No, no—a thousand times, no

Steve Cohen’s purchase of the Mets closed Friday. Almost at once, Cohen became the Mets’ version of the Hoover—beating, sweeping, cleaning. He flipped team president Sandy Alderson’s switch and Alderson hit the carpet roaring.

General manager Brodie Van Wagenen? Hasta la Volkswagen. Special assistant and former GM Omar Minaya? Gone. Assistant GMs Allard Baird and Adam Guttridge? Bye, bye, birdies. Executive director of player development Jared Banner? Dearly departed.

So said ESPN’s “news services” within a blink of the Cohen purchase closing. And then, a red flag: “Friday’s moves make [manager Luis] Rojas’ future uncertain. Fired Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, who completed a season-long suspension last week, could be a candidate for the analytics-oriented Cohen.”

Met fans celebrating the official consecration of Cohen as the new owner and that feeling of relief with the eighteen-hundred-ton Wilpon truck finally pulling away and off their backs should be hollering, “Danger, Will Robinson!”

They should remember that Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez and their gang probably got spurned as potential Met buyers not just because they couldn’t round up the full dollars but because A-Rod was foolish enough to seek informal administrative counsel from Luhnow, while Luhnow remained under suspension and J-Rod were still in the running to buy the team.

They should remember that seeking Luhnow’s advice on baseball operations compares to seeking marital counseling from Zsa Zsa Gabor.

They should remember that Luhnow continues blaming God’s will or any and everybody else for the Astrogate debacle that brought that a world champion and American League West dominator not to its knees but to a stance of defiance despite being exposed as particularly extralegal electronic video cheaters.

They should remember that, given another chance to own up, Luhnow lied to Houston NBC reporter Vanessa Richardson when he said, “Whether it’s the players or the video staffers, they just decided on their own to do it and that’s a shame, because had they come and asked me for permission I would have said no. Had they gone and asked Jim for permission, he would have said no. There’s just no reason why that should have happened.”

They should remember that,  even before the advent of the Astro Broadcasting Company, Luhnow was exposed (by Wall Street Journal reporter Jared Diamond) as seeing and not rejecting a front office-developed algorithm, Codebreaker, that the intern showing it to him said could be deployed for off-field-based sign stealing.

They should remember that Luhnow’s Astro “culture” was well exposed as a result-oriented culture in which human relationships were cheap, disposable, and disregarded. ”Luhnow had all year to speak,” thundered baseball writer Jose de Jesus Ortiz in a delicious Twitter rant. “But as was the case throughout his tenure Luhnow is as calculated as ever. That’s why baseball folks throughout the country say he’s dismissive of traditional baseball folks, scouts, players, etc. He sees them as assets, people to manipulate.”

They should remember that Luhnow dismissed the near-complete opposition in his front office, when he dealt disgruntled relief pitcher Ken Giles for then-under-domestic-violence-suspension relief pitcher Roberto Osuna in 2018. And, that Luhnow tried to cover the hide of his then-assistant Brandon Taubman being so fornicating glad they got Osuna in the presence of female reporters after the Astros won the 2019 American League Championship Series.

They should remember that, when Luhnow said to Richardson, “there’s no reason why we needed to explore breaking the rules to gain an advantage, it made no sense to me,” it begged the question of why Luhnow didn’t kill the Astro Intelligence Agency in its Codebreaker crib.

They should remember that 2017 Astros designated hitter Carlos Beltran, hired by Van Wagenen to manage the Mets last fall, never got to manage even a single spring training game for the Mets—because Beltran’s own Astrogate culpability got him suspended for 2020, too.

They should remember that it’s one thing for the Tigers to hire a repentant A.J. Hinch, especially since he won’t be getting his second chance at the original scene of the crimes at which he looked the other way, mostly; but, it’s something else that the Red Sox re-hired Alex Cora, whose fingers were all the way in the Astrogate pie, while not quite being in the pie known as the Rogue Sox Replay Room Reconnaissance Ring. Hinch and Cora are like the Watergate burglars but not the Big Enchiladas when all is said and done.

