The Night I Realized Bobby Valentine Was Clueless

The world remembers Game Two of the 2000 World Series for one thing, and one thing alone: Roger Clemens throwing the shattered bat of Mike Piazza at, or near, Mike Piazza.

But for me, standing at the far end of the Yankee dugout, covering the Series as part of the Fox telecast, the bat event was an asterisk to the real headline. Because that was the night that I became convinced Bobby Valentine didn’t have the slightest idea what he was doing.

Lost in the Clemens saga still churning more than eleven years later, was a) the eight innings of two-hit ball he fired at the Mets (the back half of consecutive starts in which Clemens threw 17 playoff innings, gave up no runs, one hit batsman, two walks, three hits, and struck out 24 of the 58 batters he faced); b) the Mets’ incredible ninth inning rally that almost gave Clemens a no-decision; and c) Valentine’s decision during that inning, that might be the dumbest World Series managerial move since Casey Stengel completely messed up his 1960 pitching rotation.

Again, the context. Mostly because of their own baserunning lunkheadedness, plus the fact that Todd Zeile’s fly ball missed being a home run by maybe eight inches, the Mets had lost the Opener of the Subway Series the night before. Now, in Game Two, Clemens had made them look nearly as bad as he had made the Seattle Mariners look eight days before. Oh, and even though Piazza thought Clemens had thrown a bat at him, neither he, nor Valentine, nor anybody else in a Met uniform had even retaliated, let alone charged the mound or anything.

So as the Mets came up in the top of the 9th, down 6-0, they were as dead as Jacob Marley’s ghost in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Clemens had exited, stage right, to go let the adrenalin drain out of his system (along with whatever else was in there). Coming off his best major league season, Jeff Nelson was brought in to face the heart of the Mets’ order, and Joe Torre even took out David Justice for the slight defensive upgrade Clay Bellinger would represent in left.

But it did not exactly go to plan. Edgardo Alfonzo led off with a sharp single to left, and Piazza promptly got some delayed revenge by putting a Nelson pitch off the pole in left to cut it to 6-2. By this point, Torre had hastily gotten Mariano Rivera up. When Robin Ventura singled to make it three straight hits to start the ninth, Rivera was summoned, and nearly blew the game on the spot. Zeile hit another one to the wall in left, with the wind holding it up just enough to reduce it to a nice jumping Bellinger catch at the fence.  But Benny Agbayani singled, and with Lenny Harris up, Jorge Posada lost a Rivera cutter and the runners moved up to second and third. Harris tapped back to Rivera who got Ventura at the plate, and the Mets were down to their final out – which was when Jay Payton walloped a massive three-run bomb off Mo and all of a sudden the Yankees’ insurmountable 6-0 lead was now a 6-5 heart-stopper, with the Mets just a baserunner away from turning over the line-up and sending up sparkplug Timo Perez with the tying run on.

Please remember this specific fact: the Mets were down to their last out, but having scored five in the ninth and rattled Mariano Rivera, they now had a chance – no matter how small a chance – to pull off a split at Yankee Stadium with three coming up at Shea. You may also remember that in midseason they had lost their other-worldly defensive shortstop Rey Ordonez, and had been forced to trade utility wizard Melvin Mora to Baltimore for Mike Bordick. Bobby V had already pinch-hit for Bordick an inning earlier with Darryl Hamilton, and went to his back-up shortstop, Kurt Abbott. If for some inexplicable reason Valentine now chose to leave Abbott in to face Rivera, he would be sending a lamb to the slaughter. Abbott had never seen Rivera or his cutter before. He was a lifetime .256 hitter with a .304 on-base percentage. After this night, only fourteen more major league at bats awaited him, and that was mainly because despite a pretty good glove and a deceptive slugging percentage, Kurt Abbott just wasn’t a major league hitter.

What happened next was explained at the time as a simple proposition. Bobby Valentine was out of shortstops, and, after all, Abbott had hit six homers during the regular season, in only 157 at bats. That none of them had been off a righthander since August 7, and that righthander was Jason Green (18 career minor league innings), and the other dingers had come off Terry Mulholland, Brian Bohanon, Jason Bere, Alan Mills, and Jose Mercedes, and that Abbott was carrying a 7-for-37 slump, seemed to have been left out of the equation.

