Bobby Valentine is not the kind of guy to hold back his feelings. He never has been.
Sportswriters Association of Japan in Tokyo.
So it was no surprise when the manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines unloaded on the upcoming World Baseball Classic, an event being organized by Major League Baseball and the union for MLB players, at a recent meeting of the Foreign Sportswriters Association of Japan in Tokyo.
The revelation came in just how vehemently Valentine is opposed to the entire proposition of the WBC.
“Anything that helps promote baseball around the world I’m in favor of. This idea, this MLB production, is misguided. I think it was put together by people who don’t understand the game of baseball, neither worldwide or on an individual team basis,” said Valentine.
“To have it before the season begins is as bad an idea as there ever has been. Every spring training I have ever been in, my pitchers have taken until the last start to even think they are ready to pitch six innings.
“Now we are going to start a month earlier — where guys are going to be training on their own — to get ready for a series that starts at the beginning of March and finishes at the end of March? I think it’s just misguided.”
Valentine, who is now in his second tour of duty with the Marines (after previously managing the club in 1995), says he is not a big fan of flag-waving.
“I don’t like the idea of nationalistic sports. I like team sports. I don’t like nations rooting for their teams. I think that brings down the popularity of baseball, because only one nation wins.
“I don’t think what baseball needs now is to divide countries; I think it needs to bring them together. I’m not sure how this is supposed to be doing that.
“You are taking players from the MLB, where there are enough rifts that I have seen over the years between the different nationalities on teams — not only between the non-Americans and the Americans — but between players from different Latin countries.”
To illustrate his point, Valentine cited a couple of examples.
“You are going to have guys from Venezuela sliding into guys from Puerto Rico and guys from the Dominican Republic throwing at the heads of guys from Japan — not necessarily that they are throwing at them — but it becomes a dividing thing.”
Valentine, who managed the Mets to the World Series in 2000, is not just bashing the WBC without a vision in mind. He has a concept firmly in mind.
“A true World Series (between a North American and Asian champion) is the only thing they should be thinking about. It is totally feasible. They do it in Little League. The model is already there. It’s not an idea from Mars.
“In order for it to be a true competition, there has to be revenue-sharing. The playing field has to be similar. Major League Baseball should be looking to expand their league to have divisions of baseball in Asia.
“Because Asia has an infrastructure that mirrors the one of the MLB. You have television, you have fans, you have teams with money, you have owners with money.”
Valentine makes it clear he is not talking about a contest between the winner of the Japan Series and the World Series.
“I don’t think it should be a different league challenging the MLB, it should be divisions from here (Asia).
“It would be about a 10-team division. Five teams in each division, with the winners playing in the playoffs.”
Valentine, who managed the Texas Rangers from 1985-1992, believes the migration of Japanese players to the majors, and the explosion of television coverage of those players in this country, has hurt pro baseball in Japan.
“One of the problems we have had here over the past 10 years, is that not only have the players gone to America and left their teams here, but the people here have become fans of American teams.
“You only have so many hours in a day to be a fan of a certain team. Many people here are giving their attention to an MLB team.”
Valentine says you don’t have to be an economist to calculate the massive potential for revenue if his idea was adopted.
“If you want to follow the money in baseball, you go to what the television dollars are generating. The worldwide television dollars will be a multiple of what the national television dollars are there.
“Once someone realizes that, with the time difference, the programming that would be created in the United States, with games being played here, would be in the morning and the morning audience is the one that they have lost over the last 10 years — the women and the children.
“If you can get MLB on TV in the morning, and start getting those eyeballs back to watching baseball on television, then you are talking about the future of the game.”
Valentine noted that injuries will be a key concern with players participating in the WBC.
“I wouldn’t be happy if some of my players were selected. I wouldn’t be happy about it at all.
“In my short career as a player, I made or missed the playoffs by just one game five times. With an event like this, an injury to a player could be costly for a team.
“If they play it in November, a two-week injury would mean nothing to the team and the fans that root for it. That’s the risk, and the reward is that one country is going to say they won the World Cup of baseball.”
In addition to being against the nationalism that the WBC may inspire, Valentine is down on the concept of putting together teams of stars for the competition.
“I don’t like the game being played by individuals. All of the All-Star competitions turn me off of baseball.
“The (Yomiuri) Giants have lost some of their appeal over the years, because they became an All-Star team. They became something less than that baseball group that worked together.
“So many little things happen within the game. Real teams overcome those little things, where great individuals don’t.
“Baseball teams build as the season goes on. My thought of an All-Star competition is against the grain of what I believe baseball is all about. I don’t think it is a game of stars, I think it is a game of team players playing together in a truly ultimate way.”
Valentine doesn’t like the fact that the Japanese players weren’t consulted by anyone before news of the WBC was made public.
“They want to hold this World Cup without even consulting with Japanese baseball players and decide they are going to give them seven percent of the cut and the major league players are going to get 39 percent. It’s insulting.”
(The MLB has not released details on how revenue from the World Baseball Classic will be divided among the participating nations.)
“The Japanese players should stick to their guns (in opposing playing the event prior to the season). Their union is coming off a nice win.
“They struck for two days last year and got what they wanted. They should look back and learn from that and say, ‘Hey, they (the WBC organizers) need Japan more than Japan needs that tournament.’ “
Valentine, who played 10 seasons in the majors after being drafted as a first-round pick by the Dodgers in 1968, offered his thoughts on a variety of subjects during the course of the June 27 meeting with the FSAJ.