They should ask aloud that, if the new owner about whom they’re raving otherwise is as analytically inclined as advertised, Cohen shouldn’t even think of Luhnow and the stain he’d bring to the Mets, when there are likely a good number of candidates with the same inclination but a parallel respect for the humans who work or play under them and an equal disinclination toward cheating your way to the top.

They should insist that Cohen, who’s shown a remarkable agreeability to reasonable fan input, keep the house clean once he’s cleaned it up. That Cohen and Alderson should have but one thing to say about even the outside prospect of inviting Luhnow into his remaking/remodeling Mets: “No, no—a thousand times, no!”

Be careful what you wish for, Mess fans

Earlier this week, the worst you could say about the New York Mess (er, Mets) was a piece of doggerel I sketched to Prince’s “1999,” after a Miami Marlins baserunner stumbled, bumbled, and fumbled down the third base line—and still stole home:

Two thousand, 2020, party over—oops! Shame on you!
Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1962.

A Met fan since the day they were born can tell you that, compared to loving the Mets, it was easier for Mad Men‘s Don Draper (who kept a souvenir Mets pennant in his office) to be loved by his first and second wives, neither of whom found it simple and both of whom, their own flaws to one side, often felt like singing “19th Nervous Breakdown.

Draper was haunted by having been born and raised in abject hell, if “raised” is the proper word to describe a child treated like a home invader and handed an accidental chance to remake/remodel himself in a wartime accident that killed his field commander. The Mets weren’t quite born in hell, but they’ve been haunted by managements that often treated them like home invaders.

The Mets have been built, un-built, re-built, un-built, re-built again, and un-built again, more often than Orpheus rolled the stone up the mountain to be rolled back down. Today the Mets are on the sales floor. And the Wilpons, who have never been quite the same since they walked into Bernie Madoff’s pyramid trap and walked out fortunate that their heads weren’t removed from their shoulders, simply can’t go gently into that good gray night.

Thursday’s Twitterverse exploded with the news from ESPN’s Jeff Passan that Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, a man seen in over his head when speaking politely of him, zapped commissioner Rob Manfred for the thought that the Mets and the Marlins might walk off the field tonight in protest, over the police shooting of African-American Jacob Blake, only to return to play an hour later.

Until he didn’t. Within less time than it once took for Mike (The Human Rain Delay) Hargrove to complete a plate appearance, Van Wagenen hustled a statement forth saying, whoops! The idea was really Jeff Wilpon’s, not Manfred’s, after Wilpon was informed the Mets’ players voted not to play tonight, a decision with which the Marlins apparently concurred. Van Wagenen concurrently apologised for the original Manfred remark.

What the Mets actually did was take the field, led by Dominic Smith and Billy Hamilton, two African-American Mets. The Marlins did likewise. Both teams observed 42 seconds of silence (the 42 refers, of course, to Jackie Robinson’s uniform number), then walked off the field. The idea was that of the Marlins’ Miguel Rojas. The game was postponed, just as three were on the same grounds Wednesday.

This after Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw stood with his teammates standing together when Mookie Betts opted not to play Wednesday. Observing the negative backlash, Kershaw said, “Yes, I have seen those comments and that’s okay because I feel we’re doing the right thing.” Among other things were those backlashers accusing the Dodgers of standing up for a convicted child molester.

The now-paralyzed Blake isn’t a sterling citizen, of course, and he dealt with Kenosha, Wisconsin police last weekend in the first place over an arrest warrant involving a domestic dispute with his estranged girlfriend, with whom he has three children. The child molestation/child sex assault charges have been debunked. (Yes, you can look it up.)

A criminal suspect’s right not to be shot seven times in the back isn’t contingent on the crime he’s accused of committing. Jack Ruby wasn’t a cop but prying through a small crowd to shoot presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald to death didn’t make him any less a murderer.

And those police officers who succeed in performing their jobs without becoming the criminals they’re consecrated to apprehend must be grotesquely appalled whenever one of their breed commits if not succeeds at such attempted murder, knowing as they’re trained to know that absent a bona fide life-and-death moment they’re not sworn in to exercise absolute power of life and death.

