Like seemingly everyone else around these parts, I know Bobby Valentine pretty well. When I was the Mets beat writer for the Post back in 2000 and 2001, Bobby V was the team's manager.
I was 25 when I got the job and covering Valentine was like going to graduate school for a reporter. You always had to know who he was talking to and what he was talking about. Any success I've had since, can be largely owed to the experience I gained over those two seasons.
It wasn't easy covering Valentine and we had our moments when we didn't see eye-to-eye. He was nearly twice my age and felt he knew more than me about the sport (which, of course, he did), while I was an aggressive reporter from a feisty tabloid.
More than once, I had to remind him that asking a question is not not necessarily questioning a move. Over the two years, I never became "one of his guys," but I was also not in the smaller camp that hated him. We had what I would describe as a solid relationship.
It was relaxed enough that when he met my wife at the Thurman Munson Dinner, he held two fingers in front of her face. I was a little befuddled by this, but my wife was quick and said, "Yes, Bobby, I can see." I think Valentine's nature is playful.
He likes to be liked, which is probably his biggest drawback. If there are 10 people in a room and nine think he is a genius, he is concerned about the 10th. From my experience, the 10th person is usually wrong on Bobby V. But V can't let it go.
Valentine is the smartest manager I have ever been around. At The Post, my sports editor often wanted me to question moves that Valentine made, but there was a problem with that. From the press box in the seventh inning, what looked liked a bad move -- bringing in a lefty, for instance -- was often explained with how it impacted three corresponding tactics. In my two years, I could only remember one time -- taking Glendon Rusch out in some random game in Montreal -- where I didn't feel Valentine's reasoning lived up to his decision.
Valentine was always getting into it with someone. He and Rickey Henderson had their moments, too, and brought me into their tete-a-tete. In May 2000, Henderson hit one of his trademark off-the-wall singles. After the game, you first go into the manager's office. Valentine tried to cover for Henderson, as much as he could.
When Henderson spoke, he said, if given a do-over, he would have done it again. When I relayed this to Valentine to find out his reaction, he stood up from his desk and just went to the bathroom.
The next day, the headline on my story said: "Rickey: I'll loaf again." (In fairness, I wrote in the lede that Henderson "styled," but an editor changed it to "loafed" without asking me and then put it in the headline). Rickey was not happy with the story and wanted to talk to me about it. He got very mad, saying if he were not such a nice guy it would be me on my behind. It got so loud and heated that the Associated Press wrote about it, calling it a "shouting match," though all I did was listen. The Mets would release Henderson later in the day, which happened to be Valentine's 50th birthday.
Another time, the Mets were going to send down Jersey Bobby Jones. In trying to find out if Jones was going to Triple-A, I asked some innocuous question of Jones and he went on a classic rant, calling Valentine "a joke." Jones was sent down, but things were so dysfunctional between GM Steve Phillips and Valentine that Phillips would call Jones back to the majors later in the year.
You guys all know Bobby, too. He's been a part of New York for a long time now. If he is part of the Rivalry in 2011, it will be a whole lot more interesting.
Joe Girardi is probably the second-smartest manager I've covered. But he is bland, by design.
Valentine is much harder to cover. And he would make the rivalry a lot more fun. It needs him. Gene Lamont would not bring the same buzz.