Holding an overseas grudge is apparently not Bobby Valentine's style, but managing is, and after one year out of uniform Valentine will be back in the dugout in 2004.
But the dugout will be in Japan. Valentine, the former manager of the New York Mets and the Texas Rangers and a man very confident about his own abilities, accepted a job Monday as the skipper of the Chiba Lotte Marines, the Japanese team that fired him after he steered it to a surprising second-place finish in 1995.
Vowing to finish "incomplete business," Valentine signed a three-year contract with the Marines, with an option for two more years. Japan's Sports Nippon newspaper reported that the contract was worth an estimated US$6.4 million, far more than Valentine was making as an analyst for ESPN.
The deal, announced Monday here, is a strong endorsement of Valentine, considering that many foreign players and coaches who come to Japan are signed for only one year at a time.
It also suggests that the team that disagreed with his brand of baseball in 1995 has overcome its objections. While resurrecting the Marines that year, Valentine ruffled feathers in the front office by treating players with a more restrained approach than Japanese managers, who typically demand respect and drive their players relentlessly.
Despite the well-publicized feud, Valentine is still popular in Japan and with fans of the Marines, who play their games in a windswept stadium by Tokyo Bay, 40 minutes from downtown. He also knows the ins and outs of Japanese baseball, which includes more bunting and breaking balls and is less aggressive than the major leagues.
Valentine was dismissed by the Mets after the team plummeted to last place in the National League East after the 2002 season, just two years after they made it to the World Series. The Mets paid him US$2.85 million this year, the last of a three-year, US$7.95 million deal.
He spent the past season on ESPN and had a contract to stay there; he also could have waited to see whether the Boston Red Sox or another major league team would offer him a chance at managing next season. Instead, the 53-year-old Valentine, who has always prided himself on having a healthy curiosity about life, is headed back to Japan.
"This was just the right thing to do at this point in my life," Valentine said at a news conference. "To feel wanted and needed is very important in life."
Valentine's first major league managing job, with the Rangers, lasted from 1985 to 1992, and in 1996, he took over the Mets. It is possible that Valentine is using the same blueprint and hopes to get another shot at the majors.
Contracts in Japan are relatively easy to break, and a year from now, if the major leagues come calling, Valentine and the Marines could probably come up with a mutual agreement to part ways. Still, his return to Japan is a sign of how international the game has become and how eager the Marines are to contend again.
"The world is getting smaller and it doesn't matter about your birthplace," Valentine said in a telephone interview after his appointment. "What happened before is water under the bridge."
Valentine, who speaks some Japanese, will try to add some energy to a franchise that is often an afterthought in the crowded Tokyo-area market, home to six of the 12 professional teams in Japan.