Friday, December 17, 2021

Review: Valentine's Way (2021)

By Bobby Valentine and Peter Golenbock

Ah, Bobby Valentine. No matter what you think of him, you have to admit it's difficult to ignore him.

That means the baseball lifer has a story to tell about his various exploits. You can read all about it in "Valentine's Way" - which is an actual street in Japan that was renamed in his honor after he managed a team to a championship.

Valentine has been in the public eye for most of his life through athletics. It started in high school, when he was one of the greatest all-around athletes to ever come out of Stamford, Connecticut. There wasn't much he couldn't do on an athletic field or court, and he ended up going to the Los Angeles Dodgers as a first-round draft choice. 

Stardom with the Dodgers seemed right around the corner, but injuries - bad ones - got in his way. First he blew out his knee, and then he broke his leg chasing a fly ball. So Bobby never did live up to his potential as a player, even though he spent 11 years in the major leagues. The subject of going from superstar in waiting to scrub isn't one covered in most sports books, so it's interesting to get his perspective on it.

Valentine adjusted nicely to life after playing baseball by coaching and managing in it. He guided the Texas Rangers for a while, jumped to Japan for a year, and then returned to the United States to work for the Mets. The highlight came in 2000, when New York reached the World Series against the Yankees. The Mets lost that matchup, but if you look at that team's roster for that season, you'd have to admit that getting that far was a simply remarkable achievement. 

Valentine eventually wore out his welcome in New York, went back to Japan for a few years (which is covered in a section that contains the names of a lot of players that you've never heard about), returned to America to work for ESPN, and eventually managed the Boston Red Sox for one difficult season. Bobby V went to work as a college athletic director from there, and even ran for mayor of Stamford in 2021. That campaign took place too late for inclusion in the book; he lost the election by a few thousand votes.

The text of the publication certainly comes off as genuine. It's easy to guess that a conversation with Valentine would need only a few minutes for Stamford to come up. He apparently knew everyone in that city, and still keeps in touch with them. It's fair to say that you have to give Valentine credit for loyalty. Once someone was his friend, he or she stayed that way by most accounts.

Valentine has never come off as a particularly humble man, and that's certainly the case here. I don't know if he was as much of an innovator in baseball operations as he claims here, but he certainly was a smart guy who was always open to new ideas. During his broadcasting days, Bobby knew the game cold - to the point where his analysis frequently brought up unique viewpoints. 

We want to know about some of the more controversial moments of his baseball life, and he doesn't shy away from them. In other words, some people encountered along the way don't come off too well - from Walt Alston to Josh Beckett. Admittedly, this is his side of the story - it had better be, naturally - but there are even a few moments that he admits he'd like to have back and/or didn't handle particularly well. 

By the way, co-author Peter Golenbock deserves a little credit for making this book read quite smoothly. Golenbock was on my radio talk show a couple of times about 40 years ago, and it's nice to see he's still working. 

"Valentine's Way" isn't going to change many minds about the life and times of Bobby V. If you think of him as an innovative, interesting person, this will back you up. If he's a little too full of himself for your tastes, there's supporting evidence there too. Just don't call him or his book boring, because there's plenty here to keep you entertained. 

Four stars

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