Today’s clumsiness is just the latest in a bill of particulars a Met fan and others can lodge against the Wilpon ownership and its administrative subordinates while agreeing the sooner their ownership ends, the better. However, Met fans may well be advised to be very careful what they wish for.

Steve Cohen, who now has a small ownership stake in the Mets but would like to buy the team outright, seemed at first like the ideal choice having grown up a Met fan himself. But reports earlier this month imply that sexual discrimination charges filed recently against his Point72 Asset Management hedge fund firm would compromise him as the next Mets owner.

A team in the middle of a surrealistic enough truncated season in which the game’s players now speak and act on behalf of battling racism, discrimination, and the criminal element within law enforcement can’t afford to become the property of a man whose own company may have issues with discrimination.

But Alex Rodriguez (former Mariners/Rangers/Yankees star (however tainted) turned broadcaster) also aspires to own as big a stake in the Mets as he and his paramour Jennifer Lopez can buy. And Rodriguez is said “in touch” with suspended former Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, whose results uber alles mentality did too much to reduce the Astros from champions to pariahs.

Luhnow’s administration was exposed plausibly as lacking human decency to match its cold analytical inclinations, while fostering concurrently conditions that made possible the Astrogate illegal electronic sign-stealing scandal that stained the kings of the American League West (and 2017 world champions) until, possibly, the entire roster and organisation are turned over in due course.

The good news is that Rodriguez isn’t said to be thinking of Luhnow as his GM should he win his stake in the Mets, and Luhnow can’t be employed in baseball again until 2021, assuming anyone in baseball wants him. The bad news is that, if that’s who A-Rod leans upon for even informal counsel, be afraid, Mess fans. Be very afraid.

Mickey’s monkey is off the Mets backs

2019-10-04 MickeyCallaway

Now the former Mets manager . . .

The least unpredictable fact when the regular season ended was Mickey Callaway’s job status. Never mind the Mets’ little comedy of an organizational meeting without him; the question was when, not whether Callaway had a date with the executioner.

Thursday proved the when. Mickey’s monkey is off the Mets’ backs.

At least Mets chief Jeff Wilpon and general manager Brodie Van Wagenen had the decency to fly to Callaway’s Florida home and tell him to his face. They didn’t send a flunky to do the firing for them, the way George Steinbrenner once did with Clyde King when he decided he wouldn’t fire Yogi Berra because the players did.

Even the Mets’ deceptive second-half self-resurrection, pulling them as close as two games from at least a wild card game entry but not quite close enough, wasn’t enough to save Callaway’s job. Or, for that matter, bench coach Jim Riggleman’s.

They brought Riggleman in to help shepherd Callaway through game situations. Riggleman doesn’t exactly have a sterling managerial record himself. And based on a lot of the Mets’ results this season, whether in the first half nightmare or the deceptive second half revival, it didn’t seem as though Riggleman was the best bridge lieutenant.

It’s a shame after a year during which the Mets yielded up the likely no-questions-asked National League Rookie of the Year (Pete Alonso) and possible second-straight National League Cy Young Award winner. (Jacob deGrom.) It’s no surprise, though, after the Mets played thrilling baseball one minute and looked like crisis junkies the next.

But time and again in the diciest moments Callaway’s moves blew up in his face, sometimes because that’s the way of the game and oftentimes because he wasn’t exactly the most in-tune observer of the moment.

One of them almost cost him his job in June. Against the Cubs in Wrigley Field, Callaway let Seth Lugo go out for a second inning’s relief work on a day Lugo didn’t exactly have his A game in his first inning’s work but Callaway had a fresh (and as yet uninjured) Robert Gsellman and his closer Edwin Diaz ready in the pen.

So Lugo went out for the eighth, fed Kyle Schwarber a hanger he was lucky didn’t disappear across the street but went up the middle for a shallow hit, walked Anthony Rizzo a fly out later, and served Javier Baez a meaty slider to serve into the right field bleachers, turning the game into a 5-3 Cub lead that held up through the ninth.

