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?