Sad story to report: Bill Valentine, former GM/exec with the Arkansas Travelers (Class AA; Texas League) and one of the game’s great personalities, passed away Sunday morning. He was 82.
Valentine began his baseball career as an umpire for 18 seasons, working his way up the ladder before working six seasons (1963-1968) in the American League before being let go by league president Joe Cronin for his union-organizing activities. The move made national headlines, with the likes of Red Smith and Clif Keane criticizing Cronin for releasing Valentine and Alex Salerno despite their records as good umpires — Valentine, in fact, was an ump at the 1965 All-Star Game held at Minnesota’s Met Stadium. (He’s also one of two umps to throw Mickey Mantle out of a game.)
He resurfaced in pro baseball in 1976, hired by Max Moses as GM of the Arkansas Travelers, a position he filled with gusto and distinction. Under his tenure, the Travelers thrived, with attendance growing from 67,000 in 1975 to 223,000 in 1980, and a move to Dickey-Stephens Park in 2007.
Bill didn’t do anything halfway: he had a larger-than-life personality, and it was always a joy to chat with him. He was named King of Baseball at the 2014 Winter Meetings in San Diego, a well-deserved honor. He also graced the Ballpark Digest Awards Reception, and true to form he presented me with a business card from a San Diego restaurant, urging me to head there for one of the best meals I’d ever have. I never made it to the restaurant, but it was a joy to see Bill and visit with him about baseball, food and life.
We’ll let Bill have the final word in this epic voice mail tweeted by Rob Gardenhire, Vice President of Marketing & Business Development for the Tulsa Drillers:
— Rob Gardenhire (@RobGardenhire) April 26, 2015