Born: February 18, 1967
Town: Jersey City
John William Valentin was born February 18, 1967 in Mineola on Long Island and grew up in Jersey City. He began playing baseball with his older brother, Arnold, as a young boy and rooted for the Yankees. One of his favorite players, Chris Chambliss, would later become his batting coach. John was a good all-around athlete. He played varsity basketball for St. Anthony’s High School, sharing the court with David Rivers.
A strong-armed, slap-hitting shortstop, John attended various baseball camps in the summer hoping he would be offered a college scholarship, but nothing materialized. He weighed 150 pounds soaking wet, so most Division I schools considered him to be too small. John enrolled at Seton Hall, where his brother win school. He made the baseball team as a walk-on. He won the starting shortstop job as a freshman and took his place in the heart of a lineup that included Craig Biggio and Mo Vaughn.
In 1988, John was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 5th round. He was one of the best defensive players in their system, but did not show much promise at the plate. He was called up to Boston in 1992 and surprised everyone by hitting .276 with good power. He won the everyday shortstop job in 1993. In a 1994 game against the Seattle Mariners, John speared a hit-and-run line drive with men on first and second. He stepped on second and tagged the runner who had left first base. He then led off the next inning with a home run.
John enjoyed a breakout season in 1995, when he slammed 27 homers and knocked in 102 runs. By several metrics he was the most valuable position player in the league. John and Seton Hall teammate Mo Vaughn occupied the #2 and #3 spots in the order most of the year.
Late in the 1996 season—with Nomar Garciaparra knocking at the door at Triple-A—John asked Red Sox management where they wanted him to play in 1997. He hoped to have the winter to practice at second or third. The team told John that he would be their shortstop—then promptly moved him to second base the following spring. Later that year he moved to third. The annoyance of 1996 was compounded by shoulder and wrist injuries. It was the beginning of a seemingly endless string of injuries. Yet John battled through it all, and enjoyed a great year in 1997, when he batted .306 and led the AL with 47 doubles. The following year, he hit 44 doubles and 23 home runs.
A clutch hitter in post-season play, John enjoyed an epic ALDS against the Indians in 1999. After Boston dropped the first two games in the best-of-five series, they ran the table on Cleveland, taking three straight. John had a homer and double in Game 3, a double and two homers in Game 4, and knocked in two and scored two in Boston’s 12–8 Game 5 win. In all, he plated 12 runs in the three games.
Injuries caught up with John in a big way after that and he barely made it on the field in 2000 and 2001. The Mets took a chance and signed him to a free agent contract in 2002. He batted .240 in 114 games for the club before calling it a career. After retiring, John sold his custom-built home on the Navesink River and moved to Holmdel. He dabbled in the restaurant business but always stayed involved in the game, coaching and managing in the Mets minor league system and later for the Dodgers.