There wasn’t a reporter in the room who wouldn’t ask why Callaway stayed with a faltering Lugo who’d struggled to survive the seventh, or why he didn’t think to bring in Diaz to try for a five-out save after Schwarber’s single. Callaway snapped at Newsday writer Timothy Healey in particular, and so did then-Mets pitcher Jason Vargas, who threatened to “knock you the [fornicate] out.”

Right then and there another team’s general manager would have dumped Callaway and shuttled Vargas right the hell out of town. Right then and there nothing of the sort happened. It wasn’t Callaway’s first head-scratcher from the bridge and it sure as hell wouldn’t be the last:

* He often pulled his starting pitchers when they were more or less cruising and at extreme minimal pitch counts only to be caught by not having allowed his relievers enough warmup time. And this was from a manager who probably knew in his heart of guts that he could trust most of his bullpen the way a cobra would trust a mongoose on a dinner date.

* He never quite clued in to the idea that a lot of his pitchers were more comfortable throwing to Tomas Nido behind the plate—with the numbers to back them up—than Wilson Ramos. This is probably on general manager Brodie Van Wagenen as well, but it merely amplified a key Mets dilemna: choosing between a catcher who could hit but didn’t always get the best out of his pitchers, or a catcher who usually got his pitchers’ best but couldn’t hit with the Washington Monument.

* Granted he had a bullpen of 98 percent arsonists, but he sometimes over-used his better bulls and never really defined who’d be doing what, particularly with his high-priced closer Edwin Diaz, who turned into a season-long mess wondering who’d burglarised him and made off with his once-deadly slider.

* In early September, with the Mets down 9-6 in the seventh, Callaway ordered an intentional walk to the Phillies’ number eight hitter to load the bases, even knowing Bryce Harper, who hadn’t started that day, loomed as a pinch hitter for Phillies reliever Mike Morin, merely because Callaway wanted Morin out of the game—which Morin was liable to be, anyway, after the inning ended.

Then Mets reliever Taylor Bashlor walked Harper unintentionally to bring home the tenth Phillies run. Be careful what you wish for.

Well respected as a pitching coach with the Indians, from whence the Mets hired him, Callaway—according to several published reports since his execution—rarely if ever drew on his pitching knowledge to give his pitchers more than cursory counsel. About the only thing he may have done, the reports say, was fume when pitching coach Dave Eiland was canned in favour of octogenarian Phil (The Vulture) Regan, who actually proved a lot more effective with Mets pitchers.

Callaway may also have helped cook himself by contravening earlier promises to open wider communication lines with his players. He’s said instead to have isolated himself in his office far more often and delegated far too many more responsibilities to his coaches.

And Mets players weren’t the only ones tempted to believe Callaway was really a front office plant who didn’t always call the shots. Nobody seemed to know whether his marching orders and in-game maneuvers came from Callaway himself, or from Van Wagenen, or even from chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon.

The only thing anyone knew was that, whether the Mets looked falling apart or looked like they’d really sneak into even the wild card picture, Callaway resembled a ship’s captain who couldn’t really believe torpedoes were striking for the hull and wouldn’t give the appropriate orders to cut them off.

So the question becomes whom the Mets will bring aboard to succeed Callaway. The answer may not be simple. And some of the options a lot of fans seem to favour may end up being worse.

One rumour has it that the Mets have eyes on former Cardinal manager Mike Matheny. Because he has postseason experience. Never mind that Matheny blew a couple of postseasons with his own head scratchers and refusal to contravene The Book, and blew up his own clubhouse in early 2018 (hence the advent of Mike Schildt) when he turned out to have a taste for engaging veteran snitches to play fun police with his young team.

Another suggests former Yankee manager Joe Girardi. Postseason experience. World Series ring. Itching to get back on the bridge. Except that Girardi is better suited, really, to a mostly veteran club, not a largely youthful club such as the Mets are now, something he may have proven when he had the vaunted Yankee youth in their first true season together but may have lacked for real communication with them.

A third suggests former Yankee, Diamondback, and Oriole manager Buck Showalter. Nice idea until he gets you to the postseason, refuses just like Matheny to throw The Book to one side despite the game situation demanding it, leaves his best relief pitcher in the bullpen because it’s just not a proper “save” situation, and watches a three-run homer fly into the left field seats with the other guys’ pennant attached.

