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The Wild Ride of Bobby Valentine and Steve Phillips

By Mike Silva ~ December 3rd, 2011. Filed under: New York Mets.

Steve Phillips and Bobby Valentine were reunited yesterday on the “Evan and Phillips Show” on Mad Dog Radio. It was a reunion of two men that appeared would never mend the fence after a tumultuous six years as the Mets GM/field manager combo. For as much criticism both Phillips and Valentine receive after the fact, they have the second best run in franchise history. The first is obvious. Frank Cashen and Davey Johnson led the Mets from 1984-1989, made two playoff appearances, and won a World Series.  Their teams averaged 96 wins during that span. From 1997-2002, Phillips and Valentine made two playoff appearances, won a pennant, and averaged 87 wins. Although Cashen and Johnson clashed heads, the Phillips/Valentine union was filled with numerous disagreements that were far more public and nasty. Many point to Phillips firing Valentine’s coaches in June of 1999 as to when the relationship went sour. It was actually the departure of first baseman John Olerud after that season that rankled Valentine and created the divide the existed for the remainder of their tenure.

In October, I interviewed Bobby Valentine at the Hamptons Film Festival regarding his new movie “Pelotero,” which followed two young Dominican baseball players while they worked to achieve their dream of being signed by a professional club on their 16th birthday. I spent about 20 minutes recording an audio piece for my radio program and chatting with Valentine. He was probably one of the most engaging, honest, and interesting individuals I have met during my time covering baseball. When I mentioned to him that one of my favorite Mets teams was the ’99 squad, we talked a bit about that team. I went on to say that I thought it was a “mistake” to let John Olerud walk and replace him with Todd Zeile, but that from what I understood “Olerud and his family wanted to play in Seattle.” “Who told you that?” Valentine said. When I mentioned it was a fairly popular media talking point he told me the reason that Olerud left was because “some players on the team didn’t like that he brought his wife on road trips.” Valentine went on to add that he tried to intervene and talk to Olerud about the situation and find a way to correct it and ease any concerns, but Phillips wouldn’t allow it. Instead, he elected to sign Todd Zeile, a move that Valentine wasn’t thrilled about. “That’s when things started to go bad with me and Steve. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

We chatted for a few minutes more until Valentine was called to other interviews and events. It didn’t surprise me that baseball decisions often aren’t made for just “on the field” reasons. From the conversation it appeared that Olerud wanted to return to New York if all things were equal. I also was amazed that despite the tumultuous ride and ending in New York, Valentine told me he would have no issue coming back and managing the team again. He showed no ill-will towards Phillips, ownership, or the fans. He shared that story with me more because he wanted to make sure I had correct information, since I told him a decade as gone by where many members of the fans and media didn’t understand the departure.

There are many “what-if” scenarios that we could play out regarding the late nineties/2000 Mets. What if Timo Perez hustled around the bases in Game 1? What if the aforementioned Zeile’s ball cleared the left-field wall? What if Armando Benitez and John Franco shut down the Braves in Game 6 of the ’99 NLCS? What if they never elected to rebuild their offense around the declining Mo Vaughn? The one question, however, that haunts Mets fans the most is what if they kept John Olerud instead of Todd Zeile?

Olerud went on to win 3 Gold Gloves in Seattle and make an All Star appearance. His 2001 Seattle team won an AL record 116 games. From ’00 to ’03 a typical Olerud season was .296 BA, 17 HRs, 96 RBI, .840 OPS, and 94 walks. On the other hand, Zeile lasted two seasons in New York (he would return as a backup in 2004), hit .267 with a typical season comprising of 16 HRs, 70 RBI, and a .770 OPS; very mediocre production from the first base position. In 1999 with Olerud, the Mets offense averaged over 5 runs a game, good for fifth in the National League. The next year they fell to 4.98, dropping them to 7th in the NL,  which also was below league average. Also remember, the presence of Olerud would never have forced the Mets to look for another first baseman after the 2001 season. Mo Vaughn would not not have been in the conversation, much less flopping around the field in a Mets uniform. The course of Mets history is completely different thanks to one unfortunate move that appears could have been prevented.

Phillips and Valentine seemed to have patched up their differences. If you listen to the audio above, it appears that Phillips understands how he “mismanaged” Bobby V. It also sounds like Valentine understands that off-speed pitches are equally as important to his repertoire as fastballs. He was described to me by someone close to him as having the same fire and passion, but just more toned down. I listen to Phillips morning show daily, and his fidelity issues have clearly forced him to self-examination as well as making the requisite changes necessary to improve his life.

Ten years later both men appear to be in great positions to be successful. Phillips is a natural for radio. His show with Evan Cohen is a good balance of information, humor, guests, and fan interaction. I believe the only reason it’s not as popular as WFAN’s Boomer & Carton Morning Show is because of the restrictions that come with the satellite radio platform. Valentine is taking over an historic franchise that is loaded with talent. For the first time in his career he doesn’t have to do more with less. Boston’s resources combined with Valentine’s baseball acumen is bad news for the rest of the American League.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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3 Responses to The Wild Ride of Bobby Valentine and Steve Phillips

  1. A real baseball fan

    yet another post of mike silva sucking on steve phillips d*** get over it and just offer your services to him, his radio show is pathetic and he’s luck he’s even on radio cause no mainstream station would want the sex addict reject on their airwaves for more than a guest appearance. no one gives a crap what steve phillips thinks of anything, he was a horrific GM and an even worse analyst, not to mention a minor league reject. Share someone’s opinion who matters, like say Terry Francona

  2. Stu B

    @A real baseball fan: Calm down. What’s up with the hostility?

  3. Pablo

    Very interesting stuff re: the team’s decision to let Olerud walk as a free agent. I was really upset when they signed Zeille over Olerud because Olerud was great for us from 97-99. He was a great clutch hitter and very steady at first base. He kinda flew under the radar on those teams because of guys like Piazza, Alfonzo and Ventura. That 1999 team is one of my favorite Mets teams. They were one of the most clutch Mets teams i can remember in all my years being a fan of this team.

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