Leaderless Mets

Reading the headline, you might think I’m about to bash manager Willie Randolph. However, that’s not quite my point.

Yes, Randolph is the technical leader, the man who is paid to oversee the club. But regardless of the manager’s leadership role, a championship team must have at least one, if not several, on-field leaders.

With the crosstown Yankees, it was Derek Jeter, Tino Martinez, Jorge Posada, and Paul O’Neill leading the way to the rings. Heck, you could even label Scott Brosius and Chili Davis as leaders. The Red Sox have Jason Varitek, David Ortiz, and Mike Lowell, among others. The ’06 Cardinals had Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, and Scott Rolen. The ’05 White Sox followed Joe Crede, Paul Konerko, and to a degree, Aaron Rowand and Jermaine Dye. Pudge Rodriguez and Lowell were the glue of the ’03 Marlins. If you go from season to season, checking out the rosters of the championship teams, they all had at least one strong personality who led the way.

Who is that person on the Mets? It’s definitely not their highest-paid player Carlos Beltran, a person who can be best described as shy. As mentioned before on this blog, Beltran is more of a complementary player, rather than a marquee attraction. Similarly, Luis Castillo and Jose Reyes appear to be closer to gamma than alpha types. Moises Alou might be a leader, but he’s never around long enough for anyone to find out. Ryan Church has some of the elements of leadership, but doesn’t quite have that “type A” personality necessary to take the reigns (though I do see him as a “supportive” leader, in the mold of a Brosius). Brian Schneider is a similar case; as a catcher, he SHOULD have leadership qualities. However, he’s relatively invisible. My wife says it best: “I don’t even realize he’s in the game, most of the time.” That’s a problem when you are actively involved in every pitch of the game.

That leaves us with the cornermen, Carlos Delgado and David Wright. (Pitchers can be leaders, but since they’re not on the field every day, they can only be secondary / supportive leaders.) Delgado appears to be the de facto leader, based on his impressive resume and the respect given him by his teammates. However, while Delgado may be a quiet leader, he would never be described as “fiery” or “ultra-competitive” — adjectives often used in leadership. Put it this way: if Delgado were in an ultimate fighter cage match against David Eckstein, who would your money be on? That’s not to say a leader has to be a fighter, but the strongest leaders do have some fight in them (i.e., Kirk Gibson, Ray Knight, Thurman Munson, O’Neill, Varitek). Carlos Delgado might have a better shot at the Hall of Fame than Knight, Keith Hernandez, Jerry Grote, and Bud Harrelson, but I’d feel a lot better knowing any of those four “had my back” in a rhubarb as opposed to Delgado. Again, you don’t have to throw punches to be a leader, but part of leading is the role of protector. And we’ve seen in the last few years that Delgado is no protector — not only physically, but with the press. If Delgado is the “go to guy” on the field, then he also has to be man facing the cameras and the microphones after the game, protecting the rest of the team. Rather than step up as the spokesperson, Delgado ducks and hides … in spite of his comments last week to the contrary. He can claim he’s available all he wants, but we all read the newspapers every day — you tell me the last time you saw a quote from Carlos, particularly after a loss.

So we’re left with David Wright, who might one day evolve into a leader, but can’t be one now — not on this team, not at this time. There have been youngsters who were able to take charge of a team — Johnny Bench is a prime example — but it takes a very special person to take ownership of a team filled with veterans. Wright cannot be a clubhouse leader as long as Delgado and Alou are around — he simply doesn’t have that “I am the boss” personality. Three, four years from now, yes, I have full confidence that he’ll be to the Mets as Jeter currently is to the Yankees. But now, I simply don’t see vets like Delgado, Alou, Beltran, Castillo, Schneider, etc., looking to Wright to “lead the way”.

The guy on the roster with the best makeup for leadership might be Marlon Anderson, a veteran who plays the game hard and with intensity, and seems to have a bit of “edge”. But, he rarely gets in the game, and even if he did, would be more of a supportive leader — kind of like the aforementioned Chili Davis, Brosius, or a Lenny Harris. Other than Marlon, and maybe Alou, there isn’t anyone I’d say, “now there’s a leader”. I don’t see a Knight, a Hernandez, a Gary Carter, a Grote, a Harrelson, a Rusty Staub. Heck, I don’t even see a Todd Zeile or a Robin Ventura, two gritty guys who with Edgardo Alfonzo made up for Mike Piazza’s lack of leadership skills on the successful Bobby V teams of the late 1990s / early 2000s.

All winning teams have a “go-to” guy, a protector, an alpha dog. Someone with personality, who provides the example for others to follow, who takes responsibility on behalf of the team. That guy can spark or carry the team when necessary, and steps up to be held accountable when things are rough. He’s the guy who sprints to first base on a ground ball to the pitcher, who dives after balls he has no chance of getting, who slugs an opposing player in the jaw if necessary, who hangs in there and finds a way to get the runner home from third base with two out and an elite pitcher making a pitcher’s pitch on the black, and who stays at his locker for an hour after the game to talk to the press and answer every dumb question after a 12-0 loss.

Where is that guy? Not in Flushing, and not on the current 25-man roster. So with no one to follow, do the Mets have any idea where they’re going?

