Over 16 seasons with the Texas Rangers, New York Mets and Boston Red Sox. Bobby Valentine won 1,186 games as a Major League manager, and he enjoyed every one of them.
He was one the game’s most colorful characters, quick with a quip and an opinion, a sportswriters delight who filled notebooks with the kind of information that helped the game jump off the page.
Seven years after he managed his final game with the Red Sox in 2012, Valentine now serves Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., as its athletic director. But he still loves baseball as much as ever and pays close attention to the changes that seem to come daily to the game.
One of the biggest, of course, is the way talent is now measured. It’s metrics more than muscle. But Valentine told Tiebreaker.com on Wednesday he’d be extremely comfortable running a team in this modern time.
“It was the way I always managed, except there is better information now. Right up until the national anthem, I always was trying to gather as much information as possible to do battle. Now it seems like it’s so much easier to get the information.,” Valentine said.
“If you go back to 1985 when I began to manage (in Texas) I had a sabremetrician on my staff who crunched numbers and wrote essays. Today, there’s all this great info in those packets [managers receive] and you don’t need to wait until game time to get it. You get it days before and you have people analyzing it for you.
“You know, I’m not sure if people totally believe every manager just asks a computer what to do when a situation comes up. One of those times he’s going to ask what should happen and the computer will say fire the manager. There are many times during a game when a manager is there to actually manage the situation. It’s not as easy as those who believe it’s all done [strategy] before the game think. Those people are absolutely incorrect.”
Valentine watched with great interest as two of the sport’s biggest stars, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, signed megadeals with the San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Phillies. He’s not sure there were be many more contracts like those signed again.
“I didn’t think the top-tiered guys, in particular the unique ones, would change the system at all. They would be the one who set the bar because they are so young. Not many players have that type of opportunity,” Valentine said. “Baseball is getting guys later (into free agency) so they won’t be 26 years old and a free agent (as Machado and Harper were). … Now when you go down the line, it’s likely there will be no one that’s a six-time all-star, rookie of the year and MVP on the market at 26 years old. I don’t think anyone will ever get that type of money again. Mike Trout won’t be too old (in 2020), but he won’t be as young (as Machado and Harper).”
Over the last two off-seasons, the players’ union has become suspicious of management because of the slow pace quality free agents have been signed. A number of quality stars, like outfielder Adam Jones and pitcher Dallas Keuchel, are still unsigned this season.
For that reason, there’s a feeling the union and management may be headed to a work stoppage once the current Collective Bargaining Agreement ends following the 2021 season.
“I’d say reasonable is what the system has been like for the last 20 years or so. I lived through the years that were less than reasonable, which is where we are today,” Valentine said. “I believe the pendulum is going to swing back a little [to the owners]. There may be a lot of labor disharmony for a couple of years and then depending on who the voices are at the table, there will be a system that I believe will look very different moving forward. Everyone hopefully will be able to live with it or there may be a couple of work stoppages. I hope it’s the former and not the latter.”
Valentine believes it was the genius of Marvin Miller, the former head of the players union, that devised a system of free agency that insured the proper number of quality players hit the market each season.
“The madness behind the method of having seven years (before earning free agency) is to create market scarcity,” Valentine said. “Marvin Miller understood where that price point should be. I was a player representative twice, in 1972 and 1976, and I was on the soapbox that players should be a free agent every year. As I grew older, I began to realize how bad that would have been for the players side because there never would have been scarcity of talent.”
Valentine believes there is a reason free agents are having more of a problem signing lucrative deals than ever before.
“I just think there’s a certain profile out there (for players) that’s being eliminated from the multi-year, high annual salary range,” Valentine said. “Now, how everyone (ownership) is suddenly thinking the same is suspect, but now you have this system of metrics and everyone is using them the same and coming to the same conclusions. That gives off a sense of collusion that is sure to be tested [by the players]. … There is more definitive verification of players abilities now.”
When it comes time to negotiate the new CBA there is sure to be a lot of give-and-take from both sides angling for the best deal for themselves.
There is one rule change the owners seen hot on – requiring relief pitchers to pitch to at least three hitters – that they are passing off as a vehicle to quicken games. Valentine sees it differently.
“I like the concept of it (the rule), but I hate the thought of it being implemented. It’s one more way of neutering the job of a manager. I don’t like fourth-inning pitchers, no doubt about that,” Valentine said. “But if you come in and get the last out of the seventh inning and need to pitch to three hitters, I don’t think that’s the strategy teams should have to be strapped to. I’d like it before a certain inning, possibly. I really dislike the overmanaging early in the game, late in the season, when you have an expanded roster and just marching guys into the game in the third and fourth innings to get some kind of platoon advantage. The hitters eventually will be to neutralize that kind of stuff. In order to survive they need to learn to hit the same-sided pitcher in order to be something other than a platoon player.
“But the real idea here is to phase out a specific job description (the specialty reliever). The rule is not being implemented by the players, remember, it’s coming from management and it’s not designed to speed up the game. It’s being done to reduce the scarcity Marvin Miller craved in one specific area. Marvin would always say what we want is to have is two left-handed relievers as free agents with 24 teams wanting them. Ownerships’ answer is to look at a guy and say, he’s in to pitch to only one hitter and I am paying him how much?”
Valentine obviously hopes there will be no strike. He knows enough about what the game means to everyone involved that it would be a bad look. But he said it will likely depend on the mindset of the modern player, most of whom have already been enriched by the system that currently exists.
“I’m not sure if there will a strike. I can’t quite wrap my head around the thought process of the players now, who have benefited the most from the system. In past strikes, the veterans and leaders of the teams were playing union baseball because they felt there was still more for them to gain, more for the younger players and incoming ones to gain,” Valentine said.
“Now there are so many players who have their contracts. They are 33 and know they aren’t getting another deal at 37. Whether it’s Harper or Machado, there is an entire group of players who are well because of the owner’s check. I don’t know how much they will be willing to fight for the future. … I don’t want to paint everyone with the same brush, but its tough when you don’t have anything to gain, you’re being told the game is getting ready to go to hell in a breadbasket, and you can save the game by not giving in to the other side, which it will come down to.
“There is consequence to a work stoppage or strike. You need to figure out what you are willing to give. But I don’t know. I don’t have the temperature of the modern player.”