A fourth suggests freshly deposed Cub manager Joe Maddon. Wonderful with youth and vets alike. Actual or alleged cursebuster. World Series winner. Postseason entrant. And probably more likely to have his eyes on southern California, where the Angels for whom he worked eons need to replace freshly executed Brad Ausmus and the Padres need to replace last-minute in-season execution Andy Green.

But a fifth pair presents a little intrigue. One involves Edgardo Alfonso, once a fine third baseman for the Mets and lately a winning manager for their Brooklyn Cyclones farm. The other involves Luis Rojas, currently the Mets’ quality control coach, who also managed a lot of the younger Mets in the minors and who’s said to have enormous respect from most Mets players.

Rojas comes by his baseball knowledge more than honestly: he’s also the son of longtime player and respected former manager Felipe Alou. (No, there was no extramarital hanky panky: The family name is Rojas, actually, and reads properly as Rojas-Alou, in the Spanish custom of the paternal family name coming first. The Giants scout who first signed Felipe Alou mistook the matronymous “Alou” for the proper family surname.)

Other candidates? Depending on where you look, they include current Astros bench coach Joe Espada (whose boss A.J. Hinch is a Van Wagenen friend), current Nationals first base coach Tim Bogar (once a Met player), former Mets bench coach Bob Geren (now Dave Roberts’s consigliere with the Dodgers), current Pirates third base coach Joey Cora (brother of Red Sox manager Alex and former Mets minor league manager), and former Mets infielder Joe McEwing. (Now White Sox manager Rick Renteria’s consigliere, but was a finalist for the job Callaway got with the Mets.)

But if Callaway really was just an errand boy for Van Wagenen as often as not, maybe the Mets need to re-think Van Wagenen, too. It seems strange to say about a team that finished third in the National League East and ten games over .500, but the Mets are probably due for the overhaul few seem to think they’re ready to deliver. Third and .531 look a lot better on paper than the Mets really looked this year.

They call it stormy Monday . . .

2019-06-24 StevenMatz

If only this was Steven Matz getting back one of the three home runs he surrendered during Monday night’s massacre . . .

It must be nice to work for a team in which a vile, vulgar outburst on behalf of avoiding accountability doesn’t get you canned on the spot or within twenty-four hours. By that measure, Mets manager Mickey Callaway and enough of his team live charmed lives. At least until they squared off against the Phillies Monday evening.

For their profanities at reporters who sought nothing more than accountability for a bullpen decision that cost them a series-ending game against the Cubs Sunday afternoon, the Mets didn’t fire Callaway or trade or release pitcher Jason Vargas. They didn’t suspend either man. They merely fined the pair of them.

General manager Brodie Van Wagenen issued Callaway yet another vote of confidence. Cynics think Callaway was thus rewarded for being Van Wagenen’s human shield because no major league manager could be anything close to Callaway’s kind unless he was little more than a general manager’s satrap.

Come Monday Callaway and Vargas issued apologetic non-apologies unless they were non-apologetic apologies. Or vice versa. Then Callaway backtracked just so and, seemingly on his own, he apologised to the writers traveling with the Mets and specifically to Newsday‘s Tim Healey, who’d been Callaway’s and Vargas’s specific Sunday post-game target.

At least Vargas didn’t try in his too-short apologetic non-apology to justify himself by invoking Billy Martin’s ancient decking of a reporter, which actually happened not after a baseball game but in a bar during halftime of a Western Basketball Association game. As Deadspin‘s Samer Kalaf observed wryly, “invoking a successful Yankees manager, who was also a kook, isn’t the best play here.”

It’s also not the best play there to invoke a manager who was infamous for handling pitching staffs as though this year was next year. “Managers, like anyone else, tend to be shaped by their experiences,” Bill James wrote in 1981. “Billy Martin probably manages as if there were no future because he has never had a future with any organisation, only a string of todays here and there.”

Callaway’s experience before becoming the Mets’ manager was as a pitcher and a pitching coach who could be presumed reasonably to operate with the organic knowledge that this year isn’t next year and that pitching arms must be kept oriented six parts this year and half a dozen parts next if they’re to deliver the most of their ability with the least imposition and injury.

