Rangers' Valentine leads by emotion, but he must maintain delicate balance

June 30, 1991|By Gerry Fraley | Gerry Fraley,Dallas Morning News

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers' clubhouse rocked after a comeback victory against Detroit. Manager Bobby Valentine ignored the joy to launch a long, blistering attack on a scoring decision that went against one of his players.

That same clubhouse drooped after a losing streak reached eight games. Valentine, resisting the urge to brood in his office, made a loud tour of the clubhouse to tell players of his faith in them.

Life is rarely placid with Valentine, the only manager in recent memory to be physically charged by an opposing player (Seattle's Dave Valle). In any short span, Valentine can run the gamut of emotions without trying to hide them. There are no secrets to his feelings.

Emotion in its many stages is a vital component of Valentine's managerial style. Emotion will play a significant role in determining the Rangers' success this season.

An emotional manager can win, as Los Angeles' Tom Lasorda and Oakland's Tony La Russa have proved. An emotional manager also must maintain a delicate balance.

Apply too much emotion, and a team buckles from the increased pressure. Pull back on the emotion, and a team becomes confused by the inconsistent pattern. Within the marathon of a baseball season, emotion is a dangerous elixir.

"I don't think anything is wrong with emotion," Valentine said. "I think emotion is good in the game. People try to squash it, and that's wrong.

"It's unnatural to not be emotional doing something everyone should enjoy doing. I like guys being really emotional."

A good manager, said manager-in-exile Whitey Herzog, may earn his team an extra five victories a season through strategic moves. Five victories could make a second-place team a winner, but it would make little difference to a Rangers' team that finished 20 games out of first last season.

Valentine's strategic skills, according to an informal survey of major-league officials, are high quality. Those observers describe his managerial approach as confident, and they give him the high compliment of saying his decisions do not cost the Rangers games.

The manager's more important job is developing a team's attitude and maintaining productive dynamics. The challenge for Valentine is to maintain his determined emotional level with a streaky team headed for the pressure cooker of the pennant race for the first time since 1986.

A team reads a manager's moods. Any deviation from the norm can be devastating. If Valentine repeats the fluctuations of highs and lows that marked his previous seasons, the Rangers will have difficulty handling the crucible of the race. If he maintains the approach showed this month during an eight-game losing streak, the Rangers will have an extra resource.

"Players watch the manager and will react the way the manager reacts," said Minnesota manager Tom Kelly, a member of the stoic school. "If [players] see the manager is down, they'll be down. If they see the manager all up and giddy about things, they'll be up and giddy.

"We try to emphasize the point of being on an even keel."

The Rangers have not found that level. They have had winning streaks of seven and 14 games and four losing streaks of four or more games. A team dislikes streaks because they contain steep rises and falls in emotion, said 24-year veteran Nolan Ryan.

After an erratic spring training that included the stunning release of outfielder Pete Incaviglia, the Rangers began the season "probably as low as you can get," Ryan said. "We started out with an emotional low and a physical low."

That translated into a 7-8 start against soft competition. The Rangers overcame that in May with the club-record 14-game winning streak. If this season has a turning point, it could be Valentine's response to the 1-11 slide that followed the winning streak.

The losing pained Valentine, but he kept moments of frustration to himself in the solitude of his office. After a loss at New York on June 7, when Don Mattingly had a game-winning hit in the ninth inning after the Rangers pitched to him with first base open, Valentine gave a loud, primal scream in his office. When he went into the clubhouse, however, he was calm.

The Rangers stayed calm during the losing streak and came out of it with a seven-game winning streak. By doing that, they kept control of their season.

"I would say Bobby, because of his energy level, is probably one of the more emotional managers I've played for," Ryan said. "He recovers quickly, and that's important. I'm a big believer that you don't get too high or too low. He's able to bounce back."

Said second baseman Julio Franco: "Bobby's attitude has been great for us. He knows we've been trying and that it doesn't help to put more pressure on us."

A year ago, when the Rangers doomed their season with an 8-19 May, Valentine could not keep that balance. He over-managed -- once having pinch-runner Cecil Espy try to steal home against Boston pitcher Roger Clemens -- and showed the strain.

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