Sep 28

Reflections of Willie

With the Milwaukee Brewers in town, and Jerry Manuel presumably in his last week as Mets manager, it is not surprising the attention being placed on Willie Randolph and the inevitable comparisons to his successor.

RANDOLPH: Looking back.

I covered Randolph in 2006 until 2008 when he was unceremoniously fired, and found him to be knowledgeable but sometimes too thin skinned. I won’t use the word paranoid because I’m not a psychiatrist and believe that’s too harsh and unfair an assessment.

I attributed Randolph’s demeanor to it being his first job and his inability to let go of being passed by for other opportunities.

And, to be fair, Randolph had reason to be cautious as the Mets presented him with several untenable obstacles. Willie spoke highly of Omar Minaya the other day, but part of that was being a gentleman. Fact is, there was an uneasy tension between Randolph and the front office caused in large part by the constant undermining presence of Tony Bernazard, who literally was a management spy and who fed information to players that caused a gap in the clubhouse.

Minaya was at fault for letting that situation develop and not pulling in the reigns on Bernazard. Eventually, Bernazard did himself in and his reputation has kept him from landing another baseball job.

That Carlos Delgado sabotaged Randolph’s relationship with the Latin players, and it was allowed to happen by the front office, was distasteful and really despicable. Delgado’s presence undoubtedly hampered Randolph’s relationship with Jose Reyes to name one. It was information fed by Bernazard to Delgado that damaged whatever relationship the player could have with his manager.

The Mets came within one hit of reaching the World Series in 2006, then collapsed in 2007. The collapse that summer was historic, but traceable to the front office not addressing the needs of starting pitching and not bringing back the bullpen that was a strength of the 2006 team. The collapse would have happened sooner, and perhaps not been as dramatic, if not for the strong start that spring.

The bullpen was again a problem in 2008, but the Mets hung around until the final weekend. There was another collapse that year, but not as dramatic. The team hung around long enough for the interim tag to be removed from Manuel.

The Mets have addressed needs piecemeal, from Johan Santana to Francisco Rodriguez to Jason Bay, but never gave Randolph a full deck after 2006. The feeling was that they came close and to take the next step with essentially the same team. Hoping for improvement is not the same as adding the proper pieces to improve.

Gradually, by sticking with Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez too long, by not rebuilding the bullpen after Duaner Sanchez’s injury described in his EMR (electronic medical record) as a  fractured coracoid bone in the shoulder, by misjudging the progress made by Oliver Perez and John Maine after 2007, by hamstringing the bench with the likes of Julio Franco, poor contracts given Perez, Franco and Moises Alou, and numerous injuries, the window has slammed shut on the Mets and it doesn?t matter who is manager.

Had Randolph stayed, he couldn’t navigate through this mess, and Manuel has proven to be less capable. Let’s face it, today’s Mets are a house of cards. Their record will be better this year, but in some respects the team overachieved because of RA Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi, and Mike Pelfrey’s step forward.

With the payroll as it is, the injury to Santana and questions in the pitching staff, and the health issues of Carlos Beltran and Bay, this team could go south again next year.

Randolph deserves another chance to manage in the major leagues, but bringing him back isn’t the best idea. Been there, done that. Just like with Bobby Valentine.

Randolph has his faults as does Manuel, but the fact is this front office will be going on its fifth manager in ten years next season, a sure sign that the instability that comes from up top.

Aug 12

K-Rod held overnight following fight

Only the Mets.

Francisco Rodriguez was held overnight in a detainment center in Citi Field after being charged with third-degree assault following an altercation with in father-in-law after Wednesday night’s loss to Colorado.

He will be arraigned Thursday morning at Queens Criminal Court.

This isn’t the first time Rodriguez’s temper got the best of him. Earlier this season he and bullpen coach Randy Niemann were involved in a shoving match, and last year he got in a shouting match with Tony Bernazard.

Rodriguez has always been an emotional type, the Mets knew this going in. It’s what fuels him on the mound, but gets him in trouble off it.

It’s questionable Rodriguez will be available this afternoon.

Jul 27

In defense of Adam Rubin ….

There are few reporters I admire and respect as much as I do Adam Rubin of the New York Daily News. He is among the first to arrive and last to leave. He works the clubhouse as well as any colleague I have competed against. I consider my work ethic one of my strong suits and I envy his. As far as I am concerned, his integrity is above reproach.

Rubin has been critical of the Mets, and rightfully so. Just look at their record. Also look at Rubin’s record for being right.

I believe Rubin when he said he once probed Jeff Wilpon about how to get a job in major league baseball, “but that’s it.” I don’t believe for a second he torpedoed Tony Bernazard to get a job in baseball. Rubin is right, the accusation from Omar Minaya toward him was “obscene” and “deplorable.”

If Minaya had a problem with Rubin, he should have addressed it privately behind closed doors as part of his in-depth investigation. Bernazard, an embarrassment to the Mets, has been fired and is gone. The Mets’ embarrassing behavior still remains.

The bottom line is Bernazard is gone by his own doing, with his behavior coming to light as the result of solid, ethical reporting.

Jul 24

Bottom line: Wilpons need to speak up.

First things first, the Wilpons aren’t selling the Mets. The future of the team is in their hands, and whomever they entrust with the reigns. Right now it is Omar Minaya, and most aspects of the franchise is heading south.

