Cooperstown Confidential: Mets madness, playoff rosters and Marichal-Roseboroby Bruce Markusen
October 09, 2009
I wonder if the Mets organization, as currently constituted, will ever learn from its mistakes. Though the Mets just completed a dreadful season 22 games under .500 and nowhere near contention in the National League East, they are acting as if the entire campaign can be written off as injury-riddled fluke. That seems to be the misguided attitude of ownership, which first gave a vote of confidence to GM Omar Minaya, who in turn offered his own vote of support to manager Jerry Manuel. So those two are off the hook for the disaster of 2009, at least until next spring.
Then, earlier this week, the Mets announced that most of their coaching staff would return in 2010, with the exception of bench coach Sandy Alomar Sr. (a good baseball man) and first base coach Luis Alicea. Somehow the Mets spared pitching coach Dan Warthen, who clashed with staff ace Johan Santana during the spring and then watched his pitchers dole out 616 walks, the second highest total in the major leagues.
Perhaps even more incredulously, the Mets also spared embattled third base coach Razor Shines, who should have taken some of the blame for the Mets having 18 baserunners thrown out at the plate, one of the highest totals in the major leagues. Shines showed a propensity for sending runners against strong outfield arms, perhaps revealing a lack of preparation. Shines also produced shaky results in his other role, as the Mets’ outfield instructor. Daniel Murphy, who was Shines’ main project, played so badly in left field during the first quarter of the season that the Mets had to move him to first base after Carlos Delgado’s season-ending hip injury. In spite of these failures, Shines will return to coach in 2010, though he will be moved, mercifully, from the third base coaching box to a new role on Manuel’s staff.
Shines, Manuel and Minaya are not the only members of the organization not being held accountable for a disastrous first summer at Citi Field. A report in the New York Post indicates that the Mets will keep their much criticized medical staff, headed by trainer Ray Ramirez, intact for 2010. This news comes on the heels of a season in which the team’s conditioning and training methods came under question, as did the ability of the medical staff to properly diagnose leg and knee injuries.
Basically, the Mets have taken the approach that an unending wave of injuries was solely responsible for the team’s final record of 70-92. There’s no question that injuries played a huge role in the team’s demise, but it is overly simplistic and naïve to place the entire blame in that area. The Mets fell short in many other departments, starting with Minaya, who failed to add a big bat to a thin lineup, put together an inadequate bench and did little to address concerns at the back of the rotation. The players have to share the blame, too, for running the bases atrociously and treating fundamentals as if they were rookie league players. And Manuel exacerbated the problem by tolerating too many of the mistakes, while also forging a poor relationship with midseason exile Ryan Church.
All in all, the Mets stumbled across the board, from player procurement to player performance and conditioning; that kind of failure should not be rewarded by inviting almost everyone from the front office, the coaching staff and the medical staff to return in 2010. Mets fans can only hope the organization will start changing some of the players this coming winter…
One of the most interesting pastimes of the early fall is following the announcements of 25-man rosters for the Division Series. Almost every year, one or two playoff teams make some eye-opening decisions in determining who will be eligible for the first round of the playoffs. Perhaps the most interesting roster news came out of Minnesota, where the feel-good Twins announced that they would employ a 12-man pitching staff against the Yankees. Now, I don’t care how many pitchers the Twins had to use in that 12-inning tiebreaking classic on Tuesday night; it is irrational to think that you will need 12 pitchers, including eight relievers, to get through a series lasting a maximum of five games. It becomes even more dubious given that the teams will have three off days in their potential five-game series.
Wouldn’t the Twins be better off carrying an extra position player or two, so that they could pinch-hit for weaker offensive links like Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert and Nick Punto in the late innings? An extra infielder, particularly one who could play second or third base, could come in handy in a close game, giving Ron Gardenhire more flexibility to pinch-hit or even platoon at those positions. Instead, Gardenhire will have a veritable army in the bullpen each night. Here’s a prediction: If he has to use all 12 pitchers against the Yankees, that’s a pretty good sign that the Twins will end up losing the series…
In another decision that must raise a few eyebrows, the Phillies also are carrying a 12-man pitching staff. Their decision is a little more defensible considering their concerns over Brad Lidge and the uncertainty of their late-inning relief roles, but they sure could have used an extra position player in the ninth inning of Game Two against the Rockies. With no available bench players, Charlie Manuel used Game One starter Cliff Lee to pinch-run for Matt Stairs. He also had no viable options to pinch-hit for Miguel Cairo, who flied out lazily to right field.
Finally, in a move that probably surprises no one, the Cardinals are also carrying 12 pitchers, which will give Tony LaRussa the flexibility to make all of those lefty-righty switches he enjoys making in the latter innings…
Earlier this week, I stumbled upon an excellent short documentary produced by the MLB Network. The piece spotlighted the infamous Juan Marichal-John Roseboro brawl of 1965. Narrated flawlessly by Bob Costas (who appreciates baseball history as much as anyone), the documentary provided some new insights into the aftermath of the bench-clearing brouhaha between the archrival Giants and Dodgers.
I always had heard that Marichal and Roseboro became friends after the horrific incident—in which Marichal clubbed the Dodger catcher over the head with a bat in response to a thrown ball that whisked his ear—but I had never realized just how close they became in later years. (At one point, the two men and their families lived in the same condominium complex in the Dominican Republic.) I also never had realized the extreme measures that Roseboro took in defending Marichal from his many detractors.
When the Dodgers signed Marichal at the end of his Hall of Fame career, most Dodger observers derided the move—with the exception of a supportive Roseboro, who blamed himself for initiating the incident. (Roseboro’s widow revealed her husband’s feelings of guilt in the MLB piece.) Several years later, Roseboro reacted angrily to the failure of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to vote Marichal into the Hall during his first two years of eligibility. Roseboro vocally and openly campaigned for Marichal’s immediate election, imploring the writers to forgive and forget the incident. The sudden support from a onetime enemy overwhelmed Marichal; it also showed the baseball world the unending class with which Roseboro lived until he passed away in 2002. Simply an amazing story.
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.