More over, Valentine might have been out of slick shortstops, but he was hardly out of shortstops. He had at least seven defensive moves left. Joe McEwing had played four games at short for the Mets in 2000 and was still on the bench. McEwing, Matt Franco, and that night’s DH Lenny Harris had all played third during the season, and Robin Ventura could’ve easily slid over to short if the Mets had pulled off the miracle of forcing a bottom of the 9th. If that move sounded too risky, McEwing and Harris had also played second, and could have gone there with Alfonzo switching to short. Still not comfortable with pinch-hitting for Abbott? Bubba Trammell had produced a pinch two-run single the night before off Andy Pettitte. Valentine would trust Trammell enough to start him in right in the Series’ decisive game – he could have gone in to the outfield and Agbayani or Payton played first, with Todd Zeile going to third and Ventura to short. Or the same ploy could have been used with Harris, who played ten games at first for the ’00 Mets.

But, no. Bobby V knew he didn’t have any shortstops. So, having scored a remarkable five runs in the 9th – three of them off the greatest reliever the game would ever know – he sent up Kurt Abbott  to try to finish the miracle. Imagine if the Mets had tied that game? Regardless of the outcome – even if the Yankees had promptly won it in the bottom of the inning thanks to an error by McEwing or Ventura at short or Bubba Trammell somewhere – the invincibility of the Yanks would have been punctured. Instead of a near-miss utterly overshadowed by the affair of Clemens And The Bat, it would have been the greatest ninth-inning comeback in World Series history.

Instead, inevitably, Kurt Abbott struck out. Looking.

The Mets lost the Series in five games, and until you just read this, it was unlikely that you remembered that “The Clemens/Piazza Game” ended with such an unlikely rally, cut short by a manager who wouldn’t pinch-hit for his good-field no-hit back-up shortstop.

But Bobby Valentine is supposed to be a great in-game tactician. Just like he’s supposed to be a no-nonsense skipper who’ll instill discipline into a flabby Red Sox team – presumably teaching them to respect authority by returning to the dugout in an embarrassing disguise after he had been ejected by the umpires. Like you have to listen to the umpires or something. And don’t tell me the Abbott decision is ancient history. As far as his major league managerial career goes, the decision to let Rivera eat Abbott alive was just 326 games ago.

Good luck, Red Sox fans.



  1. Randy Ledesma

    Mr. Olbermann is forgetting one important point: the Red Sox blunder takes Bobby V. and his incessant “commentating” off of Sunday Night Baseball. And for that, we all should be thankful.

  2. Sam

    I had completely forgotten how close the game was. I thought Mo was 100% lights out from 1998 until the bottom of the 9th in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. I’m not sure that one incident makes Bobby V clueless, any more than Casey Stengel not starting Whitey Ford in Games 1, 4 and 7.

  3. JohnnyC

    Red Sox Nation will look back on this off-season as the beginning of the end…again. Not because they hired Bobby V but because Larry Lucchino finally got the reins of the organization, having vanquished Theo and Francona. And great timing too as Selig goes out with a new CBA that makes it almost impossible for a big market team like Boston to easily re-create its 2004-2011 ascendancy. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. All that remains is…Larry Lucchino. Welcome to him, RSN.

  4. Mike

    Managers blowing a call in the WS is nothing new and hardly as damning as some might make it out to be. It happens, and there are probably reasons Bobby did what he did that we don’t know about.

    This is what irks me about baseball analysis. One play, as crucial as that one was, does not define a person. Even Buckner was a great first baseman for the Sox, he got us to the series in 86. That one bad play overshadows all the other things he did, but he was still great for us.

    • JohnnyC

      There are reasons Grady Little left Pedro in the game in 2003. Probably ones we don’t know about as well. Red Sox didn’t like those reasons.

