In 1999 The Courant sports department did a series on the greatest athletes in Connecticut history. Former Rippowam High of Stamford three-sport star and current Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine was No. 12 on that list. Here's the story by John Altavilla that ran in the Hartford Courant on Dec. 21, 1999:
They met at the University of Southern California in the late 1960s, young men born on different coasts but with similar reasons for gravitating to the middle of Los Angeles. One wanted to be an NFL quarterback. The other figured he could win the Heisman Trophy.
Although he'd see him only occasionally around campus before circumstances separated them, Jim Fassel remembered hearing something very interesting about Bobby Valentine.
Thirty years later on a Monday morning in the bowels of Giants Stadium, the information resonated as vibrantly as the brass section of the Trojans' marching band.
``I understand he was one hell of a high school running back,'' said Fassel, the third-year coach of the Giants. ``If he got any closer to me when I saw him [at the Jets-Giants game Dec. 5], I'd have stuck a uniform on him and thrown him in.''
Valentine could have that effect on you. Before injuries ended his major league career in 1979, before the storm clouds that have hovered during 12 seasons managing Texas and the Mets put a rainy-day spin on who he is, Valentine was only about motion, energy and accomplishment.
``I never met a boy as determined as he was,'' Rudy Rufer, the Dodgers scout who signed Valentine, told the Stamford Advocate in 1991. ``He was aggressive, but polite. He knew what he wanted to do. In other words, he was almost a lock to be a success at whatever he did.''
To friends in Stamford, where his restaurant is located, where most of his civic involvement is centered, where the globes shaped like baseballs still shine bright at night in front of the family home on Stillwater Road, it is still motion, energy and accomplishment that matter.
``I remember the first time I ever saw Bobby play [for Lione's Little League All-Stars], he must have been 11 or 12, no more than that,'' said Ron Parente, Valentine's baseball coach at the old Rippowam High in Stamford. ``I mean, he did some things you just never see in Little League. He'd go into the hole at short and make plays. He'd turn on inside fastballs and hit them a mile. And he had the fervor. He lived to play baseball.''
Neither his father, Joe, nor mother, Rose, was particularly athletic, if you discount Joe's skill as a duckpin bowler. But from some genetic stream came the juice that turned this kid into a player 250 colleges clamored over in 1968, when he graduated from Rippowam.
``I don't know where [the ability] all came from,'' Valentine said. ``I can't be sure that it came from a specific place. But I imagine it came from my mother and father, who simply gave me the time and opportunity to do what I needed to do with my life. I imagine [my ability] was a gift. But who knows? Maybe the thing that propelled the athleticism was the fact that I also danced. There's balance and rhythm involved in dance. And I started dancing when I was 12.''
Valentine was a champion ballroom dancer as a teenager, winning a regional competition with his partner at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. He was also president of the student council. And he played the Japanese interpreter in ``Teahouse of the August Moon.''
Parente still remembers the ease with which Valentine could balance his life. He would leave play practice to take batting practice, walk back into the auditorium to work on his lines, then back outside again for infield. Obviously, there was nothing to it.
``I'll always remember Bobby for being very confident,'' said Tom Chiappetta, who grew up in Valentine's neighborhood, played for a Little League team Valentine coached when he was no more than 14 and still calls him a friend. ``You wanted to follow him around wherever he went. The rest of us were like puppy dogs.''
Said Valentine: ``I was the kid who got everyone to come out and play.''
The Football Player
Valentine is still considered by many the greatest all-around scholastic sports star in Connecticut history. He was an All-State player in football, baseball and track and field at Rippowam, holding state records for career touchdowns (53) and the 60-yard dash in his day.
``People ask me all the time, but it's hard for me to say if I was a better football player or baseball player,'' Valentine said. ``All I can say is that I played in about only 30 football games in my life. That's not a lot to work with.''
His accomplishments as a football player began as a sophomore in 1965, when he averaged 5.6 yards a carry, scored 21 touchdowns and led Rippowam to a 9-0 record and a state championship. His shortest TD run was 10 yards. As a junior, he averaged 6.3 yards and scored 74 points in only six games.
As a senior, Valentine scored six touchdowns in one game -- five in the first half -- --before coming out. The TDs came on a punt, kickoff, interception, pass and run.
``The co-captain of the team and I heard about a little pep rally the other school was having the night before the game,'' Valentine said. ``So we snuck over to take a little peek into their gym. Sure enough, they had hung me in effigy. It kind of inspired me.''
``I just let him run loose like a wild stallion,'' said Al Shanen, Rippowam's football coach. ``I remember when he was a freshman, we scrimmaged Stamford Catholic High [now Trinity Catholic]. I developed a play and [the staff] wanted to make sure we did it our way. It was a sweep, designed to go off-tackle for 10, maybe 15 yards.
``For the first time, I put Bobby into the game. We had the ball on the 20. Bobby goes off-tackle, plants his foot, scoots outside and goes 80 yards for the touchdown. We get back into the huddle and discuss how the play should be run. The second time we do it, he does the same, exact thing. I start screaming, `Valentine, you'll never make it if you don't do things my way.' ''
During Valentine's senior season at Rippowam, Southern Cal coach John McKay summoned him, his father and Shanen to New York City to make his big pitch.
USC needed a tailback.
To replace O.J. Simpson.
``McKay tells Bobby that he's the first kid he's ever recruited east of the Mississippi River,'' Shanen said. ``And he tells him, if he comes to USC, and runs behind that line of his, he'll win the Heisman Trophy.''
Think Of The Dodgers
Valentine decided to go to USC, but shortly thereafter the Dodgers selected him with the fifth overall pick in the 1968 draft. ----Their $70,000 bonus was enough to lure him to baseball. In the end, however, the words of Dodgers scouting director Al Campanis -- ``you could be the best baseball player in America'' -- had a truer ring.
``Here's something you may not know,'' Valentine said. ``I was visiting USC on my football recruiting visit when I met Tommy Lasorda for the first time. He was scouting a baseball game and I was sitting next to him in the bleachers. He gave me a Dodger transistor radio as a souvenir and told me to think of the Dodgers every time I listened to it.''
Two months later, Valentine was sent to the Ogden, Utah, rookie league team managed by Lasorda, the start of a friendship that has spanned three decades and transcended sports.
``It was from Tommy's hotel room that I called John McKay to tell him I had signed with the Dodgers,'' Valentine said. ``McKay acted like he couldn't really believe it.''
In three minor league seasons, Valentine twice was a league MVP -- at Ogden (where he hit .281 in 62 games) and at Triple A Spokane (.340) in 1970. But the injuries had begun; a broken jaw in 1969, a ripped knee in 1970.
With the Angels in May 1973, Valentine sustained a broken leg crashing into an outfield fence. The injury left a 17-degree bend between the knee and ankle and a playing career in ashes.
But in Stamford, nothing has been diminished.
``Bobby is and always has been a very confident young man,'' Parente said. ``Because of what he's accomplished in his life, he's been able to join a very select fraternity. There's a quality there inside him.
``I know how some people feel about him, how he grates on some people. No question that's been a problem. But when you look for perfection inside yourself, you tend to look for it inside others as well.''Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun