Nostalgia is a product of dissatisfaction and rage. It´s a settling of grievances between the present and the past.
– Don DeLillo, White Noise
In all likelihood this will be the offseason in which we face the grim reality that our broke, troubled, outclassed team has become the Baltimore Orioles of the National League. We have been told that the Mets are enduring a temporary rebuilding phase, but it increasingly looks more like the start of semi-permanent downsizing, during which our franchise’s fortunes will be decided by accountants and lawyers instead of by a smart front office assembled to preside over very little.
Thank goodness, then, for distractions, such as much improved uniforms and the return of Banner Day. I actually don’t mean that to be cynical. Seriously — thank goodness for distractions. If we’re going to have to suffer Grant/de Roulet II, let’s at least do it without drop shadows and two-tone hats.
And thank goodness for the return of Bobby Valentine.
No, not to the Mets. As you’ve no doubt heard by now, he’s the new manager of the Boston Red Sox, sometimes known as the team with the second-most-visible baseball cap in New York. I don’t particularly regret that Bobby’s commute will take him north of Connecticut instead of south — baseball reunions tend to be bad ideas, and I always thought calls for Bobby’s return to Flushing were based more on revanchism than reality. Even if you disagree with me on that point, this is the next best thing: Given the endless soap opera that is Yankees-Red Sox, he’ll be a near-daily presence in this town, and tasked with doing harm to our enemies. That’s pretty good.
Why was he gone so long? Blame baseball’s Pleistocene worldview, the same one that packs the ownership ranks with undead moguls and interchangeable corporate weasels while the likes of Mark Cuban are barred from the door. Bobby Valentine’s greatest sin has been that he’s too interesting. Like most successful organizations, baseball teams are built by renegades and risk-takers but come to abhor such people once their focus shifts to self-perpetuation. It’s chiefly by accident that people like Valentine wind up getting second chances in such places.
But what a happy accident.
Because Bobby Valentine is certainly interesting. Many pixels have been lit up in praise of his knowledge of baseball and tactical experiments, but saying he’s an interesting baseball manager isn’t really such a compliment. By all accounts Valentine is an interesting person — intellectually restless and curious, approaching new challenges with arms wide open, and monomaniacal in pursuit of his goals. His tenure in Japan is a remarkable story that deserves more examination than it gets: Rather than treat the Japanese leagues as an Elba from which to brood and cash checks, Valentine taught himself the language, patiently reformed some of the etched-in-stone basics of the Japanese game and its associated trappings, turned a sad-sack team into champions, and left as a folk hero. Closer to home, of course, he was tireless and dogged in the awful days after 9/11, central to the effort to turn Shea into a mustering point for supplies sent to Ground Zero and seemingly everywhere helping people, whether anyone was watching or not. When leadership and sacrifice and caring were needed most, Valentine showed he had ample reserves of all three.
Does Valentine have faults? Of course he does. He loves the spotlight, he plays favorites, he nurses grudges and he shoots off his mouth while aiming at his own feet. And like many a manager before him, his tactical brilliance seems driven in part by paranoia, the middle-of-the-night anxiety that someone, somewhere is plotting against him.
But so what if he has faults? Most interesting people do.
I can’t wait to see him flash those pearly whites after the writers realize some unorthodox move he made has beaten the Yankees with everyone watching. I can’t wait to hear that he’s eviscerated Dan Shaughnessy in response to some manufactured controversy. And I really can’t wait to hear him say things that make Joe Girardi squirm and the Yankees brass sputter fatuously. Joe Torre was the perfect foil for Valentine: Bobby tended to look wounded and frantic when measured against Joe’s motionless, ironclad dignity. Girardi, by comparison, is a faintly pitiable mix of egotistical, needy and deeply boring. He has no chance in this fight. None.
Come February, pass the popcorn. I don’t know how it’s all going to turn out, but I’ll guarantee this: It will be interesting. Bobby Valentine always is.
Double your pleasure by reading Greg’s take on Bobby V.’s new gig.