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OCTOBER 20—One of the more interesting yet lesser-known subplots of the Subway Series involves Bobby Valentine’s past connections not only with his managerial counterpart, Joe Torre, but also Yankee first-base coach Lee Mazzilli.
History notes that Valentine first donned a Mets uniform when, barely hanging onto an injury-plagued playing career at age 27, he was traded from San Diego to New York for Dave Kingman (!) during the infamous June 15, 1977, massacre that also saw Tom Seaver run out of town by General Manager M. Donald Grant. The Mets manager when Valentine arrived in Flushing was rookie skipper Joe Torre, and the Mets’ most popular player was their 22-year-old poster boy of a centerfielder, Lee Mazzilli.
“Joe was kind of a father figure to Lee,” Valentine told us a while back. “Both were from Brooklyn, both were Italian kids—there was a real bond between them. I wasn’t hitting anything, and there wasn’t much I could do on the field (indeed, Valentine hit .133 as a utility player in a handful of games that year), so I kind of became Lee’s partner in crime/big brother. Joe used me as a sort of a guiding light, and I appreciated that. I got into the inner sanctum of Joe and Lee because I was Italian and a local guy—and he couldn’t get much other use out of me anyway.”
Kind of reminds us of the quote from Valentine’s own baseball father figure, Tommy Lasorda, about his old Dodger catcher (and now Angels manager) Mike Scioscia: “People think I like Scioscia ’cause he’s Italian,” Lasorda used to say. “That’s not true. I like him because I’m Italian.”