  5. Matthew Reid


    As a die hard Sox fan, that’s about all I can say. These are some disturbing things to contemplate at a time when Red Sox Nation is looking for something, anything, to hold on to in terms of “hope.”

    I had considered the disguise thing mildly amusing, but Keith’s point about discipline is well taken. Is that sort of juvenile mentality what this team needs? (Will he inspire these guys to be professionals or try to be the “cool dad?”)

    And the fact that only 300 games (the equivalent of less than 2 seasons) ago he blundered so badly after that improbable comeback in the 9th is troubling. Ranks up there with Grady Little sending Pedro back out for the 8th inning in Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS.

    Look, I don’t want to whine–I really don’t! I have mixed emotions because I want this to work, I want this team to win, and I don’t like thinking the worst or living with the uneasy feelings that are, honestly, approaching “dread,” (some of which I’ve chronicled via tweets @matthewreid.) I want to believe that hiring Bobby Valentine is a great move, that Ben Cherington really does have the Theo mojo, I mean, I’m looking for the baseball equivalent of my mommy telling me everything’s gonna be alright. But I know better. I remember Bucky Dent’s bloop that carried into the left field net in ’78, I remember Aaron Boone’s Albert Pujols impersonation off of Wake, and, yes, Grady keeping Pedro in too long back in ’03.

    We’re Red Sox fans–we’re well versed in worry, we hold advanced degrees in anticipating disappointment. Sure, the past 7 years have been different, but you don’t un-learn the kind of skepticism, cynicism and general inability to “believe” that 86 years of perpetual disappointment breeds.

    Dear God, Please let me be wrong…

    Side note: Amazingly, I have agreed with Keith Olbermann for the very first time ever. Oddly, I feel good about that. I don’t *want* to dislike EVERYTHING a particular individual has said throughout their entire career, so thanks, Keith.

  6. rochdalian

    All I ever think about with the Clemens/Piazza incident is what would have happened in a game against the 1967-68 St. Louis Cardinals, in a game in which Bob Gibson was pitching (you can substitute earlier Dodgers teams with Don Drysdale pitching or the 1969 Mets with Jerry Koosman pitching). What sort of mayhem would have transpired when the Yankees came up? The Mets gave up at that point. As a fan since 1962, I’m still ticked.

  7. NJ Baseball

    As a Mets fan, I also never liked Valentine’s decision to give Leiter the Game 1 start over Hampton, thereby depriving Hampton (one of the game’s best hitting pitchers during his prime) of pitching at Shea (and batting), which in a World Series of close games, could’ve made a difference.

  8. William Corbett Love

    Oh, I don’t know. It’s been 11 years. I get the sense that Bobby V has done some growing up since then, although I will readily admit it’s more a gut feeling than anything. It could be worse, it could be Tony La Russa.

  9. Patricia Ellyn Powell

    I recently watched the footage of that bat-throwing incident on an MLB special about the greatest games. I am glad the uniform does not include any other weapons! Keith, you wrote this on the birthday of another famous CLEMENS…Samuel! I thought this quote about baseball could teach Bobby V. something. As usual, your masterful style and dexterity with the language just blows me away! The film MONEYBALL is said to be a metaphor for life. Baseball certainly is! I thought there was no way one could truly love the game and yet remain “clueless” about life. But I could be wrong. Here’s that quote:
    “It was a project of mine to replace the tournament with something which might furnish an escape for the extra steam of the chivalry, keep those bucks entertained and out of mischief, and at the same time preserve the best thing in them, which was their hardy spirit of emulation. I had had a choice band of them in private training for some time, and the date was now arriving for their first public effort.”

    • Patricia Ellyn Powell

      I think that should be “blow me away” as opposed to “blows me away”…English teachers! Dammit!

  10. jack

    As usual, KO has a personal vendetta against somebody and tries to cloak his hatred with misinformation. Payton ‘whalloped’ a 3-run HR???? Were you watching the game Keith? He got beat on a fastball and snuck one inside the pole, opposite field, for a classic Yankee STadium HR. It couldn’t have traveled more then 320 feet. In every other park in MLB its an out. And are you really whining for Bubba Trammel? Please, that’s just replacing 1 scrub for the next. As you pointed out Abbot had surprising power and he was hoping for a lucky blast. They weren’t putting together another long rally to score.

