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February 14, 2012

Bobby Valentine a hit, as former Major League player and current manager of the Boston Red Sox awes crowd at Baseball Night in Blacksburg

By: Marc Mullen

In the past, guests attending the annual Baseball Night in Blacksburg have been treated to a number of Major Leaguers, including Hall of Famers Cal Ripken, Jr. (2008) and Jim Palmer (2009), a former Virginia Tech student-athlete in Mike Williams (2010) and a local, possible, future Hall of Famer in Billy Wagner (2011).

And when originally announced in November of last year, the 2012 special guest seemed to be of the same ilk – a former Major League player and manager who had just completed a season as an ESPN baseball analyst.

The event took on a whole new feeling, though, a month later when scheduled invitee Bobby Valentine was introduced as the newest skipper of the Boston Red Sox. Many thought Valentine might not be able to keep this date available because of his new role, but Tech head coach Pete Hughes expected otherwise.

“For Bobby to keep his commitment to our event at one of his busiest times of his life speaks volumes for who he is and how important he feels about the role of college baseball,” Hughes said. “Bobby is a man of integrity and commitment and recognizes the value of college baseball and Virginia Tech baseball.”

And for those who were part of the event, they got to learn a lot more about the man who has continued to play, manage and work in the field of professional baseball across the globe for almost 45 years. One thing they learned about quickly was Valentine’s sense of humor, which was on full display in his opening remarks and continued up until his final comments regarding one of his most infamous situations – the fake moustache disguise.

Upon his introduction by Mike Burnop, Valentine walked to the podium and completed his introduction. He stated that Burnop left out that Valentine “is the only guy in professional baseball to manage in the National League, the American League and in a professional league in Japan.

“And I’m the only one to ever be fired in the American League, the National League and the professional league in Japan. He was kind not to use that.”

Valentine continued on to explain how Hughes was able to get him to the event, telling a story about when the two men met last summer. Valentine said Hughes brought up that he used to manage for the Texas Rangers, who, at the time, had a managing general partner named George W. Bush.

After a couple of back-and-forth questions and answers, Hughes finally got to the punch line.

“He [Hughes] said, ‘If you are a great American and you believe in the Constitution, then I know you believe in the Bill of Rights?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, Pete. I do. Absolutely. No doubt about it, ’” Valentine said. “So he said, ‘Then everyone who believes in the Bill of Rights believes in free speech, right?’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ Then he said, ‘Good, I want you to give one [a free speech] to our group next year.’”

Valentine spoke for more than 40 minutes, fielding questions on a number of topics, which included his hectic schedule over the past three weeks, his opinions on the differences between managing Major League players and Japanese players, and how the game has changed since his introduction as a player in the majors with the Dodgers in 1969. He added in his personal anecdotes for full entertainment value.

He steered away a bit from any questions involving the Boston Red Sox players and the upcoming season, stating that he had only been on the job for just over two months. He said that it would be unfair to evaluate his team before actually seeing them on the field, which he does on Feb. 19 when pitchers and catchers report in Fort Myers, Fla.

Other topics revealed that Valentine possesses the ability to speak Japanese.

“I think it was one of the great achievements of my life,” Valentine said. “I got the job. I was 55 years old. Some guy bet me that I wouldn’t be able to speak the language. I won the bet and now I can do almost anything I want except read it and write it.”

He was also asked what it was like to coach Nolan Ryan, whom Valentine managed during the Hall of Famer’s final seasons in Texas. Valentine first, though, reminded everyone that he played with Ryan when he registered the first of his record seven no-hitters with the California Angels in 1973.

“As a manager, I was there for his sixth no-hitter, his seventh no-hitter, his 5,000th career strikeout and his 300th win,” Valentine said. “He was a real pain in the a--.”

Finally, he was asked about the disguise.

“Sometimes, you got to give your team what they need,” Valentine said.

To paraphrase, the Mets were in the midst of an eight-game losing streak during the 1999 season, and the general manager had just fired three of his assistants. At a press conference, Valentine explained why he didn’t leave with them, telling the media he would guide the team to a 40-15 by Sept. 1. If he didn’t, then he would quit.

So the team responded with three straight wins before the Toronto Blue Jays took the Mets to extra innings on June 9. Valentine was ejected in the 12th inning of the game after arguing a call.

“So, now I realized that the three guys that I had turned the game over to had only been with my team for two games, and they really didn’t know how I would want this game to be managed,” Valentine said. “So I handed the card over and went up to the clubhouse.”

The story unfolds sort of like a Seinfeld skit. It was not George Costanza, but Robin Ventura who gave Valentine the idea to take off his uniform and go back out in a t-shirt, sunglasses and a hat. Valentine does admit that it was his own idea, though, to place the eye-black stickers on his upper lip, and after looking at Ventura, Valentine said his response was, “They’ll never know!”

The Mets pulled out the win, and Valentine ended up being suspended two games and fined.

“But we go 40-15 by Sept. 1, and I end up saving my job,” he said.