Sunday, July 1, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 1979

Part 18 of our 50-Year vote for the All Star Team...
What is it: 1979 Topps #428, Bobby Valentine

What makes it interesting: The '79s are another rather bland effort from Topps, although their classic "Giant T" logo is in full display. The Mets team set from this season doesn't feature any especially notable cards, although it does include Jerry Koosman's final card with the Mets.

As a player, Bobby Valentine was supposed to be great. Unfortunately, his career was derailed by a gruesome leg injury in 1973 that sapped him of his speed, but not of his heart and thirst for the game. His days as a player were spent mostly as a journeyman and his contributions to the Mets were minimal. In his season and a half with the Mets, he barely hit, and was released in Spring Training of 1979 (and given how thin the Mets were in '79, this should speak for itself).

Bobby's greater contributions to the Mets would, obviously, come after his playing days were done. He returned as a coach in the early 1980s, before being hired to manage the Texas Rangers in May, 1985. At just 35, he was one of the youngest managers in the game. He lasted 7 seasons with the Rangers, and although he did improve a moribund franchise, the Rangers never tasted much in the way of success. He would return to the Mets as a Minor League Manager, sandwiching two seasons in AAA ball around a year in Japan. But, with the Mets floundering late in the 1996 season, Bobby was given the call to replace Dallas Green as Manager, and this would usher in one of the most exciting eras in Mets History.

During his 6+ seasons as Mets Manager, the Mets would go from nobodies to Championship contenders, almost overnight. In 1997, a team with no breakaway stars rose from the doledrums to 88 wins, contending for the Wildcard up until the final week of the season. 1998 saw the arrival of Mike Piazza, but although the '98 Mets appeared ready to build on the progress of '97, a final week collapse sunk them. It wasn't until 1999 that Valentine and the Mets finally broke through. In a year that the Mets put forth what was probably their finest offensive team, Valentine finally got a taste of the Playoffs. Despite a slow start and another late swoon that nearly sunk them, the Mets would embark on a wild ride that took them all the way to the NLCS against the Braves. A year later, the Mets broke through that barrier, as Valentine and the Mets made it to the World Series. Along the way, Valentine provided numerous entertaining moments and endless controversy, but he always got the best effort out of his players. Players such as Benny Agbayani, Butch Huskey, Jay Payton, Timo Perez, Pat Mahomes, Roger Cedeno and numerous others would flourish under Valentine, and each would find their own niche on his teams.

Valentine would also prove a leader off the field. He spearheaded relief efforts in the Shea Stadium parking lot in the aftermath of September 11th. As a restaurateur, he claims to have invented the wrap sandwich in 1980. Although his tenure with the Mets ended badly, he would eventually return to Japan to manage the Chiba Lotte Marines, and in 2005 led them to their first Japan Series Championship in 31 years. His success there made him a national celebrity, and endorsements such as his own Hamburger and Beer would follow. Currently, Valentine manages the Boston Red Sox, where we all wish him well. He seems as prickly as ever. I'm sure he would have it no other way.

Card Back:

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