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The Softest Team Money Can Buy
Posted by David Martorano at 10/2/2008 8:24:00 PM
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For much of my short life, I have been a die-hard Mets fan. I remember wearing a Howard Johnson pin on my Mets jacket in the second grade. I remember screaming out loud whenever HOJO would hit a homerun. I’m not sure why I was such a big Howard Johnson fan. It was probably because of his nickname and because he looked like he always meant business.

I remember going to Mets camp when I was 12; somewhere in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania. Our 6 days were spent playing baseball, watching video of key moments in Mets’ history (mostly the 86’ season) and meeting up and coming Mets’ prospects (Bobby Jones, Brook Fordyce). Playing baseball and meeting “real” players was understandably thrilling for a camp full of 12 year old Met fans. The less understandable part was just how mesmerized every kid was with the 1986 team. I think that even as 12 year olds, we understood that the 1986 roster was unusually loaded with talent, toughness, leadership and personality. The images of players like Strawberry, Gooden, Backman, Dykstra, Mitchell, Hernandez and Carter, drove that understanding home.

I remember the day the Mets traded for Mike Piazza. I remember a high school classmate of mine screaming with excitement that we got Piazza and that “he was gonna hit bombs”. We had a baseball game that day. The bus ride to the game was full of the buzz generated by the Piazza signing. Piazza was a gamer and he was clutch. And now he was our catcher.

I remember the 2000 Subway Series and being glued to the seat for game 1 against the Yankees. The Mets weren’t as talented as the Yankees but they were a gritty bunch of overachievers. All I could think of was how happy I would be if one of my teams finally won it all and if they beat the hated Yankees in the process.

I remember the day that David Wright got called up from the minors. I was in Maine on vacation. I was substantially affected by too much wine but I remember making a point of putting on Sportscenter at 2:30 in the morning. I didn’t know all that much about David Wright, but for some reason I knew he was going to be the face of the franchise for a long time. He was going to be the first major homegrown talent that the team had developed since Strawberry or Gooden. He was going to be our DiMaggio or Mantle.

I have pointed out these select memories for a couple reasons. First is to demonstrate just how big of a Mets fan I used to be. And second, is to point out the types of teams and players that I want to root for. Howard Johnson was the consummate professional. The 1986 Mets were about intangibles like: toughness; the team concept; leadership; personality; bravado (just to name a few). Mike Piazza was a gamer. The 2000 Mets will always be remembered as a professional group of overachievers. David Wright is a simple kid who loves baseball.

Since the arrival of Omar Minaya, my Met fandom has been put to sleep. There have been no teams that I have enjoyed rooting for. There have been no managers that I have had any faith in. There have been few players that Minaya has brought in that I want to root for.

Minaya’s teams from each of the past 3 seasons have arguably been more talented than any other team in the National League; during that span. They have also had the highest payroll in the National League for each of the past 3 seasons. This is no coincidence. During this 3 season span (2006-2008), the National League has been weaker than it has arguably ever been during a 3 year period. It would stand to reason that the Mets, being the most talented team during this period, would have capitalized on the weakened state of the National League and reached the World Series at least once. However, this has not been the case. The reason is quite simple. While Omar Minaya has succeeded each off-season in assembling a talented roster, he has failed on a grand scale in addressing intangibles like: toughness; personality; accountability; bravado; professionalism; etc.

The 2006 Mets were universally considered the most talented team in the National League. They lost to an inferior 83 win Cardinal team. The reasons- lack of intangibles such as: toughness; leadership; accountability; professionalism; hustle; energy; bravado; etc. You can also count the ordinary to bad coaching ability of Willie Randolph as another major contributing factor.

In 2007, the Mets squandered a 7 game division lead with 17 games to go. They squandered that division lead and missed the playoffs as a result of the most epic collapse in baseball history. The reasons- same as above. They lacked intangibles and the team was coached by the nauseatingly mediocre Willie Randolph.

This season, the Mets collapsed down the stretch in less historic but more painful fashion than 2007. Reasons- Intangibles and an ordinary manager in Jerry Manuel who bases every decision he makes on matchups and numbers.

As a disenchanted Mets fan for several years, part of me was almost happy that they choked this season. I thought clueless Fred Wilpon would wake up and realize that Omar is not the man for the job. That he would hire someone sharp who has a real vision and that this person would drastically shake things up and put a product on the field that I would be happy to support.

This is obviously not the case. Amazingly, Wilpon has already signed Omar to a 4 year contract with an option for 2 more years. And reports indicate that Wilpon and Manuel are close to finalizing a 3 year contract. So what we basically have on the horizon is 4-6 more years with Minaya and another 3 more years with a robot in Manuel.

