The More Things Change
… the more they stay the same. That’s the saying, right?
If you saw this printed somewhere today, I bet following snippet would not be surprising:
This ship has been off course for three seasons, not because of a lack of resources, but because of a lack of judgment. The Mets began the year with a payroll … which is second only to the Yankees’ … They have nothing to show for it but a clubhouse of aging stars with big names, big contracts and big injuries.
(the GM) sold Wilpon on the notion that you had to win with big names in New York, that the fans weren’t patient enough to wait for rebuilding, that you had to do it now. Forget the farm system.
But Wilpon apparently came to the conclusion that the Mets’ salvation was not exclusively found in high-priced stars. Yesterday, he made an intriguing observation. He said he knows now that a hefty payroll does not ensure success. ”We’ve learned that painfully.”
More than once yesterday he said, ”We’re going to get younger and more athletic.”
But you might be mildly surprised to find out that the above was published on June 13, 2003 in The New York Times.
If you don’t remember, these were the words printed when GM Steve Phillips was fired. Jim Duquette replaced him on an interim, and then “permanent” basis, and within a year Scott Kazmir was traded for Victor Zambrano and Ty Wigginton for Kris Benson so that the Mets could “play meaningful games in September”. Not long after that meaningless September, Omar Minaya was hired to right the ship.
Speaking of, does this sound familiar? (from the September 29, 2004 edition of The New York Times):
It is difficult to determine the impact of any Mets general manager because the team’s power structure so often appears split. Although major league executives generally believe the best way to run a team is to let the general manager make the most important decisions and then receive clearance from ownership, the Mets rely on committees to hash out strategy, usually soliciting a wide range of opinions.
Jeff Wilpon directs the day-to-day operation of the club, the superscouts Al Goldis and Bill Livesey have input, and veteran players and coaches sometimes offer opinions, too. Minaya knows from experience what he is getting into. Having emigrated with his family from the Dominican Republic to Queens as a child, he became an assistant general manager for the Mets in 1997 and became a senior assistant general manager one year later.
I.e.: the “collegial organization” that Steve Phillips referred to recently.
Minaya hired manager Willie Randolph in part because of Randolph’s excellent reputation for working with youngsters such as Alfonso Soriano. You see, the Mets were going to build a pennant contender through their farm system and around their youth — David Wright and Jose Reyes. That idea went out the window a year later, when Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran were signed to obnoxious contracts.
Today, Joel Sherman touched on this subject as well — and interestingly, holds “conspiracy theories” similar to the ones we’ve been drumming up here for a while:
In the past week, Minaya proclaimed the Mets “buyers” in the trade market at a moment when they were six games under .500, fourth in the NL East, and tied for eighth in the wild card, 7 ½ back. Good tickets still available at Citi Field in case you are interested.
The Wilpons’ 1-2 strategy was to make sure the criticism was deflected away from them — because ownership can talk accountability, but it really is not great at accepting it — while beginning the process of convincing fans that the following season would be different. Translation: What do we have to do to begin motivating you to start buying tickets again? So Art Howe was fired as manager and Jim Duquette was demoted from general manager to go sit in the corner. A good leaking campaign ensued blaming that duo for everything short of the Hindenburg going down. You were supposed to be distracted from remembering that the Wilpons hired the people who messed up.
Sherman goes on to predict that the Mets will “…try to recruit a big-name general manager with the idea of convincing fans that different leadership would know properly how to surround a talented base of Santana, K-Rod, Beltran, David Wright and Jose Reyes with better supplementary players” and, failing at that, hire Tony LaRussa as manager, who “… would bring along his trusted pitching coach Dave Duncan, with the idea being that they always seem to get the most out of whatever talent is put in front of them”.
It’s not that far-fetched a theory, and it fits the pattern that the Wilpons have been following for over a decade. The names may change, but the story remains the same.