On Marty Kuehnert being demoted as general manager of the expansion Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles just one month into the season:
“I tell all of my players and coaches when they come here, ‘Don’t ever be surprised.’ So I wasn’t surprised. I was disappointed.
“I think Marty was a good man for the job. He was putting forth his best effort and doing what had to be done for an expansion franchise. They probably just lined up the wrong people with him.
“His owner (Hiroshi Mikitani) is one of these results-oriented guys who has always been successful. So he said, ‘Push the button and make it work.’ He was being told why it wasn’t working.
“Was he being told that stuff because the people who were saying it were racist? Or was it because they wanted Marty’s job? I think they wanted his job.”
On Hideo Nomo:
“Nomo is a first-ballot Hall of Famer as far as I am concerned.
“It was tough for Jackie Robinson. It was twice as tough for Nomo. The only thing Nomo didn’t have to worry about was his life being threatened.
“But it was more difficult for him to play (in the major leagues) because of all the distractions with the media.”
On the showing of Hideki Irabu (who Valentine managed with the Marines in 1995) in the majors:
“That was one of the biggest disappointments in the history of baseball. I haven’t had any contact with him and don’t know what he is doing now.”
On the disappointing performance of Kazuo Matsui with the New York Mets in his first two seasons:
“I’m not surprised, I’m disappointed. He has much better talent. Once he signed with the Mets, he couldn’t be successful.
“It’s not his ability, it’s the circumstances.
“Jose Reyes was the child prodigy of the New York Mets and he’s a shortstop. Once they said Matsui was going to take his place, he was in a no-win situation.
“I was asked (in 2003) by then-GM Jim Duquette and then-manager Art Howe what I thought of Kazuo Matsui. I told them my concerns about the expectations, but they thought I was overreacting.”
On the state of pro baseball in Japan:
“From my seat on the field, baseball is on the way up. I see fans that I never thought I would see before in places like Chiba, Sapporo and Fukuoka.
“All of our interleague games were wonderful. To play in Koshien was an experience of a lifetime, not only for me but for my players.”
On what changes he would like to see in the game here:
“During interleague play, let’s have the pitchers hit in the Pacific League parks and the DH play in the Central League stadiums so the fans can get a different look. I think that would be good.
“The rainout situation also has to be addressed. You can’t be making up games at the end of the season. Make up games on the off days.”
On merging the CL and PL into one league:
“The 10-team division they had planned last year was a good idea. I thought it would be better to have 10 strong teams, than to have 12 teams and a few of them are weak and not making money.”
On the CL having its own postseason playoff:
“For one league to have playoffs and the other not to is ludicrous. It’s just asinine.”
On the Softbank Hawks, the prime competition for the Marines in the PL this season:
“Most of Softbank’s team could play in the major leagues on an everyday basis.”
On what his own team needs in the second half of the season to stay in contention for the PL pennant:
“I need one more guy to pitch out of the bullpen who is going to make a difference for my team. We also need stronger hitting from our right-handed batters.
“I am going to have to keep my Japanese players strong. The Japanese hitters on my team have been major contributors this year, not just players on the team.
“I think it is all a mental and physical strength issue. Before we have seen them worn down, but so far they have been fresh. If I can keep them fresh, I think they are good players.”
On Tatsuro Hirooka, the ex-GM of the Marines who fired him after the 1995 season:
“He is a fabulous baseball man. I wouldn’t be here without him hiring me. He went out on a limb.
“A lot of that (the trouble between them) was the interpreter and my tone. I was too loud at times answering him.
“It was just silly circumstances. Now I know better. To make demands, as I was at the end of that season, about what the next season was going to be, if I had made suggestions and then waited a couple of months, they would have become demands that were fulfilled.
“But I wanted it right then. It was stupid.”
On the book “Moneyball” (which highlighted the use of statistics by the Oakland Athletics as a means for success):
“It doesn’t work, except to sell books. Moneyball is fiction, written by a fiction writer (Michael Lewis), who is a great writer.
“It doesn’t work, because a team is what it is all about. If you could just pluck players from statistics related to each position, there is no way to say if that group is going to work together. It could, but it doesn’t necessarily work because of the statistics.”
On broadcasting (which Valentine did with ESPN in 2003):
“People think I am going to do it. I was bored with it. It was too confining for me.”
On being a manager in pro baseball:
“Casey Stengel used to say, ‘When you have a team of 25 guys, you are going to have 10 guys who like you and 10 guys who don’t like you. Your job, as the manager, is to make sure the other five guys stay away from the guys who don’t like you.’
“In Japanese baseball, it’s not really ‘like’ and ‘dislike,’ it is ‘understand’ and ‘not understand.’ The confusion thing can lead to big problems.
“When I talk, there are always 10 guys who get it and 10 guys who don’t — no matter how many times I say it.
“I don’t like having that problem and worrying about those other five guys, who are the young guys.”
On his future in baseball:
“I would like to manage another 10 years. If we (Japanese baseball) can keep moving up, I love it here. The only reason I wouldn’t like it here, is if things starting going backward.
“I am thinking long term. My owner just bought a team in China, and has one in Korea, and I am involved with all of that.”