Bobby Valentine, Orel Hershiser, the Mets and a hilarious disguise 25 years ago

At a recent Q&A session, Bobby Valentine fielded a question that discussed his antics during his days as manager of the New York Mets. Valentine was reminded of a time where he wore — and was caught wearing — a fake mustache and sunglasses in the dugout. That happened 25 years ago.

The person who asked the question? A 9-year-old fan.

“His father and mother probably hadn’t even met, yet he wanted to know,” Valentine joked. “I’ve been amazed at the legs of that minute and a half of my life.”

There are a bunch of baseball fans who weren’t alive on June 9, 1999, yet somehow they are familiar with one of Valentine’s most infamous (or famous, depending on the person) moments. He was ejected during the 12th inning of what would be a 14-inning game against the Toronto Blue Jays — but he would return to the Shea Stadium dugout wearing a disguise.

That disguise is now a fun topic for Valentine and Orel Hershiser, who played a key role in the attempt to hide Valentine. And 25 years later, it’s still something that many laugh at — young and old — and something that has helped to make Valentine a fan favorite.

The mustache? Valentine said he found eye black stickers from the training room and put them on upside down under his nose.

“I looked in the mirror, and it looked pretty good,” Valentine said. “And then Orel said, ‘They’ll never know,’ when he saw me. The rest is history.”

The Mets were tied 3-3 with Toronto in the top of the 12th on that June night, and Blue Jays infielder Craig Grebeck was at the plate with outfielder Shannon Stewart on first base. In Stewart’s attempt to steal second, the Mets called a pitchout. Catcher Mike Piazza took the pitch wide from Pat Mahomes and tried to throw out Stewart. Piazza, however, was called for a catcher’s balk for going too far in front of the plate on the throw.

Valentine left the dugout to question umpire Randy Marsh and was ejected. Following the ejection, Valentine thought about ways to get messages from the clubhouse to the dugout. A common practice for a disqualified manager was to watch the game on television and have a “runner” relay messages to the acting manager. Hershiser volunteered to be the runner, Valentine said, but the setup at Shea included running up and down stairs, making Hershiser’s offer to relay timely messages unrealistic.

“Then Hershiser says, ‘Why don’t you come out to the dugout?’” Valentine said. “That’s when he threw me glasses and the hat.”

Hershiser said he’s unsure who came up with the disguise as a solution, but he’s not about arguing the call, so to speak.

“I don’t know what his version (of the story) is,” Hershiser said. “It was like, if you’re going to do that, (you) better cover up as much as possible. If he said I gave him the hat, I believe him.”

Hershiser was tasked with blocking the umpire’s view of Valentine, with Mahomes assisting. Valentine said a camera used to capture players in the dugout “busted” him.

Hershiser, who now works as an analyst for the Los Angeles Dodgers, was familiar with the relay system. It was something he’d seen as a pitcher for the Dodgers when manager Tommy Lasorda was tossed from games.

It’s a funny story now for Valentine, particularly with the Mets ultimately winning that game on a Rey Ordóñez walk-off hit in the 14th. But the ejection wasn’t funny at the time, Valentine said. He was fined $5,000 and suspended two games for the stunt.

“And (Hershiser) never wanted to pay half the fine — and he was making more money than me,” Valentine said with a laugh. “Go figure that out.”

“No one was forcing him to do this,” Hershiser responded. “We were just helping our manager with his idea, or adding to the idea.”

To add, there wasn’t a lot of laughing around the Mets in late May and early June of 1999. General manager Steve Phillips had fired pitching coach Bob Apodaca, hitting coach Tom Robson and bullpen coach Randy Niemann after eight consecutive losses, leaving Valentine with a revamped coaching staff and worrying about his own job security.

The Mets, however, managed to turn things around, winning six of seven after that June 9 win, which actually was a fourth consecutive for the team. The Mets went 17-10 for the month and finished the regular season with a 97-66 record. They beat the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS before falling to the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS.

Twenty-five years later, Valentine said he hasn’t heard much embellishment of the story. But he has heard tales of him having a disguise ready at every stadium, which was not true.

To hear people of all ages — even 9-year-olds — still talk about it means it was indeed a moment.

“I think that it’s all about making people laugh,” Valentine said. “I’m glad the levity helps today, and I guess it helped then, too.”

(Photo: John Conrad Williams, Jr. / Newsday RM via Getty Images)

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