Bobby Valentine spent parts of eight seasons as manager of the Texas Rangers, six-plus seasons with the New York Mets, then six years with the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan.
In the impatient world of baseball, those are long tenures. But on all three occasions, he left unwillingly, and twice under a cloud of controversy and bitterness.
In Texas, the end came swiftly. After guiding the Rangers to winning seasons in four of his first six full seasons, Valentine was fired on July 9, 1992. The team was 45-41, but more was expected. The ownership group, led by George W. Bush, decided to fire Valentine without asking general manager Tom Grieve.
‘’They could have fired me or the scouting director,’’ said Grieve. ‘’It wasn’t just Bobby’s fault. Bobby got the most out of our team. Some of the relievers we had weren’t fit to be in the big leagues. But when we went through a bad streak, that was it.’’
There were no hard feelings. Valentine sat with Grieve in his private box a week later, and the two remain close friends.
‘’He’s one of the best guys you can have as a friend,’’ Valentine said.
If only the end had been so peaceful with the Mets and Marines.
Valentine rejuvenated the Mets when he took over late in the 1996 season, and he twice led them to the playoffs. In 2000, he took them to the World Series, where they lost to the Yankees. Until 1997, when they were 88-74 under Valentine, the Mets had not had a winning season in six years.
But the Mets missed the playoffs in 2001, and after they won only 75 games in 2002, Valentine was fired a day after the final game, with a year remaining on his contract. It was a surprise, given the public support accorded him by owner Fred Wilpon over the course of that season.
‘’I didn’t do a very good job this season,’’ Valentine said at the time. ‘’To that extent, I’m not surprised. But it did come as a shock they would put it all in my lap after saying I’d be back. I’m having trouble with that aspect of it. But I’ll come out of this OK.’’
Valentine had survived a 12-game losing streak in August and spent September holding meetings with key players to lay the groundwork for 2003. But Wilpon fired him, going back on his promise.
‘’I did not lie,’’ Wilpon told reporters. ‘’I changed my mind.’’
Wilpon said Valentine’s ouster was based purely on performance. But Valentine also feuded openly with general manager Steve Phillips to the point where he was barred from attending the annual winter meetings.
Their fight carried into the media. Valentine often held two pregame media gatherings, one attended by all the reporters and one for those he deemed to be on his side. Those excluded would often huddle with Phillips and write competing stories critical of Valentine.
Valentine also fought with several players, including pitcher Al Leiter and infielder Edgardo Alfonzo, about their commitment to the team.
At one point during that tumultuous season, Newsday published a photograph of relief pitcher Grant Roberts smoking marijuana and reported that several Mets players were regular users of the drug. When Valentine addressed the resulting controversy at a packed news conference, he briefly pretended to be stoned while Wilpon and Phillips looked on disapprovingly.
Once the season was over, Leiter and team captain John Franco reportedly were among the players who advised Wilpon to fire Valentine.
‘’At the end of his tenure, it became contentious,’’ Leiter said in a recent interview. ‘’It was contentious for everybody involved. We were losing and there was a lot of frustration. When you’re not winning games, it can become a mess, and that’s what happened.
‘’I think a lot of us said and did things we probably regret.’’
Valentine held a news conference the day after he was fired, at a sports bar he owned across the street from Shea Stadium. He read a telegram of support from then-President Bush — who had fired him in Texas 10 years earlier — along with a poem written by his son.
‘’I have a bad feeling in my stomach,’’ Valentine said. ‘’I feel like I stumbled at the finish line. I like to run and it was a good run. But this isn’t the way I wanted it to end.’’
After a year with ESPN, Valentine returned to managing add in Japan end when he accepted a second stint position with the Chiba Lotte Marines. in Japan. His departure from that team six years later contained many of the same elements that were present in New York.
After winning the Japan Series and Asia Series in 2005, Valentine was given a four-year deal worth $20 million. Outside of Yankees manager Joe Torre, he was the highest-paid manager in professional baseball.
Owner Akio Shigemitsu even talked of giving Valentine a lifetime contract, according to Robert Whiting, a Japan Times correspondent who has written extensively about Valentine’s time in Japan.
Valentine was the face of the franchise, his image used in marketing campaigns and television commercials for a wide range of products, including ‘’Bo-Beer.’’ The team’s stadium featured dozens of photos of Valentine, and a street outside was named in his honor.
Valentine also integrated himself in the community, signing autographs by the thousands, speaking at schools, and instructing the team to cater more to the fans.
Valentine even cut a deal with the Red Sox to share marketing philosophies.
Chiba Lotte finished in fourth place in 2006 but came within a game of the Japanese series in 2007. In 2008, after another fourth-place finish, Valentine was summoned to Japan and told his contract would not be renewed after the 2009 season.
Team president Ryuzo Setoyama claimed the club was losing money at an unprecedented rate — $30 million-$40 million — and could not afford Valentine.
Valentine also had a coterie of handpicked staffers who were fired.
When Shigemitsu refused to intercede, Setoyama set about disassociating the team from Valentine. Fans took Valentine’s side, waving signs calling for Setoyama to be fired, and the 2009 season turned ugly.
Setoyama and his assistants smeared Valentine with the assistance of a willing media and tried to usurp his authority with the players. Valentine remained silent, forbidden from publicly criticizing the team under the terms of his contract.
Takeo Shigemitsu, chairman of the team’s monolithic parent company, ordered an investigation. While Valentine was exonerated, he was not allowed to renegotiate his contract and announced his resignation.
The Marines, beset with internal discord, finished 62-77-2, 18 1/2 games out of first place. Valentine gave an emotional farewell speech in Japanese after the final home game. Marines fans cried when he boarded a flight back to the United States.
After a second stint with ESPN, Valentine is back in uniform. This time with the Red Sox.
If history is a guide, there will be success, controversy, and then hard feelings when it comes to an end.
Or maybe not.
‘’I think I learned from all of it,’’ Valentine said. ‘’From when I had no idea how to manage in my first job to my last job when I was trying to manage and learn a new language.
‘’I’m so different in relationships from the first time until now, it’s unbelievable. I think people change, and I’m a different person now.’’
Leiter, once an adversary, now counts Valentine as a friend.
‘’Bobby is not the guy he was 10 years ago,’’ said Leiter. ‘’He had to go to Japan when major league teams wouldn’t give him a chance and now he’s back. I think he learned from all that.
‘’I think the Red Sox are a perfect job for him. I hope this time that everything goes the way he wants.’’