Bobby Valentine’s Second Greatest Achievement
Recent reports indicate that President Elect Donald Trump is considering Bobby Valentine as the United States Ambassador to Japan. If Valentine is indeed selected as the Ambassador to Japan, it would be his second biggest accomplishment. Naturally, his biggest accomplishment was leading the 2000 Mets not only to the postseason, but to the National League Pennant.
As luck would have it, the New York Mets would begin the season in Japan. Valentine’s Opening Day outfield was Rickey Henderson–Darryl Hamilton–Derek Bell. Of that group, only Bell would play in a postseason game for the Mets, and he would be injured in Game One of the NLDS. Henderson would prove to be a malcontent that wanted a new contract, and ultimately, he would be released in May. Hamilton would lose his job in April after suffering a toe injury. This led to the Mets outfield being Benny Agbayani–Jay Payton-Bell for most of the season.
The one thing Agbayani could do was hit. In 2000, he hit .289/.391/.477 with 15 homers and 60 RBI in 119 games. However, he was a terrible fielder who did this in the field during a game that season:
For his part, Payton was one of the heralded players out of Georgia Tech that included Jason Varitek and Nomar Garciaparra. While Payton was once considered on par with them, if not better. As a prospect, Payton’s star would diminish a bit, but he would still become a major league player. In his 2000 rookie season, Payton relatively struggled at the plate hitting .291/.331/.447 with 17 homers and 62 RBI in 149 games.
There was more than that. Valentine also had to help make Todd Zeile an effective first baseman after he spent most of his career as a third baseman. Zeile was of course signed to replace John Olerud, who departed in free agency. While Zeile had a nice season hitting .268/.356/.467 with 22 homers and 79 RBI, his production fell far short of Olerud’s .298/.427/.463, 19 homer run, 96 RBI season. When you consider the drop off defensively from the Gold Glover Olerud to the quickly adapting Zeile, the team was noticeably worse at first base.
The team was also worse at shortstop. While Rey Ordonez never hit for much, he was a Gold Glover at shortstop. The Mets would miss that defense after he broke his left arm trying to get a tag down in May. This led to the Mets trying to get by with Melvin Mora at shortstop, who struggled at the plate and in the field. This led to the ill advised trade for Mike Bordick who would hit .260/.321/.365 in his 56 games as a Met.
In reality, this was all part of a Mets team that was considerably weaker than the 1999 version. Pat Mahomes was nowhere near as good as he was in 1999. In place of well established veterans like Orel Hershiser and Kenny Rogers in the rotation, the Mets had Glendon Rusch and the return of Bobby Jones. However, it should be noted the rotation was one area the Mets were better.
Whereas the 1999 Mets were an offensive juggernaut with a strong bullpen, the 2000 Mets were built on starting pitching. Al Leiter had an improved season making him 1A behind the ace the Mets acquired in the offseason, Mike Hampton. With Rusch and Jones outperforming their expectations, and quite possibly what their rotation counterparts did in 1999, the rotation was one area the Mets were improved.
The rotation along with two terrific players in Mike Piazza and Edgardo Alfonzo, Valentine was able to lead the Mets to the World Series. Valentine was able to do that despite a diminished offense, vastly diminished defense, an overall less talented roster, and some drama (which usually follows Valentine wherever he goes). It was a team that outperformed their Pythagorean win-loss record by six games. It was a team that outperformed expectations.
Making it to the 2000 World Series should be considered Valentine’s biggest accomplishment. That Mets team really had no business making it to the postseason let alone the World Series. It is why that should stand as Valentine’s biggest accomplishment even if he were to be named as President Trump’s choice to be the Ambassador to Japan.