June 9, 1999 was a warm and steamy night in Queens, and New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine was feeling the heat, literally and figuratively.
The Mets were sitting just two games above .500, and were six games back in the National League East. Valentine had just seen three of his coaches — pitching coach Bob Apodaca, hitting coach Tom Robson, and bullpen coach Randy Niemann — fired a few days prior when the Mets blew a three-run lead to their cross-town rivals, the New York Yankees. Following that move, Valentine boldly predicted that the Mets would go 40-15 over the next 55 games, or he would quit.
On the night in question, the Mets were locked in an extra-innings battle with the Toronto Blue Jays. With the game tied 3-3, and speedy Shannon Stewart on first base after reaching on a one-out single, Valentine flashed the pitchout sign to catcher Mike Piazza, and pitcher Pat Mahomes.
Yes, the father of current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Mahomes delivered to home, and Piazza came out of his crouch to try and throw out Stewart, who was stealing. That’s when home-plate umpire Randy Marsh waved the play off, awarding Steward second base, and hitter Craig Grebeck first base, for catcher’s interference.
That brought Valentine out of the dugout for a chat with Marsh.
“Now, I have read the rulebook for all my life, but I had never seen nor heard that play being enforced in a game, so I came out to talk with Randy,” recalled Valentine years later. “I asked him if I could get thrown out for what I was thinking and he said no. Then I told him what I was thinking and he threw me out.”
The manager retreated to the clubhouse, where encountered veterans Orel Hershiser and Robin Ventura.
“Well, I went up into the clubhouse and two of my favorites, Orel Hershiser and Robin Ventura, asked me what the heck I was doing up in the clubhouse when I was needed down in the dugout. I said, ‘I can’t go down there,’” said Valentine on the 20-year anniversary of that night.
“Robin threw me a hat, Orel threw me some sunglasses and said, ‘Just put these things on, take off your uniform and go down to the dugout.’ And I said, ‘Guys, it’s a night game. I can’t wear sunglasses down in the dugout.’
“They said, ‘Do it!’ So I walk in the training room to look in the mirror, pulled the hat down a little and then looked down and saw the stickers that you put under your eyes on a day game. And I took one sticker and put it here [to form the right half of a “mustache”], took another sticker and put it there [for the left side of the ‘stache]. I looked at them and they said no one will ever know.”
Well, people did know. Valentine was spotted by both the umpires and TV cameras. The Mets won the game shortly thereafter and Valentine was able to celebrate with the team before the umpires stepped in again, but he was hit with a fine and suspended two games.
Both of which the Mets won.
You can watch the entire sequence here:
Why are we talking about this almost 25 years later? While we at SB Nation — and certainly our good friends at Secret Base — do love a stroll down memory lane, the Valentine situation comes to mind thanks to the latest turn in the Michigan sign-stealing scandal.
Because the latest development is that photographs from a game between Central Michigan and Michigan State to open the 2023 college football season depict someone on the CMU sideline dressed in CMU gear, who looks an awful lot like the individual at the center of the Michigan allegations, assistant Connor Stalions.
You can judge for yourself:
CMU head coach Jim McElwain addressed the matter on Tuesday.
“We’re obviously aware of a picture floating around with the sign-stealer guy,” said the head coach. “Our people are doing everything they can to get to the bottom of it. We were totally unaware of it. We certainly don’t condone it in any way, shape or form.”
The school also confirmed that they have opened an investigation into the situation.
Perhaps somewhere, Valentine is smiling.
While wearing a fake mustache and sunglasses.