Muddy Waters

Mets Skipper Bobby Valentine Looks to Navigate the Playoffs and His Own Demeanor

The second big Moby Valentine's so far been unable to harpoon would be the Mets' crosstown not-so- friendly rivals, the Yankees. The Bombers' World Championship ways three of the last four years have made them this burg's impervious Hertz to the Mets' we-try-harder Avis. If the last two seasons have been exceptions to the norm in terms of the historical yin-yang of the respective fortunes of both clubs—with few exceptions, the Bronx is up when Flushing's down, and vice versa—Valentine still knows full well that in a frontrunner town like New York, being a contending team simply isn't enough. Making it here, rather than anywhere, means winning it all. Go ask Patrick Ewing.

Lastly, there's the new monster that rocked Bobby V.'s ship all season: the matter of his job stability. When the Mets co-owner Fred Wilpon announced last winter that he wouldn't address Valentine's expiring contract status until after the 2000 campaign, he knew what he was doing: looking for increased productivity from a hard-working employee, and perhaps for some humility, too. For the most part, he's gotten it: Outside of the Wharton School teapot tempest early this season, Valentine's said little to discredit himself in the eyes of his bosses, and regardless of the final outcome of the playoffs, he's done little to not warrant a fat new contract. Deep down, I don't think Valentine wants to go anywhere else to manage. He brought up the issue and got a favorable response from Wilpon in early September, just before the team's third annual swoon (hey, they're making progress; this year's fall slump was ultimately just a scare). And even when he overheated down in Atlanta during the first-place-showdown meltdown, he quickly went into you're- not-gonna-get-me-this-time damage control.

Granted, the laughs have proved to be few and far between for Bobby Valentine, especially during crunch time. Maybe that's why the most refreshing thing about being in his office after the Mets clinched their Wild-Card spot wasn't the cold champagne that general manager Steve Phillips poured over his head, but his impromptu fake phone conversation with Wilpon while waiting for the owner's congratulatory call. "Sure. . . . Gladly. . . . How many?" joked Valentine, injecting some much needed levity into a situation that's quietly but deeply worn on him all year. So maybe that other thing my eyes always fall on in his office, that silly rubber fish his wife, Mary, bought him a while back—the one that sings "Don't Worry, Be Happy"—is having some effect after all.

As they say, hope floats.

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