But we, as baseball fans, do tend to wax romantic about our game, and its leisurely pace has inspired more than its share of trivia contests. One of my favourite pastimes is to dream up all-theme teams. For example, an “All-Fruit” baseball squad might include Darryl Strawberry, Bob Lemon and The Georgia Peach (Ty Cobb himself).
More recently, I started thinking about a Valentine’s Day team. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t uncover enough players with the last name “Valentine” to formulate a nine-player lineup. And as tempted as I was to add former players like Slim Love, Vance Lovelace and Lynn Lovenguth to my roster, I decided to limit my research to five “Valentines” that have played in the big leagues.
So, in a departure from my typical Cooperstowners in Canada blog entires, here is some information about five noteworthy, big league Valentines:
Selected by the White Sox in the 26th round of the 1999 MLB amateur draft, this 6-foot-2 right-hander pitched professionally for 12 seasons. Though he competed in just 42 big league contests – all with the Reds between 2003 and 2005 – the journeyman reliever also enjoyed stints in the A’s, Astros, Brewers and Phillies organizations. He also toed the rubber in Japan, in the independent Atlantic League and in Mexico. Valentine might be best known, however, for Jeff Pearlman’s poignant 2005 Newsday article about him in which he discussed being raised by two gay women.
This 6-foot-1 right-hander won 14 games for the Reds in 1954 and 1955, before returning to the minors in 1956 where he helped propel the Southern Association’s Atlanta Crackers to league crowns the next two seasons. During his pitching career, he doubled as a policeman in the off-season and walked the beat full-time after he hung up his spikes. Valentine used to joke to his colleagues that Russia wasn’t the first country to launch something into space, some of the home run balls he surrendered were in orbit long before the Soviets were concocting the Sputnik.
An All-American quarterback out of Tennessee State University, Valentine opted to sign with the Orioles in 1956. The switch-hitting outfielder played seven big league seasons with the Orioles and the Washington Senators between 1959 and 1968. His best season came with the Senators in 1966, when he slugged 16 homers and swiped 22 bases. He’s currently the vice-president and secretary of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association.
This five-tool talent, who grew up in South Central, Los Angeles, was part of the Expos’ vaunted late-’70s outfield that also included Andre Dawson and Warren Cromartie. Valentine enjoyed three consecutive 20-home run campaigns from 1977 to 1979 and recorded a whopping 24 outfield assists in 1978. He was dealt to the Mets for Jeff Reardon on May 29, 1981. He later enjoyed short big league stints with the Angels and Rangers. Following his big league career, Valentine worked as a drug/alcohol counselor in Lancaster, Calif. He has since moved to the Dallas area where he serves as a counselor at a local church.
Best-known for his managerial career, Valentine was a first-round draft pick of the Dodgers in 1968. As a player, he never lived up to his promise and would serve in utility roles for the Dodgers, Angels, Padres, Mets and Mariners before retiring in 1979. Thirty games into the 1985 season, he was named manager of the Rangers and continued in that capacity until he was fired midway through the 1992 campaign. The loquacious skipper’s next big league gig came with the Mets from 1996 to 2002. In 2000, he guided the Mets to a World Series berth against the Yankees. Valentine later managed the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Japanese Pacific League from 2004 to 2009, before working as an analyst on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball in 2011. The Boston Red Sox hired him as their manager for the 2012 season, but he was fired after leading the Beantowners to a disastrous 69-93 record.