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baseball preview 2012

Bobby Valentine has worked magic before

Bobby Valentine made previous managerial stops with the Rangers, Mets, and Chiba Lotte Marines.

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Bobby Valentine made previous managerial stops with the Rangers, Mets, and Chiba Lotte Marines.

In his two previous managerial stops in the major leagues and during two stints in Japan, Bobby Valentine did a great job of quickly turning around franchises that had fallen on hard times.

Take a look the highlights of his previous managerial stints:

Texas Rangers, 1985-1992 (age 35-42)

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Valentine replaced the fired Doug Rader in 1985 only 32 games into another doomed season for Texas, which would finish last in the seven-team AL West for the second straight year. By 1986, however, Valentine had his preferred players in place, jettisoning veterans such as Buddy Bell, Frank Tanana, and Burt Hooton along the way.

The average player age dropped from 29 to 26 in ‘86. Young sluggers Ruben Sierra, Pete Incaviglia, and Steve Buechele beefed up an offense than jumped from 129 home runs to 184. Valentine turned to young starters Bobby Witt, Edwin Correa, and Jose Guzman and they combined to win 32 games. And a revamped bullpen that included newcomers Mitch Williams, Jeff Russell, and Dale Mohorcic helped the pitching staff shave nearly a half-run off its team ERA from the previous season (from 4.56 to 4.11).

Stuck at 24-24, the Rangers won seven straight games and 10 of 11 to build a 41⁄2-game division lead in June. They fell out of first place by the All-Star break but stayed in the hunt into late August, eventually finishing second with 87 wins, which was tied for second most in franchise history.

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Unfortunately for Valentine, that was the high mark of his eight-year stay in Texas as the Rangers failed to finish better than third place before Valentine was sacked with a 45-41 record in 1992.

New York Mets, 1996-2002 (age 46-52)

The team had yet to recover from its six-season tumble from 100 wins (in 1988) to 103 losses (in 1993) when Valentine was promoted from Triple A Norfolk to take over very late in the 1996 season after Dallas Green was canned.

Saddled with a bad farm system, Valentine at least had ownership support to spend money to fix an underwhelming roster. In 1997, the Mets enjoyed a 17-win improvement and the run production of new first baseman John Olerud.

By 1998, New York added two more All-Stars in Mike Piazza and Al Leiter and improved their standing for the second consecutive year, climbing into second place with 88 wins. More big names came aboard in 1999 — Robin Ventura, Rickey Henderson, and Orel Hershiser — and the jump was predictable. Though 97 wins weren’t enough to win the division, the Mets won a one-game playoff for the wild card and advanced to the NLCS.

The final step came the next year, when New York reached its only World Series since 1986, against the Yankees no less. The Mets spent again, bringing aboard Todd Zeile, Derek Bell, and Mike Hampton and taking the wild card with 94 victories.

The pennant sequel, however, was a big disappointment as the Mets averaged a full run fewer than in 2000. New York’s big-ticket spending couldn’t save Valentine in 2002 as a last-place finish got him fired.

Chiba Lotte Marines, 1995, 2004-2009 (age 45, 54-59)

The Kawasaki-based Lotte Orions relocated to Chiba in 1991 and were renamed the Chiba Lotte Marines. But the team struggled for its first four years, finishing no better than fifth place in the six-team Pacific League.

In 1995, GM Tatsuro Hirooka hired Valentine. The team was revitalized under Valentine and won 69 of 130 games, finished over .500 for the first time since 1985, and came in second place. Even though he had another year left on his contract, Hirooka fired Valentine, citing philosophical differences.

After his stint with the Mets, Valentine returned to Chiba for the 2004 season where he was given full authority over baseball operations. His team missed the playoffs by just a half-game but finished .500.

In 2005, he provided opportunities for young prospects, including current Twins infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and used a platoon system with many different lineups, which was not popular in Japan. This approach worked, and he was dubbed “Bobby Magic.” The Marines finished second in the standings, and swept the Hanshin Tigers in the Japan Series to win their first title since 1972.

Before the 2009 season began, even though he was very popular, he was told it would be his last year as manager, because of his high salary and lack of attendance. Fans protested and started a petition, but management won out.

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