From the August 13, 2006 Newberg Report, about something
that happened 10 years before that:
On Friday I went to the Alumni Legacy Luncheon, honoring
the 1996 playoff team, and I wish the room held 50,000 rather than 500. Table
number 33 was near the back of the room, but I’m certain we had the best seats
in the house, because eight of us had a full hour and half with Dave
Valle. I asked him if the story Rusty Greer told on the Ticket a couple
weeks ago was true — the story about Valle calling a team meeting on August 9,
1996, telling Johnny Oates that he and his staff were not excused from the
meeting, and neither were the trainers or the equipment guys or the bullpen
Coming off two losses in Detroit, which cut the Rangers’
division lead over Seattle to two games, Valle told teammate Dennis Cook on the
plane to Toronto that he felt like he needed to say something to the team but
wasn’t sure it was his place. “Cookie” told Valle, at the time a 12-year
big league veteran with all of 62 at-bats in four months as Pudge’s backup,
that he’d earned the right to speak up.
Valle got in the face of every man in that clubhouse, the
players and the trainers and the equipment guys and the bullpen catcher — and
the manager — and challenged each of them: “Are you willing to do what it takes
Picture a second lieutenant lining up the troops, side by
side, barking the same question, the same command, at each of them.
Starting with the Senior General. “Are you willing to do what it takes to
Johnny Oates, who had just granted Valle permission to
hold the meeting and asked when the coaches should vacate the room, only to be
told by Valle that nobody was excused from the room, responded to his
backup catcher: “Yes, sir.”
The Rangers reeled off seven straight wins. The
division lead was extended to seven games, a season high (and without checking,
probably a franchise high for the 25-year-old club).
Valle talked about the lead that subsequently almost
disappeared, a nine-game cushion on September 11 that shrunk to one game on
September 20 when Garret Anderson hit that two-run double that I’ll never
forget, that shot to left-center that turned a win into a loss in five
seconds. Mark McLemore had given Texas
a 5-4 lead in the top of the 10th. Mike Stanton
got Jim Edmonds
and Tim Salmon out to start the bottom of the inning, but then gave up singles
to George Arias and Rex Hudler. And then Anderson almost cost me my life.
Valle said he was the most shocked person in the
clubhouse when he saw his name in the starting nine the next day. Oates
was notorious for his etched-in-granite lineups. Valle, as he put it
himself, was like a backup quarterback, “getting to play every third
Sunday.” But with eight games to go and the team reeling, seemingly about
to squander its chance at a first-ever playoff berth in cataclysmic fashion,
Oates sat Pudge and put Valle in the lineup to catch John Burkett.
Valle homered to left off Jim Abbott in the seventh,
highlighting a 2 for 4 night and a 7-1 Rangers win. It was the last of
Valle’s 77 lifetime home runs. And, in his words, maybe the biggest.
Texas would finish the year with six wins in those final
eight games, and an invitation to the American League playoffs. The
clincher came on September 27, a surreal 15-inning loss to the Angels that was
dissected by a simple flip of the out-of-town scoreboard, late in the game,
from “9” to “F,” next to “SEA 1” that stood above “OAK 8.” The Mariners
were done, and the Rangers played on, losing the game that wouldn’t end and
then hugging each other on the field as fireworks went off forever and we all
heard Holtzie’s voice over the P.A. system, narrating the moment and failing to
disguise that he was as overcome as any of us. I was in the stands until
2 a.m. that night.
Dave Valle said the best moment of his baseball career
was when his boys were doused in champagne on September 27, 1996 (well,
September 28), during a clubhouse celebration that didn’t end until 5
I don’t know what’s going to happen the next seven weeks,
and neither do you and neither does Michael or Mark or Aki, or Buck or
I can see Valle’s finger in my face, asking if I’m
willing to do what it takes to win.
I am. See you at the yard.
I’ve always hated the last two paragraphs of that report,
because even on my own cheesiness scale it stands out as pathetic.
But every season, every decent season at least, there’s a
moment when that Valle story is one I can’t get out of my head, and right now it’s
there, and I need to go get something to eat to stop thinking about the last 30
minutes, and the last 10 games.
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(c) Jamey Newberg