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Managers' strengths and weaknesses, starring Bobby Valentine

I read somwhere yesterday - apologies for not remembering where - that, in turning from Joe Girardi to Fredi Gonzalez for the 2007 season, the Marlins went from a disciplinarian to a more laid-back manager. And now, should they go with the chalk and hire Bobby Valentine, they'd go back to the disciplinarian.

And my reaction was, "Bobby Valentine is not a disciplinarian."

It's always fun to discuss manager evaluations, because it can be so difficult to quantify those evaluations. Yes, you can see who bunts the most and who hits-and-runs the most, and who lifts pitchers at what proves to be the right or wrong times.

But that will get you only so far. No, managers' reputations travel by word of mouth and personal observations, it seems, even in this age when we have so much information at our disposal.

Therefore, when I argue that Bobby V. is not a disciplinarian, I can't fire off any numbers to support my case. It's just my opinion, albeit an informed one, I hope - backed by conversations with some of Valentine's former players, bosses, coaches and so forth as well as personal observations from his Mets days.

Valentine runs a pretty standard clubhouse. No crazy rules or regulations. Where he stands out - IMO, again - is his ability to evaluate players and find ways to optimize their strengths while de-emhphasizing their weaknesses. And he is also a master in-game tactician.

His weakneses? Players don't like to be caught off guard by their managers' comments to the media about them. That problem can flare up with Valentine. And as such a proud man, he can clash with his superiors.

Of course, Valentine worked peacefully for many years in Texas under GM Tom Grieve, his 1978 Mets teammate, and future president George W. Bush, with whom he still enjoys an excellent relationship - and the Mets GM with whom he clashed, Steve Phillips, never got another job in baseball after the Mets let him go and recently opined that Washington should trade Stephen Strasburg for Roy Oswalt.

And on the player side, Benny Agbayani enjoyed Valentine so much with the Mets that the two men reunited with the Chiba Lotte Marines.

More to this point, Joe Girardi clashed with Marlins upper management as significantly as any manager did with his superiors in recent memory. With the Yankees, however, he gets along famously with Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner. Girardi's young 2006 Marlins players seemed to love him, then his 2008 Yankees players didn't seem to like him much at all, and then Girardi and his 2009 Yankees found a way to better peacefully coexist. Surely, the influx of talent didn't hurt that dynamic.

Joe Torre creates an environment in which players can relax and focus on their work. I am confident that has tangible value, even if we can't put a number on it. But did he do that when he was a 36-year-old rookie manager with the Mets, in 1977? I wasn't there, but from reading Torre's books and speaking with him about it, I believe that ability evolved over time.

How about Willie Randolph? The Mets fired him in 2008 because he had nothing going for him. Most notable by the end, however, was that Randolph's relationship with the Wilpons had been destroyed - a killer, with the way the Mets run their business.

But what if Randolph eventually gets promoted from bench coach to manager in Milwaukee? He'll have an owner (Mark Attanasio) who loved watching Randolph play for the Yankes in the 1970s and 1980s, and a general manager (Doug Melvin) who was his minor-league teammate in the early '70s. And there won't be a Tony Bernazard-type looking to sabotage him. So that area should be less problematic.

Thinking about it, I suppose the "human relations" part of the job can be more fluid, while, in theory, the game- and roster-management component should be more stable. Even respected strategists will make their share of costly, in-game mistakes, but the good ones have a process and an ability to balance the big picture against short-term needs. I think Girardi is pretty good at that.

Which takes us around another bend, though: Buck Showalter is probably as knowledgeable and prepared as any of the 30 current managers. He might wind up getting the Orioles job. Yet at the end of his three gigs - the Yankees, Arizona and Texas - the majority of his players were pleased to see him go. They just didn't enjoy coming to work with him as their boss.

So...where are we left in this conversation? Ultimately, if you try to predict whether a certain manager will succeed in a certain job, you have to evaluate the specific fit more than you would for a player changing teams. Can ownership and the front office support the manager, complement his strenghts and help make up for his weaknesses?

With the Marlins and Valentine, yes, I think it can be a fit. Owner Jeffrey Loria will insist that his front office get aboard the Valentine train. Valentine won't mind the low payroll; to the contrary, he generally prefers working with younger players whom he can mold. Managing the Marlins would allow Bobby V. to make three visits a year to Citi Field, which he surely wouldn't mind.

And, for what it's worth, he's not a disciplinarian.

--The Yankees won a crazy game in Arizona. Mariano Rivera is just ridiculous.

--The Yankees' next game will come tomorrow against the Dodgers, and Joe Girardi spoke fondly of Joe Torre. I think that Torre, after he's done managing and maybe even gets inducted into the Hall of Fame, will come to the new Yankee Stadium and see his number 6 get retired. Yes, there is significant bad blood between Torre and the Yankees, particularly Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman. But time heals all wounds. Or at least it usually does.

--Funny thing about Alex Rodriguez: He refused to play along with the "I sure am looking forward to seeing Torre!" storyline, because A-Rod clearly is not happy about this reunion. I say good for A-Rod. He handled it similarly back in 2004, when the Yankees played Texas and Rodriguez wouldn't fake an affection for Showalter _ who, on the other side, spoke as if he and A-Rod had a father-son thing going.

--Off the Mets game, my favorite part of Jim Baumbach's column on R.A. Dickey is the part where Jerry Manuel admits being skeptical when team officials recommended a Dickey call-up. I watched Dickey load the bases in the first inning last night, then get out of it, and I thought, "Are all of these runners on base ever going to haunt him?" You'd think so. But not yet.

--Angel Pagan left the game early with a spasm in his right side.

--Neil Best liked Jerry Seinfeld's stint in the Mets broadcast booth more than I did. I listened for the bulk of it, and while I thought Seinfeld fired off a few good lines, I would've preferred a more subdued approach. But that's just me.

--John Maine had his tendinitis diagnosis confirmed via a second opinion, so now Maine will huddle with Manuel and Omar Minaya so everyone can figure out how to best prolong Maine's agony.

--Ugly allegations here about Johan Santana, but with the Lee County sheriff's office not pressing charge, you'd think this is a closed matter, legally. Will Santana be impacted by the public release of this? Never say never, but that would seem to be inconsistent with his personality.

In any case, I agree with Joel Sherman: The Mets are more interesting than the Yankees this season.

--Did you see the way the Dodgers-Angels game concluded? Cra-zee. Russ Martin's baserunning gaffe reminds me of Carlos Gomez, then with the Twins (and now with Milwaukee), making the same mistake against the Yankees in last year's American League Division Series Game 2 (scroll down).

--Have a great day.



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