Ellis Clarence Valentine (1954-)

Ellis Valentine was a major league baseball player whose charismatic personality made him a fan favorite while his strong throwing arm made him a force in the outfield. Valentine’s career spanned ten seasons in the major leagues, most of it with the Montreal Expos.

Ellis Clarence Valentine was born on July 30, 1954, in Helena (Phillips County) to Ellis Valentine Jr. and Bertie Valentine. The family moved to Los Angeles, California, when Ellis was three. There, his father worked in the city’s sanitation department, while his mother ran a beauty salon out of their home. After becoming a high school pitching star, Valentine suffered a broken leg the summer before his senior year and thus played first base as a senior. While his talent was obvious, the rod that had been inserted in his leg after the injury scared away some teams, allowing him to slip to the second round of the 1972 draft.

Determined to show that he should have been drafted higher, Valentine made an immediate impact, hitting .266 in his brief time with the Expos’ farm team in the rookie league. His manager, Karl Kuehl, termed him “the finest hitting prospect [he had] ever seen.” In 1973, Valentine began the climb to the major leagues. He began with the West Palm Beach Expos in the Class A Florida State League, moved to the Quebec Carnavals of the Double A Eastern, and then in 1975 was promoted to Memphis in the Triple A International League. Hitting .306 with thirteen home runs and sixty-six runs batted in (RBIs), he earned a late season call by the Expos. He quickly made an impression when, in his first game, he threw out Philadelphia Phillies veteran Garry Maddox when he tried to stretch a triple into an inside-the-park home run. (In an interesting twist, Maddox’s wife had been Valentine’s guidance counselor back in high school.) Two days later, in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Valentine hit his first big league home run. After a season of winter ball in Puerto Rico, Valentine made the 1976 opening day roster, but after a slow start he was sent down to the Triple A Denver Bears. Recalled in mid-July, he proved he belonged, finishing the season with a .279 average, seven home runs, and thirty-nine RBIs.

The following season, the Expos moved into Olympic Stadium, the cavernous facility that had been the centerpiece of the Montreal-hosted 1976 Olympics. In front of a record crowd of more than 57,000 fans, Valentine christened the new baseball facility, hitting the first home run in a 7–2 defeat. It marked the beginning of a great first half of the season, one that earned him a spot in the All-Star game. Foot injuries hampered his second-half performance, but while he missed twenty-two games, he still finished with a .293 average, with twenty-five home runs and seventy-six RBIs. Valentine followed up the 1977 campaign with an equally stellar 1978 effort, almost duplicating his previous year’s numbers, hitting .289 with twenty-five home runs and seventy-six RBIs, while also winning the only Gold Glove of his career. That otherwise fine season was marred by some erratic behavior that led to his being fined and suspended for violations of team rules and behavioral expectations.

As the 1979 season unfolded, Valentine got more and more involved in the Montreal party culture, and his ever-deeper involvement with alcohol and drugs led to a diminished on-field performance as well as unpredictable behavior and numerous “injuries,” all of which limited his playing time and his contribution to the team’s efforts.

Valentine met with manager Dick Williams and general manager John McHale before the 1980 season in hopes of clearing the air while seeking a fresh start. But it was not to be—in bad shape and beset with nagging injuries, he played only eighty-six games, and one injury, being hit in the cheek by a pitch, not only caused him to miss almost forty games but also changed him as a player.

Following the 1980 season, Valentine asked to be traded, but the trade to the New York Mets in 1981 did not help, as he hit only .207 the rest of the way in the strike-shortened season. In 1982, he ended up hitting .288 with eight home runs and forty-eight RBIs in 111 games. A free agent at season’s end, Valentine signed with the American League’s California Angels, hitting .240 with thirteen home runs and forty-three RBIs in eighty-six games in 1983. Although rewarded with a three-year contract, he suffered injuries that limited him to only two games—both in the minor leagues—during the 1984 season. In 1985, he played eleven games for the Texas Rangers before he retired.

Away from the game, Valentine again fell victim to drugs and alcohol. In the fall of 1986, having moved to Phoenix, he entered rehab, and although his initial effort failed, in 2016, he was able to claim thirty years of sobriety. He also turned his own troubles into a productive example for others, speaking to youth groups about his travails. And after moving back to Los Angeles in 1988, he earned certification in both chemical dependency counseling and behavioral health, founding the A. V. Light Foundation, an organization that provided family counseling, parenting classes, and anger management and drug and alcohol education.

In 2010, he and his wife Karen, whom he married in the early 1990s and with whom he had three children, moved to Texas, settling in Grand Prairie, where they opened a second A. V. Light facility. In 2014, he founded and served as executive director of RAFT Recovery, a Dallas/Fort Worth nonprofit community-based organization specializing in behavioral health intervention services. In September 2013, he co-founded PastPros.com, an operation that, through a virtual network, seeks to connect fans with their favorite former professional athletes for direct access to signed and game-used memorabilia, as well as autographs and coaching.

He and his wife live in Mansfield, Texas.

For additional information:
“Ellis Valentine.” Baseball-Reference.com. https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/v/valenel01.shtml (accessed October 25, 2022).

King, Norm. “Ellis Valentine.” SABR BioProject. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/ellis-valentine/ (accessed October 25, 2022).

William H. Pruden III
Ravenscroft School


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