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Valentine mulls big league options

Valentine mulls big league options

With his tenure in Japan about to come to an end, Bobby Valentine is looking for a new challenge. After six seasons managing the Chiba Lotte Marines of Japan's Pacific League, the former skipper of the Rangers and Mets would love to return to the Major Leagues next season.

"Are you offering me a job?" said a half-kidding Valentine when reached by phone recently in Osaka, where his Marines were continuing to play out the season's string. "It's just life over here in the Land of the Rising Sun. We have a couple of more months and we're having a terrible season. But life is good. I enjoy life."

The question back in the U.S. is: Will there be any takers? Valentine somewhat rancorously departed the Mets in 2002 and, after a year of on-air commentary, returned to Chiba -- where he managed one season in 1995 between his stints in Texas and New York.

Though Valentine has been working thousands of miles and many time zones away, his exploits have been well-chronicled. He's hardly out of sight and out of mind. And now that Chiba management has told him his $3.9 million contract is too expensive for their tastes, he's again a prime candidate for a big league comeback.

"I think in time Bobby is going to be able to do whatever he wants to do because he's a very talented baseball person," said Omar Minaya, the Mets' general manager, who served as the club's assistant GM during some of the seven years that Valentine spent as its manager. "Whether it's on TV or back in uniform, he's still young enough to work in any capacity. He's one of the sharpest baseball men I've ever been around."

But it won't be back with the Mets, Minaya said. Not in the current power structure. Despite a rash of injuries and the Mets' lost 2009 season, Minaya has three years to run on his current contract. If Minaya stays, there is no room at Citi Field for the man who managed the Mets to the 2000 World Series, where they lost to the Yankees in five games.

"No, no, not here," Minaya said. "I'm very happy with Jerry Manuel. That's not even a consideration."

Not even as a consultant?

"The way my staff is set up now, I don't see that happening, no," Minaya said.

And so, the 59-year-old Valentine is again job hunting. He said he's in the process of hiring a firm to place him back in a Major League uniform or on TV.

But his top priority is managing again in the big leagues, where he boasts a National League pennant winner and a .510 winning percentage (1,117-1,072) in 15 seasons. For Chiba Lotte, Valentine also enjoyed wild success, winning the 2005 Japan Series, the first time the Marines had accomplished that in 31 years.

"That would be ideal," Valentine said about managing again in the Majors. "I still work out every day. I don't drink and eat too much, so I think I can do that. I can be on the field. I can deal with the young people and do the thing I love the most. And if not, maybe I'll have to talk about people who are doing the thing they love to do the most."

Valentine is widely respected as having a gifted intellect and a keen baseball mind. His interests go beyond the sport, which makes him somewhat of an anomaly among the traditional baseball set. And, most of all, he has a hunger to learn, a characteristic that was exhibited in his stints as manager of Chiba Lotte. After all, he taught himself to read, write and converse in a very difficult language.

"He's one of the most intelligent baseball men I've ever met," said Ron Darling, who pitched for the Mets when Valentine was the third-base coach and is now a team broadcaster. "For that alone, he deserves to be back in the Major Leagues. Maybe his years in Japan have tempered him a little bit."

Tale of Two Nations
Bobby Valentine has a winning managerial record both in the U.S. and in his seven years in Japan.
Team (Years)
Record
Highlights
Texas Rangers
1985-92
581-605 (.490)Most wins by a
Rangers manager
New York Mets
1996-2002
536-467 (.534)2000 World Series appearance
U.S. total
(15 seasons)
1,117-1,072 (.510)
Chiba Lotte Marines (1995, 2004-09)473-430-21 (.523)'05 Japan Series title

Don't count on it. Valentine is happiest when he has control and for a long while he enjoyed it with the Marines, installing up-to-date electronic scouting systems and progressive marketing techniques. He turned that franchise into a cash cow, increasing membership in the team's fan club by 600 percent and revenues by 400 percent, The New York Times reported in May.

Now, he says, upper management wants to undo everything he has accomplished. This season they banished five of his most trusted aides, telling them that they would be paid but had to stay away from the ballpark.

"They're going back to the future," Valentine said pretty wistfully. "I don't understand it, but that's their prerogative. I meshed with a lot of things over here: the language, the food and everything else. The only thing I haven't quite meshed with is that very often I did not say what was supposed to be said. I guess I had the same problem over there [in the Major Leagues]."

Valentine's reputation always precedes him, but that doesn't stop the rumor-mill from already generating possible big league landing places.

When the Nationals dismissed Manny Acta at the All-Star break, word had it that Valentine might be in line for the job. No chance. It was given to Jim Riggleman, whom management may be content with enough to bring back for a full run next season.

Could Valentine eventually be a good fit with the Dodgers, where he has a lifelong friend and confidant in Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda? Not with Joe Torre owning another season on his contract. When asked this weekend if he intends to retire after the 2010 season as previously stated, Torre said: "I think so."

Would that open up a place ultimately for Valentine?

"How would I know? I don't make those decisions," said Torre, who reportedly has been grooming hitting coach Don Mattingly as his possible replacement. "All I know is that Bobby is a very good baseball man. He just needs somebody to believe in him.

"I was out for six seasons [between losing his Braves job in 1984 and being hired by the Cardinals in '90]. It didn't mean I knew any less about baseball. The Cardinals job opened and [then GM] Dal Maxvill hired me. Bobby's going to need somebody like that."

No question, Valentine needs a secure owner and general manager to work with if he is to return to the big leagues, Darling agreed.

"It would take an owner that would let Bobby, alone, run the team -- same thing with the GM," Darling said. "The problem now is owners want GMs to run the team and the manager has to be in compliance. That's not going to work with Bobby."

To be sure, Valentine said he had a fine time in Japan and doesn't want the way it's ending to spoil the experience. Despite his split with Chiba management, Valentine departs knowing that he has left a major mark on the hearts of local baseball fans.

After the Marines announced prior to the season that Valentine was indeed a lame duck, fans gathered more than 100,000 signatures on a petition and had vocal rallies imploring management to bring their Bobby back.

At one rally, fans carried signs saying: "We would rather fight with Bobby, who says we're the world's best fans, than with a front office who calls us worthless" and "Bobby stands behind us. We stand behind Bobby."

The support touched Valentine deeply, but in the end management was undaunted. Thus, last month, Valentine revealed on his own Web site that indeed he was not returning to Chiba.

"I'm confident something good will happen," Valentine said. "My life has been blessed and something good always happens. I'm just trying to make the last few months here for my fans, my players, my coaches and everyone around me as comfortable as possible. We've had a wonderful run. I don't want it to end on a lousy note. And I don't want it to end with anyone thinking that I'm in a hurry to leave."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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