As the New York Mets' front office narrows down their search over the next week or two to hire a new General Manager, the focus in Queens will quickly turn to whom the new GM will choose as his manager. Many of the names thrown around over the past few months are all highly respected baseball people, including Wally Backman, Larry Bowa, and Joe Torre. But while there are several people who could probably do a terrific job leading the Mets next season, I think that not only the fans' choice, but also the smartest choice to become the next manager of the Mets is a name that fans are very familiar with: Bobby Valentine.
Managing the Mets from late 1996 until 2002, Bobby Valentine led the Mets to two playoff appearances, including one World Series appearance in 2000. He accumulated a record of 536-466 and was a fan favorite in New York. Despite the occasional controversial comment at times, he provided the Mets with a winning attitude and a chance to win the World Series for the first time since 1986. And while the Mets did perform poorly in Valentine's final season as Mets Manager, he was fired more for the tense relationship he had with former Mets GM Steve Phillips than anything else.
So, why is Valentine the answer for the Mets in 2011? When you look at the 2000 Mets, you see a team, on paper, of mediocrity. Mediocre hitting, mediocre pitching, and mediocre fielding were the realities of the 2000 National League Pennant winners. Of course, there were exceptions such as Mike Piazza, Edgardo Alfonzo, Mike Hampton, and Al Leiter. But when you consider a team with an outfield that consisted of Jay Payton, Derek Bell, and Benny Agbayani along with an infield that included Rey Ordonez, Robin Ventura, and Todd Zeile, you have to give credit to Bobby Valentine for turning this team into a pennant winner.
A decade later, the Mets find themselves in a very similar position. They currently possess a team with several young, mediocre players who are perhaps just looking for the type of guidance that Jerry Manuel did not provide. It is clear that Ike Davis, Josh Thole, and Ruben Tejada all have the potential to be better than average ballplayers. And Jason Bay, Jose Reyes, and David Wright are all capable of playing at a level better than they performed in 2010. It is simply a winning attitude that this team has been missing since the glory days of 2006.
I'm not going to sit here and bash Jerry Manuel, but the Mets clearly need a change. They do not need another easy going, laid back manager who will always be calm and collected no matter how bad things get. They need someone with fire and aggression. They need someone who plays to win, not just to not lose. They need someone who has experience of not only managing in New York, but also turning a seemingly average team into a contender.
I am not saying the Mets will automatically be contenders in 2011 if they hire Bobby Valentine. The front office still has to make some type of drastic move this season if they want to improve themselves for next season. Maybe it's another prominent starting pitcher to compensate with Johan Santana missing the first part of next season. Maybe it's another big bat to help with the offense that seemed to be shut down in the second half of last season. Whatever it is, they definitely need to do something. And even if they do make the type of change I am talking about, that might not even be enough to be a contender. We all saw in 2005 when Omar Minaya hired Willie Randolph and signed Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran how there was clearly an adjustment year before the team completely dominated the league in 2006.
Is Bobby Valentine the only man who can revive the Mets from what they have endured over the past four seasons? Of course not. And I am confident that whoever the front office chooses as the next general manager, he will do a careful and thorough search to hire the right man to lead the Mets in 2011. But one thing I am sure of: Bobby Valentine knows how to be a successful manager in the Major Leagues, and if the Mets want to be successful in 2011, they would greatly benefit from looking back in their past and bring back one of the best managers in franchise history.