The major league team and two top minor league affiliates are all playing below .500. The drop is worse below, which tells you the talent there is not adequate either for immediate help or in making a big time trade. And, for the latter, there aren’t enough chips to patch all the holes.

WILPONS: Need to speak up.

WILPONS: Need to speak up.

Tony Bernazard, whose responsibility it is to stock and train that farm system, shares greatly in that.

A substantial part of the team is on the disabled list, and the medical staff is under scrutiny. However, there is no real common thread to the injury other than some players tried to push themselves. There is always the wonder, after the Ryan Church episode last season, of injuries being mishandled. Of those players on the disabled list, only Carlos Beltran has raised the issue, and he’s a big enough star to where what he says must be taken seriously.

There are rumblings about the job security of Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel. Despite the supposed vote of confidence, we know those aren’t etched in stone. Teams always say things like that before dropping the ax. If a significant number of the injured returns and the Mets make a run but fall short, injuries should give them a pass.

However, it would be a grave mistake throwing everything about this season under the umbrella of injuries because there is no much wrong with this team.

It doesn’t hit well, especially with runners in scoring position. Howard Johnson has to take some responsibility there. David Wright’s power outage has been a mystery. Why would he change his mechanics because to the stadium? Why would anybody let him? He’s always been around .300, which is where he is now. If he mechanics were changed and he was hitting .350, it would be more acceptable. What isn’t acceptable are the number of strikeouts.

Then there is Daniel Murphy. He appears rushed. A bust in left, he’s comfortable at first defensively, but his offense – the strength of his game – has deteriorated.

Look at also what Johnson has had to work with. Fernando Tatis played over his head last season, and this year is more his norm. Most of the starters started the season as role players and are getting more time than they should.

Pitching? Well, so much was counted on from Oliver Perez, but his failure falls on many levels. No way, is he worth the contract. Choosing Perez over Derek Lowe and Randy Wolf is on Minaya. Letting him play in the WBC is also on Minaya, and the Wilpons, who give their unconditional support to the meaningless exhibition series. Pitching coach Dan Warthen hasn’t been able to harness him. Then, there is Perez himself, who believes walks aren’t such a big deal.

Personally, I think Perez is as good as he’s going to be. I’m tired of hearing about his potential. If the Mets can’t trade him, perhaps they should consider putting him in the bullpen, where he can be overpowering for an inning or two.

BERNAZARD: Shameful.

BERNAZARD: Shamed Mets.

With everything unraveling with the Mets, now the team is being embarrassed by Bernazard’s behavior. Bernazard is currently under house arrest in New Jersey with the perception his relationship with Jeff Wilpon could save his job.

If it does, who will be surprised?

If it does not, there will be no impact on the field as Bernazard can’t do anything about the team scoring runs or all the problems listed above.

Bernazard’s firing, which would be deserved, will only act as a diversion and him being made a potential scapegoat.

The hard core fans are upset, but many of those who go to Citi Field are numbed by the excitement of the new park. Let’s go get some BBQ or clam chowder. How many types of beer do they sell?

However, even in New York, the newness of the park won’t last long if the team doesn’t perform. It was that way in Baltimore. In Toronto. In Pittsburgh. In Washington.

Build it and they will come. Play well and they will stay.

During this tumultuous time with the franchise, the lone voice has been Minaya’s, and that’s not good enough. Times are strained enough now where the Wilpons, preferably both, step up with their state-of-the-team address.

The ticket-buying public must be assured of what direction is the team headed. Among other things, it should include statements on whether the team is a buyer or seller at the trade deadline. Are they waiting for the injured to return? They should state firmly all aspects of the organization will be under review after the season and nobody is safe. They should state what direction they will take in the offseason to rebuild. They should state its concern on the medical staff and is there blame for the injuries or bad luck.

No aspect of the team should be spared the scrutiny, because few things are right with it.

May 28

Was an opportunity wasted?

MARTINEZ: Was a teaching lesson lost?

MARTINEZ: Was a teaching lesson lost?

Did Mets manager Jerry Manuel miss an opportunity last night to set a career molding example for Fernando Martinez?

There’s no doubt Manuel talked to Martinez after the 20-year-old rookie gazed at his pop-up, and only failed to run after it was dropped by the catcher.

I’m thinking more should have been made of it, and a mold would have been set had Manuel pulled Martinez from the game with the warning if it ever happens again he’ll go to the minor leagues. If such a reprimand scars Martinez, then doesn’t it show he’s not mentally tough enough?

I throw this out there because Martinez was warned two years ago by Tony Bernazard when he wasn’t running out ground balls. Maybe Martinez had a brain cramp, maybe he was upset because he isn’t hitting, but it doesn’t really matter.

They tell you in Little League that when you hit the ball you run hard, and don’t stop running until the play is over. And, you’ll know when the play is over.

Lastings Milledge never got it and the Mets gave up on him. Don’t you think if Milledge’s attitude was better he’s still be here? But, Milledge didn’t give the Mets hope he’d change.

And, Jose Reyes? Well, they’ve already lost him. The Mets have coddled Reyes to the point where discipline won’t help. There are too many times when Reyes fails to run hard, or loses focus and muffs a play in the field, or give away an at-bat.

What, all of a sudden they are going to clamp down on him? Don’t think so.

Martinez is a different story. By all accounts he’s a good kid with a load of talent. No ceiling, the scouts say. Now is the time to put a harness on Martinez.

I just wonder if Manuel missed an opportunity last night.