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Valentine: I Didn’t Smile As Much

October 2, 2002

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NEW YORK (AP) _ A day after being fired as manager of the New York Mets, Bobby Valentine offered some insight on a lost season and a lost job.

Speaking Wednesday in his restaurant across the street from Shea Stadium, Valentine confirmed owner Fred Wilpon’s opinion that there was something different about the manager’s style this season.

``I think I didn’t smile as much,″ Valentine said, ``I think because there was not a lot to smile about. If I had anything I could do over, I would smile and get it lighter, look for some levity. It wasn’t there.″

There were plenty of reasons for that.

Start with 144 errors, most in the majors, and add a record 15-game home losing streak and sub-par seasons for imported big-name players Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn, Roger Cedeno and Jeromy Burnitz, half of the starting lineup. The result was the Mets’ first last-place finish since 1993, and that doomed Valentine.

Wilpon repeatedly assured Valentine he would be back for the final year on his contract. And yet, when it came time to make the decision, the owner suspected his manager knew what was coming.

Valentine said Wilson was right.

``Call it instinct,″ Valentine said. ``When Fred said in our meetings that he wanted to finish strong, play better, win games, I knew he felt embarrassed. There were a few things that transpired in our meetings. The losing streak at the end had a lot to do with it.″

The Mets lost six straight before winning the final game of the season. By then, the manager’s fate was sealed.

Valentine did not criticize Wilpon in discussing the decision. ``It’s fair that I’m not managing the team,″ he said. ``Fred wants to base that on performance.″

The Mets finished 75-86, their first sub-.500 season in six years under Valentine. But the team also struggled last year, barely finishing over that mark at 82-80. The roster was reconstructed over the winter, creating a $95 million payroll, but the team struggled almost from the start.

``We had plenty of talent. I was disappointed, I don’t mind saying, and they were, too,″ Valentine said.

``I don’t feel they quit, even at the end when nothing mattered. They were still diving after balls and into first base, God forbid. I’m proud of the way they played and the effort they gave.″

The headfirst dive into first base was a source of continuing irritation for the manager, who never got Rey Ordonez or Alomar to abandon that tactic as they ran down the line. Their resistance might have been a sign that Valentine was losing his grip on the club.

Then there were off-the-field episodes that popped up from time to time. Alomar and Cedeno engaged in a dugout shoving match, ex-Met star Keith Hernandez called the players quitters and Newsday reported that at least seven Mets had smoked marijuana during the season.

``We had to decipher all that stuff,″ Valentine said. ``Little things are big things. Big things become distractions. The stuff that happened you want to expect and understand. When it happens, you’re kind of surprised.

``You can only hope that in the future, the main thing (winning games) becomes the main thing.″

Valentine said he leaves the Mets with no hard feelings for the organization. ``I made friends for a lifetime, from the bottom floor to the top floor,″ he said. ``They have enriched my life.″

Valentine also said he hopes to manage again.

``Managing in the major leagues is a tough job,″ he said. ``There are a lot of expectations. I would think I’d be ready. There are 30 very special jobs and 30 very lucky people, all managing in the major leagues.″

At the moment, however, he doesn’t happen to be one of them.

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