  11. joe

    Keith, you are an idiot and a fool. Go check the stats again. In game 1, Abbott faced Rivera and doubled off of him and almost won the game in the 9th. You are misleading people again. So bobby v made the RIGHT move by leaving in a player who had a 1.000 career batting average vs RIvera. Idiot.

  12. jesse

    Previous poster stole my thunder. Keith you are clearly way off base and need to post a retraction. Kurt Abbott faced Rivera the day before in game 1 and had a double off him. You obviously didnt do any research or remember game 1 before posting this obvious mistake. Shame on you, Keith. I was expecting better.

  13. Ryan McGee

    I mean, come on, Keith. You’re using one managerial misstep to condemn an entire career. Say what you will about Bobby V, he is a smart in-game manager who looks for every advantage. I’m sure Torre, Francona, and – yes – Stengal have made moves that could be second-guessed or first-guessed.

    He didn’t send up a pinch-hitter this one time; he probably should have. Either way, his chances of still winning the game are remote. A little strong to say he is “clueless”

    • frank

      Does olberman respond to these posts? God forbid he admit his mistake and acknowledge that he screwed up not realizing abbott doubled off of rivera in game 1.

  14. PlanetTerror

    It’s not just the personal vendetta against Valentine on display here, it’s the lingering bitterness against the Sox for what happened with Tito. Anyone they would have hired would have been ripped by Keith; the fact that they hired Valentine just made Keith’s knives even sharper.

    As for the hire, it’s only a 2-year deal, and nobody else out there looked great after Sveum was hired by the Cubs. Worth a roll of the dice.

  15. toosoxy

    is it wrong to just be super, super thrilled that we actually HAVE a manager? one thing at a time. i’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt (you know, ’cause i don’t have a choice) and hold the judgment until he does something ridiculous with a sox hat on. i’m just thrilled that we actually made a decision and can actually start (maybe) moving on from soxsplosion, 2011.

  16. Michael Green

    I had forgotten that, and I would like to remind Keith and you all of something Leo Durocher said. He had a game, I believe during the regular season in 1954, in the bottom of the ninth where he sent up Dusty Rhodes to pinch-hit for his catcher–the only catcher he had available. Rhodes got the hit to win the game. Writers asked Leo, but what if Rhodes had made out and you had gone to the 10th without a catcher? Durocher said he didn’t make an out, so what’s the difference. Finally, he said something that should be etched above every manager’s desk: If you’re scared, go home.

    Now to my Valentine story, a favorite because it involves his baseball mentor, Tommy Lasorda, who spent 20 years mismanaging the Dodgers. Lasorda had his heart attack and retired to a vice-presidency, but the rumor was that wasn’t his idea and he really wanted to come back–and supposedly did everything he could to make his successor, Bill Russell, miserable–or at least have a real position and not just a ceremonial one (meaning the general manager’s job). After Valentine got the Mets job, he floated the story that he would like to talk with Lasorda about being his bench coach. Now, as close as they are, would Valentine have said it if that wasn’t what Lasorda wanted? If you say yes, you are urinating in my ear and telling me it’s raining. Step two: Fred Claire, the Dodgers GM, said in response that Tommy would always have a place with the Dodgers, but they wouldn’t stand in his way if a better opportunity came along. No more was ever heard of it.

  17. Joe Super (@JoeSuperDJ)

    I’m getting more disgusted as we go on. First they let the best manager we ever had go, now they are trashing him on the way out.

    Bobby V is the answer? The new Messiah? I doubt it.

    Bad move Sox, looks like we go back to being “the great pretenders” instead of “the great contenders”.

