Sports commentators and announcers don’t normally affect me one way or another, but I came across one Sunday night that (to me) is abrasive, cocky, and, most of all, clueless….and, at one time, was considered to be a strong managerial candidate for the Reds. His name is Bobby Valentine who played for nine years and managed for fifteen years in the big leagues.
Valentine was a HUGE Dodger talent in the early 1970’s, appearing as a pinch runner five times in 1969 at the age of 19, before sticking in the majors in 1971 as a utility guy. Of course, a prospect isn’t called a utility player, but typically described as “versatile,” and Valentine was definitely versatile, playing both the infield and outfield his rookie season. His shining 597 OPS at age 21 only proved he wasn’t ready, so the Dodgers tried to force him into being ready the next year. His 654 OPS at age 22 allowed the Dodgers to conclude that it may be wise to make Valentine available to other major league organizations. He was dealt to the Angels in a trade for Andy Messersmith where he was inserted as the starting shortstop and then moved to centerfield about a month later. He crashed into a fence, broke a leg, and then embarked on a true utility journeyman career, playing for three more teams (five teams in nine years) and less than 400 games in the next six years before becoming a manager.
He had a rather stable managing career, heading the Rangers for eight years and the Mets for seven years. Valentine had an overall .510 winning percentage, and wasn’t afraid to to give young players an opportunity. However, he also was somewhat hard to please…the following is from baseball-reference.com:
As a manager, Valentine was combative, talkative, the center of attention. He tried odd things to get players’ attention, and rode young players hard, perhaps forcing them into roles that stretched their talents too much — playing doughy slugger Pete Incaviglia in center field, for instance. In 1988, Valentine demoted rising stars Oddibe McDowell, Jerry Browne, and Bobby Witt to AAA Oklahoma City for perceived lack of hustle and concentration. Though just average as an in-game strategist, Valentine was obviously a good judge of talent; many major-league stars broke in under his tutelage, including Ruben Sierra, Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, and Dean Palmer.
So, it would seem that Valentine was being true to himself. Unfortunately, what he learned from his experiences was wrong.
The two points he made tonight that have me at my keyboard are as follows:
1) ESPN columnist Buster Olney was discussing how baseball, especially, the “Moneyball” teams, were now valuing defense more than the other teams, just as the so-called “Moneyball” teams valued OBP a few years a go more than other major league teams. Valentine excitedly jumped in and said something to the effect that now the teams could start concentrating on what matters most in winning, presumably dismissing OBP as an important facet of the game. Buster seemed to get knocked back about three feet in his chair as Valentine seemed to exult over what he believes to be a valuable change in baseball.
2) THEN, discussing Braves 19 year old outfield superprospect Jason Heyward, the panelists were suggesting that the Braves may wait a few months to call him up, using the path the Braves traveled last year with pitcher Tommy Hanson. Valentine went off, saying Bobby Cox needed him now, and maybe the Braves would have went to the playoffs last year if Hanson had only been on the team during all of the 2009 season.
Now…I’m an “experiential” person. If something worked for me, I’m happy to trumpet it to everyone I see and vouch for it’s dependabilty. On the flipside, if I’ve done something and it didn’t work out, a team of horses would find it difficult to drag me into trying the event again.
Well, Bobby Valentine is more than happy to repeat what he did, whether it was a good idea or not. Major League teams rushed their young players to the majors during the late 1960’s and 70’s. Valentine had but a .318 OBP in 1969 before the Dodgers called him up. He reached base at a much higher clip in his following two minor league seasons (around .380), but his major league on base rate was never good…his career OBP was .315 and he was never known for his glove. Even without the great glove, he played every position on the baseball field during a game except for pitcher.
So…he was called up early, before he was ready, and he wasn’t good at getting on base…and now he implies that OBP isn’t important. As a manager, he wasn’t afraid to play young players with poor on base percentages (see the gray box) and wasn’t afraid to play them almost anywhere (Pete Incaviglia in CF?).
Well, maybe there was a reason the Dodgers traded their prized #1 draft pick prospect Valentine.
As Big Red Machine fans know, the Dodgers were a juggernaut in the 1970’s. With due respect paid to the early 1970’s Oakland A’s teams and the Pirates of the same decade, the Dodgers may have been the decade’s second best team behind the Reds. They had possibly the most stable infield in baseball history (blocking Valentine) and they were stocked in the outfield, making Valentine expendable. The Dodgers’ pitching staff, in my opinion, was the best in baseball during the 1970’s.
However, Valentine may have been expendable because he just wasn’t good enough. Only four times during the 1970’s did the Dodgers have a higher than league average on base percentage, 1974, ’77, ’78, and ’79. They finished first in the NL West three times, and those three times came when they had a better than average OBP (74, 77, and 78). The Dodgers pitching staff held the opposition to a lower than league average OBP every year except for 1979…and that’s the only year that the Dodgers didn’t win first with a better than average on base percentage.
The Dodgers had a rather stable lineup during the 1970’s; it was hard to break into regular duty with them at that time. They weren’t an old team–average age was generally somewhere around 27 for the hitters and 28 for the pitchers–prime peak seasons for most players. There’s also little question in my mind that the Dodgers didn’t properly develop Valentine. He was a fantastic athlete until the broken leg limited his mobility, but that injury occurred while with the Angels.
My point? Valentine doesn’t get what made the Dodgers successful. They were contenders by having a pitching staff that kept opposing hitters from reaching base, and they won the years when the Dodgers themselves got on base better than league average. They didn’t win the years their on base percentage was low. They also didn’t haphazardly turn over major league jobs to youth and play them at any position the manager felt was cool for the day. I wonder if Dusty Baker has actually looked at these results, too? Remember, he was a Dodger during these days, too.
It’s amazing to me how sometimes we get so involved in what we’re doing that we don’t stop to analyze what makes us, or our organization, tick. Anyway, ESPN announced during the show that Valentine will be with them all year. I’ll be certain to keep the sound down…and I’m glad I have Redleg Nation to entertain and inform me instead.