Sometimes, Silence Is Smart

Bobby Valentine, Mo Vaughn, Steve Phillips

Dec. 28, 2001: Exactly zero percent of the people pictured look upon this fondly. Though Mo did make a lot of money that day. (AP)

While preparing my thoughts on Bobby Valentine for a column, I dug into the New York Times archives to read up on Valentine’s incendiary 2002 exit from the New York Mets — until Thursday, his last job in the major leagues. There’s far more to discuss about it than I care to get into here, but I did stumble across one clip that I had to share.

OK, a little more than one clip. Everyone always talks about how Valentine and GM Steve Phillips — the bookends on that Mo Vaughn sandwich up there — clashed repeatedly throughout 2002, with Valentine only cementing his reputation as needing to be the smartest person in the room.

The Mets struggled mightily in 2001, coming off their NL pennant win in 2000, and Phillips sought to change that. Here is a sampling of the free agents he brought in for the 2002 season, with an abbreviated statline for each: Mo Vaughn (.259/.349/.456), Roberto Alomar (.266/.331/.376), Jeromy Burnitz (.215/.311/.365), Roger Cedeno (.260/.318/.346), Pedro Astacio (4.79 ERA, 32 HRs allowed in 190+ innings), Shawn Estes (4.55 ERA in 130+ IP) and John Valentin (Played five positions in 114 games before dying of dysentery in September.).

It’s a wonder Valentine didn’t take to talking to Phillips in a baby voice. My mother might stumble across a better free-agent haul than that.

On March 27, 2002, the Times led a Mets notebook with the following:

Mo Vaughn has played with broken bones, returned from knee surgery in three weeks and played half a season with what turned out to be a torn biceps tendon in his left arm. That is why he is insulted when his ability to lead is questioned. After hearing more complaints from his previous team, the Angels, about his alleged bad attitude in Anaheim, Vaughn was livid.

Using a stream of expletives and disparaging remarks, Vaughn was quoted in Monday’s New York Post questioning the right of Angels closer Troy Percival to criticize his leadership. Vaughn noted that Percival had never played on a team that made the playoffs.

This link appears to flesh out some of the details, namely that Percival said “We may miss Mo’s bat, but we won’t miss his leadership. Darin Erstad is our leader.” A sampling of Vaughn’s rebuttal:

“Let me say this: Who the (expletive) is Troy Percival? What has he done in this game? Has he led his team to a pennant? Has he ever (expletive) pitched in a big game that meant something? This guy talks so much (expletive), and he hasn’t even done (expletive).

“He has the right to evaluate and analyze people, but what the hell has he done to deserve that right? He hasn’t done (expletive) to lead them anywhere. I got hardware, I got playoff appearances, I got an MVP. I’ve been to the playoffs twice. What the hell has he done? Who the hell is he?

“I tried to be cool here. I tried to be nice of this whole situation concerning the Angels all the way around. Ain’t none of them done a damn thing in this damn game, bottom line. They ain’t got no flags hanging at friggin’ Edison Field, so the hell with them.”

Percival proceeded to save 40 games in the 2002 regular season with a 1.92 ERA, then saved seven more in the postseason as the Angels won their first (and to date only) World Series.

Vaughn — who never played in a World Series, who was a career .226 hitter in the playoffs, whose 1995 MVP probably should have gone to Albert Belle and who was coming off missing the entire 2001 season to injury — batted .249/.346/.438 in 166 games with the Mets in 2002-03. A knee injury not helped by his being nearly 270 pounds at the time then ended his career.

As knockouts go, that’s about as decisive as you’re going to get.