  18. Dave G.

    Keith makes a decent argument, but if you’re going to nitpick that point, you can pretty much claim no manager alive has any clue. A bigger mistake Valentine made was not pinch running for Todd Pratt in game 1 in the 9th inning. A fast runner could have then scored on Kurt Abbot’s double off of Rivera (yes Kurt Abbot doubled off Rivera in game 1, KO neglects to mention). The Mets then would have had a 2 run lead and won (and then who knows?). All managers make idiotic mistakes, like bunting in the first inning, bunting with a guy on 2nd and no one out, and refusing to bring in their closers during tie games on the road. They also overvalue “saving” their back up catcher in case there is a fluke injury. These are universal mistakes that all managers make. Valentine did a really good job in ’99 and ’00 with Met teams that overachieved. They didn’t have a ton of talent up and down the roster.

  19. Edgy DC

    Keith’s mistake was starting with a conclusion and then selecting only information that led him there.

    I expect hatchet jobs from an axegrinder like Murray Chass, but come on.

  20. Sparks

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Earlier this week, I told a fellow Mets fan, “Bet the farm on the Red Sox finishing 2nd.” Valentine is so overrated, especially his Mets tenure.

    The whole, “He did great with the talent he had” is a total load of b.s. Yes, the outfield was largely a bunch of nobodies, but come one. If slipping into the Wild Card by the skin of your teeth is the best you can do with the Best Infield Ever and a Hall of Famer in the clean-up spot, you are not a great manager. And how come no one ever speaks of the ridiculous end of the ’98 season, the original Collapse? Valentine’s Mets started slow, got hot in the middle, and limped to the end–EVERY YEAR. That anyone considers him even an above-average manager is mind-boggling.

    Also, thank you for this:

    “Oh, and even though Piazza thought Clemens had thrown a bat at him, neither he, nor Valentine, nor anybody else in a Met uniform had even retaliated, let alone charged the mound or anything.”

    THAT, more than any other moment, is when the Mets lost that series. It showed the world that Piazza and the Mets were the helpless little brother, and no matter how or how much the Yankees wanted to push them around and bully them, they were just going to stand there and take it. People always ask, “But what if Piazza throws a punch and gets suspended?” My answer is always, “Worst case, the Mets lose in 4 games instead of 5.”

    If I had a time machine and could change certain moments in Mets history, after I got done telling Gooden to throw a different pitch to Scioscia, I’d head straight to Piazza’s at-bat vs. Clemens. Piazza would charge the mound, connect with a right hook, and Yankees (and the world) would know the Mets weren’t going to take anything lying down.

    • rochdalian

      Absolutely right. What would have happened if Valentine had gone to Hampton and said “You know what you’ve got to do” the way Gil Hodges said to Jerry koosman on night in 1969 after Bill Hands dusted Tommie Agee? Koosman went way inside on Ron Santo (who richly deserves his HOF induction, by the way) and probably won the pennant for the Mets with that pitch.

  21. Pingback: The Night I Realized Bobby Valentine Was Clueless « Baseball Nerd | AcoolTrip
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  23. Gayle

    Too bad.

    KO was wrong.

    Bobby is “never afraid” to pull a player from a critical defensive with no replacement. What he does is that he throws “caution to the wind to win the game at that moment.”

    If you don’t believe it, just ask him.

    About that, or anything else in the universe.

    He’ll be happy to share some of his infinite knowledge with any of the lesser mortals.

    And if you have time, he’ll be happy to recount for you how he won any of the division titles he competed for during his – what is it? – fifteen year career managing in the major leagues.

    His memory is not what it used to be though. So don’t ask him about any years in which his teams led the league in walks. Or errors. Or any other fundamental of defense.

    And don’t bring up any of that nonsense about how the Texas Rangers acquired the reputation of not being able to win once July rolled around. Remember – it was just too hot in the late summer for any team that played outside in Texas to win a division. The heat was just too brutal, it drained the players over the course of the long season. By the time September rolled around, the players just had nothing left. At least until John Oates showed up.

    So get off of Bobby’s back. The Red Sox are clearly on their way to the top of the AL East. For a couple of months, anyway.

    Besides, if the bottom fell out after that, Lucchino has an out. After all, he’s not responsible – it’s not like he’s the general manger, or anything. And he has plenty of transcribers in the local media to make sure that we all know whose fault it really is.

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