I want to believe that Omar Minaya will wake up tomorrow morning and realize that what’s been missing the past 3 seasons has been intangibles. I want to believe that he will wake up and realize that instead of hiring mediocre managers, he needs to hire excellent ones. I want to believe that he will wake up and understand that a major shakeup of the roster is needed to give the 2009 team any chance of achieving real success.

I want to believe all of these things because the alternative is thinking that the next 4-6 years is going to resemble the last 3.


What's missing is "intangibles"? How about a starting rotation beyond Johan Santana and oh...a bullpen? Also a little confused on your words on David Wright. How did you know he was going to be the "face of the franchise" if you don't know anythign about him? Also, is calling him a "simple kid who loves baseball" a criticism?

Also, technically, the 95 Angels had the worst collapse in history, but Mets come in second there.
Posted by vtadave at 10/2/2008 9:03:00 PM
Whats missing is intangibles? Yes, you got it.
While the bullpen was the team's obvious weakness this season, the single biggest reason to explain the team's failures from the past 3 seasons has been intangibles (toughness, leadership, all that good stuff). As per your statement about the rotation beyond Santana being thin, thats just not accurate. Santana, Pelfrey & Ollie formed one of the top trios of starting pitchers in baseball (tops in second half).

My comments on Wright as a "simple kid who loves baseball"- was me commenting on him being a throwback, a mickey mantle type. I knew (or thought probably would have been a better word) that he was going to be the franchise because of all the buzz that surrounded his callup.

Small picture the problem this season is the bullpen but big picture has been Minaya as general manager, his hiring of bad managers & a roster sorely lacking in intangibles.
Posted by djm1144 at 10/2/2008 10:25:00 PM
I've wasted 9 minutes of my life on worse things.....
Posted by kevinccp at 10/2/2008 10:36:00 PM
Just curious how you come to the conculsion that toughness and leadership is more important than a decent bullpen in terms of wins and losses. Put a guy like Brad Lidge on the Mets, and they win the East.
Posted by vtadave at 10/2/2008 11:47:00 PM
Dave- Im gonna try to break things down one more time for you; hopefully you can follow. The reason the Mets have failed over the past 3 seasons has been due to the mediocre managing of rosters lacking in intangibles. This season you are correct in pointing out the team's obvious weakness- bullpen. Very good, gold star. That being said, the 2008 Mets were as lacking in intangibles as they were in 2006 & 2007. If they had Brad Lidge on the team, you are correct they would have won the East. However, they wouldnt have gone anywhere in the playoffs because they have an ordinary manager direcing a team sorely lacking in intangibles.

This article was written to point out the major problems with the franchise since 2004. They have an ok overatted (i would say ***ty) GM who hires bad managers and puts together rosters (year after year regardless of september results) lacking in intangibles.

If all that was wrong with this season's team was their bullpen, then there would be no reason why things couldnt be better for next season. They could sign some bullpen arms and go the distance next year. However, the bullpen is small picture. Big picture, they still have the same old overatted Gm. They still have a mediocre manager. And inevitably, their roster next season will be talented but lacking in intangibles. Which means that they will fail again next year, just like they have the past 3 seasons.
Posted by djm1144 at 10/3/2008 3:50:00 AM
Thanks David. Appreciate you schooling me on how underatted intangibles are.
Posted by vtadave at 10/3/2008 8:07:00 AM
Thank you for this. I appreciate your dedication, memories and pain. I'm a lifetime Giant fan (friends and family know if they won or lost just by how I walk into a room) so I know how the let down feels. As I get older my resilency is also tested. At least we have Fantasy. It that arena at least I have the illusion of control.
Posted by IRA at 10/3/2008 8:48:00 AM
During this season of vomit by the Mariners, fatboy Carlos Silva complained after one craptacular loss that his teammates quit on him, that they refused to do the "little things." When asked his opinion, manager Jim Riggleman said that while the "little things" are important, they aren't the reason the Mariners are 30 games out. He said, "there are a lot of cliches in the game ... What it really comes to is we, like most teams, we take care of the little things. It's the big things. We're not hitting good enough and we're not pitching good enough."

Riggleman won me over with that comment. Yeah, all that other stuff is important, but, like the Mariners, the Mets didn't hit well enough or pitch well enough to win.

Posted by Jason Thornbury at 10/3/2008 9:25:00 AM

I think what David's saying (and I'm paraphrasing) is that this is a team that's difficult to root for. There were plenty of bad Mets teams that were more fun to watch. Hell, the 91 Mets finished in 5th place in the division, but Conie was in his prime, striking out 241 (yes, you read that right). Maybe it was just because we were all younger, but I'd rather watch a 77-84 team of HoJo, Magadan, Elster, Kevin McReynolds, Cone, Gooden, Darling and El Sid -- than a bunch of me-first free agent primadonnas.

If I wanted to see that, I'd be a Yankee fan.

Posted by mrusignola at 12/12/2008 1:34:00 PM

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