Will Fans Give Collins or Melvin Time To Win?

If the people voicing their opinion on the internets (via polls, blogs, blog comments, twitter, facebook, etc.) are any indication, then the majority of Mets fans would like to see Wally Backman installed as manager of the New York Mets in 2011. It would seem that the fans’ second choice is Chip Hale — again, this based on an unreliable, cursory review of the interweb digital super highway.

However there seems to be a universal backlash against the possibility of either Bob Melvin or Terry Collins getting the job. Collins’ experience — which many beat writers are saying is his strength — is exactly what the fans point to as a negative. Turns out, experience in and of itself is not perceived as a good thing unless that experience resulted in first-place finishes, playoff appearances, and not being the victim of a mutiny. I imagine these same people who de-value Collins’ experience would similarly not vote for Jimmy Carter for President if he ran again — despite the fact Carter has experience in the position.

Melvin has experience, including postseason experience and a “Manager of the Year” award. But he has the reputation — deserved or not — as being a calm, even-keeled guy. In other words, the public does not view him as having that “fire in the belly” they so desperately crave at this point in Mets history.

Granted, that “fire” may have little to do with a team’s final won-loss record. But you know what? It doesn’t matter to most Mets fans. There are a few hundred — maybe a few thousand — Mets fans who subscribe to the sabermetric theory that the manager has nothing to do with a team’s success or failure, and that the team may as well be run by a modern version of HAL 9000. But the other several million Mets fans still believe the manager has an impact. They want to believe in someone, they want to trust someone, and they want to blame someone when things go wrong.

It’s that last part that could be difficult for Collins or Melvin.

General Alderson and the rest of the front office has already braced Mets fans for the rebuilding phase of the franchise; he’s more or less made it clear that there are no playoff expectations for 2011, and possibly not for 2012. Further, it has been reported that the Mets have a grand total of $5M to spend on free agents this winter. These are difficult concepts to comprehend for a fan base that has felt frustrated, lied to, angry, and cheated since the final out of Game 7 in the 2006 NLCS. Even Mets fans who realize that turning this team around is going to take some time expect to be given something tangible to feel good about in the short-term. Hoping that Alderson and his Moneyball brainiacs will turn the team into a dynasty in three years may be enough for the most mathmetically inclined Mets fans, but it’s not going to placate the vast majority of ticket buyers who are still trying to figure out what OPS means.

With no big free-agent signings coming in, a blockbuster trade unlikely, and the possiblity of a season without Johan Santana to look forward to, the least the Mets can give the “average” fan is a manager that they can relate to — and possibly, believe in. The fans like Chip Hale and Wally Backman for being the underdogs in the race. They can relate to these two for their personalities and blue-collar characteristics. As such, the fans will accept Backman or Hale and they will give them a pass if things don’t go well in 2011 — because, for whatever reason, the fans feel as if those two men are “one of their own”.

In contrast, Mets fans are either disinterested in, or don’t want, Collins or Melvin. If either is announced as manager, it will be received with the pomp and circumstance of a cricket concert. No one will care. No one will feel one way or the other. And when the tough times occur in 2011, the fans will start blaming the guy they didn’t want in the first place — whether it’s fair or not. They’ll lose faith in “the plan”. They’ll think the Mets just sold them yet another bill of goods. They’ll get angry at first, and then they’ll stop caring. In turn, they’ll stop buying tickets to games at Citi Field, and starting talking about football — just as they did this past summer.

It may be completely irrational, but that’s why they’re called “fans” — short for “fanatics”. There is a human element that can’t be ignored, and we know from the multi-million dollar contracts that baseball is in the end more entertainment than a simple game. People want to be entertained, and a big part of entertainment is relating to the characters performing. If the Mets fans can’t relate to the manager, the team sure as heck better win, and win right away.

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. gary s. November 20, 2010 at 3:27 pm
    I don’t remember met fans being excited when davey johnson became manager back in 1984.nobody knew him from a hole in the wall.Hopefully the next manager will have the same success.If not, we will have a new manager in 3 yearsMet fans have to calm down and give the front office and the manager a mulligan for 2011.Of course it would be nice if our new g.m. names a manager by Thanksgiving.Happy turkey day to all my fellow posters on Mets Today.
    • Elliot S. November 20, 2010 at 7:55 pm
      This is why I don’t like Collins and Melvin, they’re boring and known commodities. Roll the dice with Backman (or Hale) who can be the next Davey
    • Joe Janish November 21, 2010 at 2:30 am
      I think it’s difficult to compare the excitement of Mets fans now vs. 1983, because Al Gore didn’t invent the internet until the 1990s, so we don’t really know how to measure the buzz outside our own homes / friends / workplace.

      If the web and blogs were around in ’83, I’d be inclined to believe that there would be a similarly heated discussion amongst fans over who should be the manager. Likely, the argument would’ve included promoting Davey Johnson, coaxing Earl Weaver out of retirement, stealing Jeff Torborg from the Yankees, and making Tom Seaver a player-manager.

      Ironically, I bet there would’ve been many people who favored Torborg and Weaver over Johnson due to the experience factor.

      Happy Thanksgiving to you!

