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

THE BALTIMORE SUN

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.

Valentine said he has reacted to this year's progress "like any human would." He has shown improvement in channeling emotion. Consider that Valentine, ejected by umpires 17 times in his first four seasons and 21 times in his career, has not been thrown out this season.

"If we'd had that same losing streak three or four years ago, Bobby would have been a lot lower," general manager Tom Grieve said. "Bobby's done a very good job of staying away from the peaks and valleys. It's a sign of maturity for him. It's something he's really worked at.

"There's no one way a manager has to be, but I think it helps to have a high-energy, emotional manager. There's a lot of emotion with the job. You're in the heat of battle every day . . . Bobby is a very emotional guy, but he's learned to keep it more in check."

Changes in the game have made emotional managers like Valentine more prominent. A manager such as Gil Hodges with Washington and the New York Mets or Los Angeles' Walter Alston could motivate through fear. In pre-expansion days, jobs were few and salaries were low. A fine meant something. So did the threat of a player in the minors.

Negative motivation has lost its effectiveness. The rise of Billy Martin and Earl Weaver as winning managers in the 1970s signaled a change that opened the way for managers in the Valentine mold.

"A manager has to demonstrate excitement and let players know he cares," said Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Frey, a coach for Weaver and self-admitted emotional manager who won with Kansas City and the Cubs. "I'm not big on sitting and watching and not getting excited. You need that enthusiasm, because it transfers to the players. You want them to know winning is important. Players get a sense of that from the manager."

Like La Russa, Lasorda has shown the virtue of emotion. La Russa and Lasorda are the most emotional and most successful of the current managers.

La Russa has four playoff and three World Series appearances in the last eight years. Lasorda has six playoff and four World Series appearances in the last 14. The common thread is their ability to handle bullpens and stoke emotions.

"It's important in any walk of life to be emotional," said La Russa, echoing Valentine's sentiments. "You have to have enthusiasm, passion, excitement. You have no chance if you have no emotion."

With La Russa, it is emotion channeled into aggression. The Athletics weathered misfortunes to win the past three American League titles.

La Russa said emotion works if it's consistent. "You can't come to the park and not care for a day or two or a series or two," he said. La Russa's emotions can be fierce. Witness his bat-tossing fury after one of his players, catcher Terry Steinbach, was hit in the face by a pitch June 1 at Chicago.

Lasorda, Valentine's example from their days together in the Dodgers' minor-league system, is given to more rises and falls in emotion. He can hide his dark moods and sell the Dodgers on his approach. Outsiders may mock Lasorda for his cornball talk and gushy demeanor, but it works with his team. The Dodgers' 1988 World Series championship was built on Orel Hershiser's arm and Lasorda's emotion.

"No matter how tired or dejected you are, when you walk into that clubhouse, you have to put on a happy face and have enthusiasm," Lasorda said. "If you have your head down and your players see that, what do you think the attitude of your club will be? Not too darn good.

"Bobby understands that. He's blessed with a great enthusiasm for the game."

There is a dark side to emotional managing. Overuse it, and the situation deteriorates quickly.

Chuck Tanner won a World Series with Pittsburgh in 1980, but he lost credibility as drug-related clubhouse problems arose. As his words grew more and more empty, Tanner could not revive his teams. He finished no better than fifth in his last four full seasons, and Atlanta fired him in 1988.

Martin was emotion gone mad. Martin won, five playoff and two World Series appearances, but never stayed with a team more than three consecutive seasons. His emotions drained his teams.

"In our game, emotion has to be harnessed properly," said Oakland general manager Sandy Alderson, who fired Martin and hired La Russa. "You don't want to have a team exhausted early. You can't rely solely on emotion."

Valentine said he does not consider himself an emotional manager. He labels his style "observant" of situations, rather than reactive.

He has tried to draw attention from the streaks by branding discussion of them "garbage." Valentine's intent is to keep his team from looking back, a skill that has often eluded him.

"I'm better at it now for stretches than I might have been," he

said. "The older you get, the more you understand about reality and what you can do."

He knows what emotion can do. It can lift a team to heights or destroy it. It is Bobby Valentine's duty to make emotion work for the Rangers.

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