David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since 1991, when he started covering New York City
During the 2002 season, which turned out to be Bobby Valentine' swan song in Flushing, the Mets were 52-48 after 100 games. They finished dead last in the National League East, with a record of 75-86, and Valentine was fired after a seven-year run that included a World Series appearance.
Fast forward to 2012, and Valentine, in his first major-league job since the Mets, again is looking to right the ship, this time for a Red Sox team that has not appeared in the playoffs since 2009. What should have been a dream job has morphed into more of nightmare for the 62-year-old Valentine, and Boston slipped to two games below .500 (49-51) after Friday night's 10-3 loss to the Yankees.
In practical terms, that dropped the Red Sox to 11 games behind the AL East leader and 5 games off the wild-card pace, with seven teams ahead of them for those two slots.
And what does Valentine have waiting for him Saturday afternoon? Fired Red Sox manager Terry Francona, now an ESPN analyst, holding court with his former players in the visitors clubhouse. Valentine declined comment on the matter, which at the very least had to be awkward.
To one observer, however, the scene was "unprofessional and unethical" on numerous levels, but that seemed to be lost on Francona and the players involved. A day earlier, Valentine was asked if his enthusiasm had "waned" since that exuberant Fenway news conference to announce his two-year deal last November.
"I don't think so," Valentine said. "No, no. I'm a lucky guy. When I wake up in the morning, I count my blessings. Hell's Bells -- this has been exciting. Challenging for sure."
Then again, this wasn't an easy assignment from the start. Sure, Valentine inherited a Red Sox team with a $175-million payroll and a roster loaded with former All-Stars. But he also was handed a coaching staff rather than be allowed to handpick his own, and that can be a handicap, especially for a first-year manager.
It also didn't help early on when Valentine publicly feuded with Kevin Youkilis (since traded to the White Sox) and former MVP Dustin Pedroia, who actually ripped Valentine in his teammate's defense. But that was back in April, and after a miserable start, the Red Sox have regrouped to go four games over .500 (45-41) since April 22.
Even with the turbulence, Valentine has remained confident -- for what that's worth -- looking up from the bottom of the AL East.
"There's been a lot of stuff going on," Valentine said. "I'm glad I'm having the opportunity and I think we're headed in the right direction. We got off to a lousy start there with some confusion in our bullpen, but we've been about (four games over .500) since a bad start and I think we could build on that to go to 10, 15 and 20 games over, I think."
As for his past glory days in New York, Valentine has learned to distance himself. When asked what he enjoyed about his days at the Mets' helm, Valentine cut off the questioner.
"Nothing. Zero. I hated it here," Valentine said. "I don't miss anything."
Eventually, he cracked a smile, and then added, "This is as big time as it gets. When I had the other pinstripes on, it was an event, every day."
The trick is managing it, and that's something Valentine still is trying to get a handle on in Boston.
Despite continuing dialogue on the subject, Bud Selig said earlier this month there are no plans to extend the non-waiver trade deadline beyond July 31. With the addition of a second wild card this season, some have argued that it's necessary to push the deadline later so teams have a better idea of where they stand in the playoff chase -- thereby clarifying whether to be buyers or sellers.
But the prevailing attitude is that it's a fairer system for players to be integrated with two months left to play rather than shuffling things weeks or another month later. Players that pass through waivers can be dealt by Aug. 31 -- in time to be added for postseason rosters -- but those deals are more difficult to pull off.
"That debate has been happening at the GM meetings forever," one NL executive said. "Allowing a team to revamp that late in the game somewhat takes away from what you're supposed to be trying to do all winter in putting together a team. If you can wait, and at the last minute reshuffle the deck, I think July 31 is late enough for that."
825 -- Million dollars spent on remaking the Marlins, between the cost of the new stadium and glitzy offseason moves. Miami chose to cut bait this week and become sellers. The worst part? They're keeping the uniforms.
81 -- RBIs for Josh Hamilton, who still came under fire this week from Rangers' president Nolan Ryan for "giving away" at-bats during a recent slump. Someone sounds grumpy for finishing runner-up in the past two World Series.
11 -- Teams for Miguel Batista, who signed a minor-league contract with the Braves. Just last week, Batista called the Mets "the best team in baseball" before his release. To be fair, he never specified what they did best.
6 -- Blown saves in nine chances for Francisco Rodriguez, who took over as the Brewers' closer last week. His career high is seven for an entire season, back in 2004. Good thing a Flushing reunion never materialized.
4 -- Days in row Carl Crawford is allowed to play as he nurses an elbow strain, the latest injured-related restriction on the Red Sox's exceedingly fragile $142-million outfielder. Got to figure Theo leaves this deal off his resume.