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Valentine's the right man for the Mets

New York Mets Bobby Valentine
Could Bobby Valentine legitimately return to manage the New York Mets?
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Bob Klapisch

Bob Klapisch covers baseball for The Record in New Jersey and worked at the New York Post and New York Daily News. The author of five books, he was recently voted a top-five columnist in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors.

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The Mets' long and winding road towards hiring a new manager took two distinct detours over the weekend which figure to impact the pace, if not the outcome, of the search.

The first was Clint Hurdle's decision to accept the Pirates' offer of a three-year deal. Hurdle told friends he couldn't wait for the Mets to make up their minds, although sources say his interview was the most impressive of all the candidates GM Sandy Alderson had convened. Hurdle very well could have blown past Terry Collins and Bob Melvin by week's end.

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Hurdle's understandable decision to move on has narrowed the list of favorites to two: Melvin and Collins, both of whom appeal to Alderson for their managerial experience in the big leagues and their willingness to accept a subordinate role in the new hierarchy in Flushing.

But the final choice won't happen quickly, as the Mets announced a second setback — the death of Alderson's 87-year-old father, John, who was struck by an automobile in St. Petersburg. The Mets have given the executive the option of suspending the interview process — he was supposed to meet with Jose Oquendo today — while the family makes funeral arrangements.

Alderson had originally planned to conduct follow-up interviews this week during the GM-owners meetings in Orlando. With Collins and Melvin in the lead (in that order), the calculus probably won't change, no matter how long Alderson needs to cope with his loss.

Unlike Hurdle, who was on an accelerated timetable, Collins and Melvin aren't going anywhere. And if the Mets have made this a longer than expected search, even for reasons beyond their control, why haven't they exhausted every possible candidacy and listened to Bobby Valentine?

That's the recurring theme among Mets fans, who've been monitoring Alderson's campaign with interest, hope — and a touch of skepticism. They've seen Wally Backman, a near cult hero, all but drummed out of contention because of his lack of experience. Even though the former 1986 second baseman intrigued Alderson with his obvious passion and loyalty to the Mets — not to mention his flawless record at Class-A Brooklyn lasts summer — the GM listened to the voices in the organization who urged him to take a safer route.

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It was Paul DePodesta, recently hired as VP of player development, who effectively marginalized Backman by stressing Collins' track record with the Astros and Angels in the '90s. Backman's still clinging to a faint hope he'll he invited to Orlando to meet with Alderson and the Wilpon family. But unless the GM has a change of heart (and philosophy), it appears the best Backman can do is earn a promotion within the minor league system in 2011.

Indeed, if experience was enough of a factor to disable Backman's dream of managing the Mets, Alderson's inexplicably neglecting the one person whose credentials dwarf the rest of the field's.

That's Valentine, of course, who took the Mets to the World Series in 2000. He's currently working for ESPN and would return to the Mets in a heartbeat if he were officially courted.

Alderson was recently asked about Valentine in an interview on with SNY's Kevin Burkhardt, answering politely, but without much conviction:

“(Valentine is) obviously a name that has been floated, it's been discussed in the media … I'd rather not talk about individual names at this point, but, obviously, Bobby Valentine is a name that we've considered and is a well-known possibility for us.”

Alderson would've been better off telling Mets fans the cold truth: Valentine just isn't his type of manager. That's the real reason his phone's been silent. It's not that the Wilpons hold any sort of grudge against Valentine — people close to both Fred and Jeff say they would've welcomed Valentine back had Alderson decided to hire him. Instead, Alderson and DePodesta have a distinct idea about a manager's importance and, ultimately, his job description.

Valentine would be larger than life in an organization that will now demand strict, buttoned-down behavior from its subordinates. Alderson will pick Collins or Melvin because they're better suited to act as his proxies.

The question's whether that philosophy will resonate, not just with the fans, a third of whom have stopped coming to see the Mets since 2007, but with the players themselves.

If ever there was a team in need of leadership in the clubhouse and charisma on the TV screen — where the new manager will appear some 300 times a season — it's the Mets.

Is it really the likable, but bland Melvin? Is it really Collins, who never finished first in his six years in Houston and Anaheim and lost control of the Angels' clubhouse in 1999? Is it really the man who friends say is Type-A, high-strung — not exactly a good mix for a team that has virtually no chance of contending next season.

One baseball executive likened Collins managing the Mets in '11 to “(NFL Giants' coach) Tom Coughlin with a bad team.”

Those are the qualities that make or break managers. Surely, Alderson's smart enough to know there's a healthy trade-off a GM sometimes has to make with his manager. In order to motivate, the good ones need more than a long leash, they need enough independence to be respected in the clubhouse.

No one has to explain any of this to Alderson, who had the brains and self-confidence to cede control to one Tony LaRussa during the A's best years. If Alderson could co-exist with La Russa's ego, he could live with Valentine's, too.

So, why has this managerial search been so maddeningly vanilla? Why does Alderson pretend Valentine doesn't exist?

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