In hiring Bobby Valentine, the Boston Red Sox got themselves a manager with strong tactical mind. But more importantly for the rest of us, the man leading one of baseball’s most high-profile franchises – one coming off a season in which it blew a monster late-season lead while players were eating chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse – is rarely boring. Here’s five things to know about “Bobby V.”
1. Who is that masked man? In 2000 Valentine led a New York Mets team with aging corner infielders – Todd Zeile at first, Robin Ventura at third – and a patchwork outfield featuring three mediocre players (Benny Agbayani, Jay Payton, Timo Perez) to the World Series, where they lost to the crosstown New York Yankees. He never got enough credit for pulling this off. What everyone remembers from his Met tenure, however, is the mustache. During a 1999 game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Valentine was ejected in the 12th inning for arguing a catcher’s interference call on Mike Piazza. Before the Mets won the game in the 14th, however, Valentine sneaked back into the Mets dugout while wearing a fake mustache and sunglasses. The Groucho Mark disguise did not amuse baseball officials: Valentine was suspended two games, and fined $5,000.
2. He Invented the Wrap Sandwich (Maybe) A Wall Street Journal piece dug into this one: Valentine has long said that in 1980, a faulty toaster in his Stanford, Conn. restaurant forced him to wrap the bacon, lettuce, and tomato in a tortilla instead. Thus, the wrap sandwich was born. Valentine doesn’t claim to have iron-clad proof that he invented the wrap, but he doesn’t deny inventing it either. However, the Journal reports that a Boston joint, Sami’s Filafel, claims to have sold a wrap since 1979. “Every time I hear them say that [Valentine] made it, I start yelling – we’ve been making wraps in Lebanon forever,” says Sami Saba, the founder’s son. A the Thursday press conference introducing Valentine as manager, the Red Sox served wraps.
3. He’s a Government Bureaucrat. In January, Stamford mayor Michael Pavia named Valentine the city’s director of public health and safety. Some Stamford residents criticized the appointment – “When do we get to meet Derek Jeter?” quipped Sgt. Joe Kennedy, president of the city’s police union, to the Stamford Advocate. The city will now hire a full-time director to replace Valentine, who was paid $10,000 for his service. (He gave the money to charity). Pavia praised Valentine’s hands-on performance, noting that he even directed traffic during a power outage. When Hurricane Irene hit the northeast in August, however, Valentine was out of town broadcasting a baseball game for ESPN.
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4. The Man Can Dance. While managing the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan in 2006, Valentine taught a dance class at a Gold’s Gym near his apartment, in exchange for free membership. Sports Illustrated reported that “Before Saturday-night home games Valentine, who was a ballroom dancing champion as a teenager, teaches the cha-cha to Marines fans as a way to attract women to the park. (It’s worked; more women and children buy tickets to see the Marines than to see any other Japanese baseball team).” One can only hope we’ll see the cha-cha on Yawkey Way before Sox games.
5. Bringing Back Buck? USC recruited Valentine, a baseball and football star from Stamford, to replace O.J. Simpson at running back. Instead, Valentine focused on baseball, and was roommates with former Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner, whose error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series caused all of New England to curse him for years. The Los Angeles Dodgers drafted both players, and Valentine and Buckner are still good buddies. Valentine said he would consider Buckner for a spot on his coaching staff, maybe even hitting coach. If Buckner is half a good a coach as he is self-deprecating actor – he made an outstanding Curb Your Enthusiasm cameo this summer (warning: that clip features some pretty hilarious profanity) – home runs might be flying out of Fenway.