Presumably, Callaway could have been assumed to know better than to send a clearly less-than-at-his-best relief pitcher out to work a second inning, instead of a) opening that second inning with a fresh arm; or, if he insisted on staying with his man to open, b) bringing in his well-enough-experienced closer for a prospective five-out save.

But in just the latest in a two-season series of pitching maneuvers described most politely as dubious, Callaway sent his less-than-at-his-best man Seth Lugo out for the eighth after Lugo worked a scoreless but too-difficult seventh Sunday afternoon. Instead of opening the frame with freshly-prepared Robert Gsellman, or asking closer Edwin Diaz for a five-out save of a 3-2 Met lead, he left Lugo in.

Javier Baez promptly smashed a three-run homer, overthrowing the Met lead for keeps, and only a soul afflicted with sleeping sickness couldn’t have told you the number one question on every writer’s postgame mind was going to be why on earth Callaway stayed with Lugo—who’d pitched two innings last Friday—when Lugo’s arm was clearly enough spent after one inning of work.

Callaway’s and Vargas’s behaviours would likely have led to their prompt unemployment with the Mets, if not necessarily in baseball elsewhere, if the Mets weren’t so befuddled looking a club that the very idea of sending any message stronger than a wrist slap on behalf of demanding accountability seems to be one that sends them praying to the porcelain god regardless of the best play here. Or there. Or anywhere.

Vargas finally dismissed Sunday’s clubhouse rumble as “an unfortunate distraction.” From what? The Mets’ inconsistent play? Their second-year manager’s strategic mischief, mistakes, and malpractise? Callaway from all appearances is a genuinely decent and likeable man otherwise, but he’s in so far over his head he needs a periscope just to see twenty feet below the surface.

Their rookie general manager’s clumsy team construction that’s left them with a bullpen of compromised stock and fielders playing mal-positioned and into the sort of miscues you’d expect from the Mets’ 1962 ancestors but without the mirth and merriment? Their metastasising inability to stand accountable? Their unexpected faith that it’s all the media’s fault?

The same rookie general manager supposedly managing at least some of the Mets’ games from New York, regardless of whether he knows anything beyond the numbers when it comes to managing his players, their fuel tanks, and the immediate game situations that require a manager’s insight and foresight? Which means the hapless Callaway has an unwanted partner in crime leaving him to take the worst plays’ fall?

These are the Mets who opened against the teetering Phillies Monday night. The Phillies entered the set in a spell of plate somnambulism. By the time the game was in the bank, the Mets and the Phillies swapped bombs, defensive slickness, defensive inconsistencies, pitching mismanagement, timely hitting, and wasted contact.

And that was just in the first five innings.

The Phillies’ bullpen is an injured mess. The Mets’ is a misassembled and mismanaged  mess. Presumably those are what forced Callaway and Phillies manager Gabe Kapler to leave their starting pitchers, Steven Matz and Zach Eflin, in to take seven- and six-run beatings, respectively, before either pitcher got past a fifth inning’s work.

Callaway relieved Matz with Brooks Pounders as the Phillies took a 7-6 lead in the bottom of the fifth. With two outs. Jean Segura doubled home the eighth Phillies run before the side retired. Callaway left Pounders in for the sixth. A one-out triple, an RBI single, a steal, a two-out infield RBI single, and a two-run homer. Pounders was probably lucky to escape without the Phillies pounding additional bullets into his evening’s corpse.

Kapler relieved Eflin with Juan Nicasio, JD Hammer, and Fernando Salas. Only a single Met was allowed to get to within binoculars distance of second base under their command. Until Dom Smith sent an excuse-me homer the other way over the left field wall in the top of the ninth. The Mets otherwise allowed the teetering Phillies to resemble the 1927 Yankees while ending a seven-game losing streak during which the Phillies scored only two more runs than they scored all Monday night.

Nineteen hits versus the Mets’ fifteen in a 13-7 Phillies win does that for you. For the Mets, that wasn’t even close to the best play here, either.