As I have said here many times, I grew up in New York City and have been a life-long New York Mets fan. Actually, that’s not completely accurate. In 1992, when I was working on my first baseball book, “Play Ball,” the Mets clubhouse was filled with such a bunch of surly jerks—led by the always delightful Vince Coleman and Bobby Bonilla—that I found it impossible not to root against them. To know that Mets team was to hate them and their play lived down to their personalities.
It actually took me a few years to get past that experience and, to be honest, I wasn’t completely back on the bandwagon even in 2000 when they made The World Series. I thought Bobby Valentine was an excellent manager and certainly didn’t dislike him as much as some people dislike him but he wasn’t exactly Joe Torre, who is one of the most admirable men I’ve ever met in sports.
Somewhere along the line, boyhood memories kicked back in and I became live-and-die with the Mets again. Certainly by the time I worked on, ‘Living on the Black,’ in 2007 I was all the way back. The last 17 games of that season were torture, not just because they were bad for the book—which they were, especially when Tom Glavine blew sky-high on the last day of the season—but because I was a suffering fan.
I have tried—TRIED—really hard not to whine on this blog about the travails of the Mets during these past 13 months. I kept my mouth shut most of last year because they were devastated by injuries. I bit my tongue and said nothing about their consistent stonewalling on how serious injuries were and tried not to second-guess the medical staff because, seriously, what in the world do I know about how to treat a knee injury or, the latest in-vogue injury, the oblique. Is it just me or is EVERY baseball injury now an oblique injury? Remember for years no one had ever heard of a rotator cuff? Then every pitching injury was to the rotator cuff.
Steve Somers, easily WFAN’s best and smartest host, took to calling the Mets the “Medicalpolitans,” last winter when Carlos Beltran announced in January that he’d decided to have surgery on his knee. January? What happened to October? God knows the Mets weren’t playing any baseball that month. I was actually in my car, driving back from a basketball game in Charlottesville on the night the Mets announced the surgery. As usual they were optimistic about his recovery. They were figuring eight to ten weeks. He MIGHT miss the start of the season but he’d be back by the end of April at worst.
I remember saying to myself as I listened, “All-Star break.” That’s when I figured he might be back. Of course he didn’t come back until after the All-Star break and he now looks a little bit like Willie Mays in centerfield—in the 1973 World Series. There’s really only one position he should be playing right now: DH. Oh wait, they don’t have that in The National League.
Okay, okay, I’m sounding like a frustrated fan. Sorry. I AM a frustrated fan. I watched much too much of the west coast trip—my friend Frank Mastrandrea, who really should be committed, watched EVERY inning. To quote the great Lefty Driesell, ‘I may be dumb, but I ain’t stupid.’ I watched a lot but not all of it. I WAS in bed at the end of the 14-inning game in Arizona because I KNEW what was going to happen.
Here’s what bothers me the most: The Mets went 2-9 on the west coast trip and scored 23 runs. They were shut out four times. They aren’t going to make any big moves at the trading deadline and I’m actually okay with that because I honestly don’t think they’re going anyplace this season. What’s bothersome though is that I believe they aren’t going to make a big move because the Wilpons can’t afford to add payroll or won’t add payroll. Why they paid $66 million for Jason Bay to prove they still had money this offseason when they needed pitching I’ll never know.
Of course the pitching hasn’t really been the problem. Johan Santana has been mostly great and they’ve caught lightning in a bottle with R.A. Dickey. Mike Pelfrey was great, then bad and I think will bounce back. Jonathon Niese has been good. They need a fifth starter. They also need a closer. When a pitcher nicknamed K-Rod can’t get anyone out with his fastball, you’ve got problems.
But, I’m sorry, the time has come for change at the top. Has Omar Minaya done an awful job? No. He’s done some things well, some things not so well. The same is true for Jerry Manuel. Some of his moves are baffling, but he has done a decent job.
But decent and not-awful are synonyms for mediocre. The Mets are much too willing to accept mediocrity. The Wilpons aren’t good at admitting mistakes, which is why Oliver Perez, the $36 million anchor around their necks, hasn’t been released and Luis Castillo, who has the range of a beached whale, is playing second base. They held meetings on Monday after the road trip—which would have been 1-10 if Phil Cuzzi wasn’t a complete incompetent—and say things are fine, we’re okay at 50-49 with the ship sinking fast.
I’m not saying that promoting Wally Backman from Brooklyn because he’s fiery and an ex-Met is the answer. In fact, I think it’s NOT the answer. But some thing has to be done right now, even if it is only to release Perez and Castillo to let the world—and the rest of the clubhouse know—that the days of claiming the Emperor has beautiful clothes are coming.
At season’s end, everyone has to go. Sorry, nothing personal, but it is time. The Mets need to find a Theo Epstein to be their general manager. Maybe Mark Shapiro would leave Cleveland. Maybe, for big dollars, Billy Beane can finally be lured out of Oakland. But Minaya’s time has come and gone. He has to take the hit for the Perez and Luis Castillo contracts; Bay too. He gets credit for Dickey, but that was a throwaway move that turned into gold.
I don’t think Joe Torre wants to come back and manage in New York at the age of 70. My preference would be an aggressive young up-and-comer type, someone who fits the profile of Willie Randolph six years ago. Don’t gag. Randolph brought life to the clubhouse, came within an inning of The World Series in 2006 and wasn’t the guy who crumbled completely at the end of 2007 although it did ultimately cost him his job. I wouldn’t mind seeing Ozzie Guillen in the Mets dugout or Terry Pendleton, the Braves hitting coach who is one of the bright guys in the game.
Finally, every doctor has to be fired. Seriously. I don’t see how any player can have confidence that he’s going to be treated properly at this point. John Maine just went and found his own doctor for shoulder surgery. Who can blame him? Jose Reye’s ‘oblique,’ injury was botched (again) from the get-go. He was in, he was out. He was going to be ready in a day, then it was ten days. The beat goes on.
Okay, I’ve vented. I’d fire the Wilpons too but that isn’t possible. I guess I should be happy that Vince Coleman isn’t playing centerfield—even if he might be faster than Beltran NOW.
John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases