña led the Royals into first place. “It seemed like the guys were enjoying themselves, like they were really trying to have fun playing the game,” Valentine says. He pauses, and then takes a guess at what happened after that.

“Maybe there was no Step 2,” he says. “Maybe the frustration came. And all they had was an empty bag of tricks. … There has to be more than just having fun.”

Funny, he nailed that. Peña had no second act. The Royals, once the enthusiasm wore off, had nothing left. Valentine said he had seen that happen plenty.

“I always try to preach that winning is the last thing that happens,” Valentine says. “If you prepare for the game, if you then play the game right, the result is the last thing to worry about. That has to be understood. I know that flies in the face of some of the old-school-type people who say that winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.

“But when the only win that matters is on the scoreboard, then you're going to be chasing your own tail. You have to set up a structure. Get some wins within the game, real victories. Then you get some wins within the week, then the month, then the year. Then you can begin to build something that has a foundation and has real life.”

The more he talks, the more excited you sense he is getting.

“If you can pull it off,” he says, “it's the most rewarding thing there is.”

And here's a guess: I think Bobby Valentine seeks a challenge. He's 55. He's financially set. He's known on two continents. He's done almost everything there is to do in baseball. Almost. But he has never pulled off a miracle. And there's a miracle to be pulled off right here in River City.

It would not be easy to grab him. A conversation with a couple of Royals officials leads me to believe that he is not on the list. Well, put him there.

Here's what I think Bobby Valentine would do: He would come in, work 20 hours a day, sell the Royals at every Optimists Club and breakfast meeting in the Midwest, demand good baseball, fight with all he's got, irritate the heck out of opponents and make the Royals a factor again, in and out of Kansas City.

He isn't just the right guy for this job. He's the only guy. And I think if the Royals go after him, he could be had.

“You think so?” Valentine says, and he laughs. “Would I be interested? Possibly. … I'll tell you one thing. You go ahead and write it. That way, people can write in to tell you what a complete idiot you and I both are. We all need to hear that now and again.”

05-19-2005, 04:00 AM
Posnanski is 100% right on with this piece. The Royals are bad AND no one cares. They have to get a winner in here and they also have to get someone in here who will create interest in the team. This would be a brilliant hire. Alas, the only idiots in this equation are the Royals, who probably will never consider it and hire another loser...