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Coop May 23, 2008 at 9:11 am
    Bravo Joe! I couldn’t have said it better. The problem also lies in with Willie – he coddles the vets and is openly distrustful of the young guys. He has one set of rules for one, another for the other. I’m all for setting rules but no one is going to take him seriously as long as he benches his best player at the time (Jose) for some BS but an old overpaid fat and slow player (Delgado) who does the same thing day in, day out.

    While Art Howe (suck as he might) didn’t know what the heck he was doing, i think he would have let the young guys run the clubhouse and let things kind of fall into place there. Bad example. but even though Bobby V was definitely “the boss” he would have let things fall into place too and rewarded his players for good play. Wills prob wasn’t the best guy for a maturing and destined-for-greatness D-Dubs and a young fiery Jose Reyes (who as you point out is more gamma than alpha, but a nice contrast to D-Dubs).

  2. […] Mets Blogs Add comments Over at Mets Today Joe writes about the leaderless Mets. Joe is, of course, talking about the on field leaders. I tend to agree with his […]
  3. Micalpalyn May 23, 2008 at 12:09 pm
    The LEADER is the manager: The coach of any successfull team has the ear of his players. Whether he acts as a father, a teachwer, a mentor or role model. As tim Kurkijan noted on ESPN the FACE of this team on the field is Willie and he does not present a good face.

    You used Paul O’Neill as part of your analogy and brilliantly so. He was imported with David Cone to lead that franchise on the field. As a Conehead I was enthralled with how an essentially injured David Cone came off the DL to lead the Yanks to that 1st WS crown of their recent dynasty.

    As such Omar released Leiter and Franco to change the field leadership and brought in Pedro. Beltran and Castillo. Beltran and santana are mis-cast as ‘leaders’. They are producers. The clubhouse leaders at present SHOULD be Delgado and Wagner…as the elder statesmen. I think Wags has stepped to the fore.

    The 2007 leaders Glavine and Loduca are gone. I suspect Delgado will be gone ala julio Franco. If not in season definately in the off season. del really has no past credibility as a leader, so he might be overstated in that role anyway. I think both CB and DW are growing into their roles…DW is a media darling…naturally the camera goes to him. BUT the glare seems to have caused him to shrink….on the field. Beltran is a player…and i think he is heating up. I think HIS problem (my opinion) is HE is mis-cast as a clean up hitter. THAT causes him to swing for the fences..where as the CB i see was inclined to become Ichiro ( a catalyst) at times. In essence he is a ‘swingman’. …

    To 2008: Omar imported santana, church and Schneider. Schneider IS the team leader …or is slowly getting his hands around that role. His work as the catcher is clearly reflected. Part of his game has been keeping the pitchers head in the game. Church again has been well quoited AND is producing at the plate and in the field.

    Where is our separation? The manager.

    Last night Giradi threw a hissy and his team won. I cant remember why. I really am NOT watching games with any spark right now. BUT here is my (rhetorical) question (or observation if you will): AFTER the Jeff Wilpon pep talk and closed door Willie meeting…and the Wags ‘calling out of players, we beat the tar out of the Yanks…in the bronx. Much was made of an incident in that game…Willie not arguing a Delgado (non)-HR call. We all chimed in…but (and here is the question) did that reversed call undo all the good and show that Willie does not know how to lead his players and stick up for them…..

    In my job, i have to pick my battles too in fighting for my ‘players’ but Del has been criticized MORE than any other player on this team, he has been magnified and berated in the press, yet he hits a BIG HR in a tough spot (and still singled to extend the lead) YET his supoosed leader does not come out and argue for him……….did he once again lose the respect of his players.

  4. joe May 23, 2008 at 2:13 pm
    Mic, as I mentioned in the post, a team needs an on-field leader — it doesn’t matter who the manager is. An A-type personality is going to be that way regardless of whether the manager is supporting him, yelling at umpires, etc. Yes, it’s important for the manager to be a leader, but it’s just as important to have that “alpha dog” on the field.

    Unfortunately, the Mets have a bunch of followers wandering aimlessly around the ballfield, waiting for someone to come in and show them how to win.

  5. Micalpalyn May 23, 2008 at 2:47 pm
    I disagree: I think the present mix of players and Willie are in conflict. That’s my perception.

    I think in the past, Loduca and Franco were public in their dissent. Loduca, as we have said here was a galvanizing force in helping the Mets in 2006 (also Cliffy) but his vocal comments against Willie (and his other distactions) may have led to his departure.

    The present conversation now leads me to ask if there can ever be an on-field leader in willie world? Cliffy, Glavine, LoDuca, Franco and possibly more have also said something about Willie…

    Who is the leader on the field? In 30 yrs as a fan there have been many (of course). BUT trarely are they ever the team stars. Darryl was not a leader, Doc was’nt, I dont think Hojo was, Bobby Bo definately was not, Piazza was’nt.

    I think Schneider and Church possibly were projected to be the 2008 player leaders in the ABSENCE of Glavine and LoDuca . Add to that Billy Wagner. as such there has been a transition in the player leadership. Now the pendulum is swinging over to Willie who is now under the microscope.