How a college speech got Bobby V in hot water

November, 29, 2011
11/29/11
12:36
AM ET
BOSTON -- He grew up in Newton, went to day school in Brookline, and took the Green Line whenever he could to sit in the Fenway Park bleachers with his buddies. "The Red Sox were the closest thing I had to religion," he said.

So as a Boston Red Sox fan, when the manager of the New York Mets, Bobby Valentine, came to his university to speak, he skipped it. Midterms were coming up, and as executive editor of the University of Pennsylvania student newspaper, Binyamin Appelbaum was otherwise occupied.

A rookie reporter on her first assignment was dispatched to the event, at the Wharton Wide World of Sports Club, where Valentine had been invited to speak on the business of baseball. A story was filed, a headline was slapped on, and the story was buried deep on an inside page. Pretty boring stuff, Appelbaum recalled.

"I didn't think anything about it," he said. "A couple of days later, it exploded."

Appelbaum is now a reporter in the Washington bureau of the New York Times, but on Monday, he paused to remember one of the more incendiary events in Valentine's tenure as manager of the Mets, one that dominated the back pages of the New York City tabloids for a few days in 2000, prompted Mets general manager Steve Phillips to make an unscheduled trip to confront his manager, and had big-city reporters fanning across the Penn campus.

All because of Bobby Valentine's speech to a group of about 100 college kids.

What happened? In the aftermath of the speech, a Penn student had gone to a Mets' fan website and posted that Valentine had ripped Mets management and some of his players.

"I came to my office," Appelbaum said, "and there was a note from a reporter from the New York Daily News, I think, who said he was on campus. I had a voice mail from the New York Times, and then one of the reporters walked into my office.

"All of a sudden I was in a media circus, struggling to figure out what it was all about. I don't normally read New York Met fans' websites."

Soon enough, Appelbaum discovered what the fuss was all about. What already was a hot topic in New York -- the strained relationship between Phillips and Valentine -- had just been turned up to blast-furnace temperatures.

"Just like a match on dry tinder," Appelbaum said. "This was a case where things blew up when they were primed to blow up. And it didn't take much."

Click here for Gordon Edes' full column.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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