While three baseball managers - the Brewers' Ken Macha, the Pirates' John Russell, and the Mets' Jerry Manuel - all were let go by their clubs a day after the conclusion of the regular season, the biggest noise, as always, came out of New York, where the Mets announced that not only were they declining to pick up Manuel's option for next season, but were also "relieving" Omar Minaya of his duties as General Manager. Meaning that the Mets are headed back to the proverbial drawing board, executive-wise, to try and figure out how, in four excruciatingly long short years, they've gone from a 2006 team that came within a single base hit of going to the World Series to a 2010 team whose biggest "hit" all season was closer Francisco Rodriguez' right hook to the face of his baby mama's father outside the clubhouse after a game at Citi Field back in August.
Excruciating certainly was the word at the club's press conference yesterday, as team owner/CEO Fred Wilpon and son-of-owner/COO Jeff Wilpon squirmed their way through questions about everything from the underwhelming on-field performances of the too many players signed to too long contracts by Minaya to the off-field performances of the Wilpon's financial portfolios as hijacked by friend turned felon Bernie Madoff.
Precisely where the Wilpons and the Mets go from here - here being a middling ballclub with some bona fide good players (David Wright, Angel Pagan, Mike Pelfrey), some promising young ones (Ike Davis, Josh Thole, Jonathan Niese), some expensive washouts (Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo), and a host of injury-plagued and/or question-marked athletes (Johan Santana, Jason Bay, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes) - certainly remains to be seen. Whoever is hired as General Manager, and whoever that person, in turn, hires as manager, will certainly have their work cut out for them. As a self-made millionaire who made his fortune as a real estate developer, Fred Wilpon would be the first to tell you that neither Rome nor pennant contenders were built in a day.
There was a lot of talk from both Wilpons yesterday about the need to change the "culture" of the organization - which is all well and good, expect that the perception you got from hearing them talk about it was that they didn't seem to think that said culture had much to do with them themselves. "Those who don't remember the past are doomed to repeat it," said Jeff. "Of course there will be changes in how we do everything."
Long-suffering Met fans may take Jeff Wilpon at his word. But since he brought up remembering the past, it seems only fair to remember 2007. That year, before the Mets came home for their final homestand during the last week of the regular season, team ownership took it upon themselves to install extra seating behind home plate for the anticipated upcoming playoffs. The Wilpons did this even though their team's lead over the Phillies had shrunk from seven games ahead with 17 left to play to two games ahead with seven left to play, and absolutely nothing was certain. We all know how that one went, of course: the Mets dropped six of their last seven and lost the division championship on the final day of the season, finishing one of the great swoon songs in MLB history. And all week long, as their fortunes dwindled, those empty extra seats spoke volumes.
One might have expected the Mets to learn something from that display of arrogance, but now let's remember 2008: With the team again back in Queens for another year-ending homestand, ownership decided this time to commemorate what was going to be the final regular season game played at headed-for-the-wrecking-ball Shea Stadium by having an Old Timers Day- styled salute - after the game. Why after the game rather than before, as is usually customary? Well, even though the Mets had once again blown a late-season first place lead over the Phillies, they were all but assured a wild card slot. Naturally, the Wilpons assumed, the last game of the regular season wouldn't really be the last game played at Shea. This way, they'd salute the old ballpark while also celebrating their playoff berth. We all know how that one went, too: the Mets lost three of their last five games and went down to a crushing late-inning defeat the last day of the season while the Brewers won their last game and walked off with the wild card.
Had they held the ceremonies before the game, the players on the 2008 team might have gotten some much-needed inspiration from seeing the likes of Tom Seaver, Darryl Strawberry, Mike Pizza and other past heroes proudly wearing their Mets uniforms - and maybe they would have won that last ballgame and made it into the postseason. But, again, a sense of arrogance, and entitlement, had clearly gone into the planning, and the Shea Stadium celebration turned into a veritable funeral, with bad vibes all around.
Yes, Jeff Wilpon, it's great that you can paraphrase philosopher George Santayana [not Winston Churchill, as previously stated; thanks for the correction, friends], who famously said that "Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." And, had your team's ownership also kept in mind the sage words of Yogi Berra, who once famously said that "It ain't over 'til it's over," perhaps recent Mets history might read a bit differently. Change the culture? Fine. But this time, you might want to consider starting at the top.