  2. metsie November 20, 2010 at 3:37 pm
    I have grave doubts that anyone they name is going to last much past Year two!
    I think it may take three years to rebuild the team if they decide to have a fire sale and trade Beltran, Reyes or maybe even Wright.

    That will happen if this season goes badly (Without Santana quite possible!) and that will be one year of loosing the fans will attribute to the new manager’s credit.

    If they have that fire sale Then year 2 will not be very good either unless they go whole hog on FA’s (which is what got us to this point in the first place!)

    And by year three the Managaer’s job will already be a major discussions on the Blogs and Media when a relativly young group is brought up and goes through rookie struggles.

    Whoever takes this Job will not have the players or the bench needed to win championships.

    We are two Aces away in the pitching rotation.

    Our two best guys in the pen have both been lost to Free Agency at this point.

    We have a hole at Second, one guy can field but can’t hit, the other seems to be able to do neither.

    Who knows how much life is left in that knee of Beltran’s, and I believe he is going to be trade bait at the deadline regardless of where the team is at the time.

    Get as much as they can, maybe even some pitching!

    This year we live and die with pretty much the same team we had last year minus pitching.
    The year after that can go either way if they go and buy more pitching.

    But I don’t see a World Series before Year Three of any Manager named and that probably means this guy is at best interim while we get the Roster and Salaries under control.

    • Joe Janish November 21, 2010 at 1:50 am
      Metsie, you bring up a good point in that whomever is managing in 2011, likely will be gone by 2013.

      So that means that the guy who is hired on Monday could be seen as “set up to fail”. In which case, maybe it’s fine that someone like Melvin or Collins is hired, because the fan base will grow to hate the manager no matter who he is, and better it be someone they don’t care much about at all, rather than a fan favorite.

  3. Fonz November 20, 2010 at 5:55 pm
    Figures more BS from a Backman Lobbyist.

    I’m surprised you won’t be giving up your tickets if they hire anyone but Wally, like that idiot the (ir)rational Met fan.

    Btw, the answer to WWWBD?

    Bunt Jose Reyes to 2nd Base.

    • Joe Janish November 21, 2010 at 2:00 am
      Figures another drive-by who has no idea about Backman, minor league baseball, or indy baseball would comment.

      — Wally 2011: Change We Can Believe In —

      (This was a paid endorsement by Wally Backman For Manager)

  4. DaMetsman November 20, 2010 at 7:08 pm
    Interesting piece from Joe. Can’t tell me that Gil Hodges wasn’t the difference maker in 1969. Just as certainly, Bobby Valentine took a team with a great infield, highly suspect outfield and OK pitching to the postseason two years in a row. How about the multitudinous appearances of the Twinkies in October. Gardenhire is a master. Bochy did an outstanding job this season of manipulating marginal non-pitching talent. Are there teams that would win with Lady Gaga at the helm? Absolutely.

    Every guy who has served or is serving as a coach wants to manage. I suspect the vast majority of those in support positions from front office to scouts also want to be the skipper. But lets face it, few display the fire-in-the-belly that Wally Backman oozes. Even his answer when he emerged from Round 2 said it all, “I am here for one reason only, to manage the Mets.”

    As for the ability of the Mets to win now…

    With the roster as it stands now, the Moneyball execs must completely revamp the bullpen and the Mets must stay relatively injury free. If so, they can play very meaningful games in September. With a rebuilt and strong pen (the easiest area to improve via free agency), I am willing to see what a starting staff of Pelfrey, Dickey, Niese, Gee and Misch (or a creative pick-up like Jon Garland, Kevin Millwood or Brandon Webb, all of who are probably too costly for the Mets) can do until Johan comes back in May or June.

    For a strong pen, bolster Parnell with Scott Downs and Jon Rauch, who have to be targeted for pickup. Even the ageless Arthur Rhodes could be worth a look as a get-em-out LOGGY. Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler could also be looked at, along with Randy Flores and Jeremy Affeldt.

    Perhaps a Beltran/K-Rod for Pabelbon/Dice-K would be worth trying. The Mets get rid of a timebomb for a big mouth and a knee for a shoulder. My guess is such a deal could be augmented by some others in the mix. But trading bulky contracts may be worse than a balky knee.

    The key moves for the Mets beyond the bullpen, will be ridding themselves of Perez and Castillo, moving Pagan to CF and filling voids in RF and 2B, a platoon partner for Josh Thole and a new manager. The manager will be dealt with early next week.

    Nothing wrong with a platoon of Murphy and Tejada at the second sack. Since Tejada is already an amazing defensive player, he can benefit from MLB experience and facing mostly left-handed pitching. With a lead, you can take Murphy out after three at-bats. A couple of times a month he can also play SS and give Jose a break.

    The options at catcher are pretty good. Thole will catch against all right-handed starters and whenever Dickey pitches. This means 450 ABs. For less than 200 ABs, they can go with Blanco, Barajas, or even a Jason Varitek could be an interesting choice.

    The real impact play will be who to throw into RF if they can move Beltran, or he is hobbled by the same arthritic knee. Can they pull the trigger on a deal for Justin Upton? It would cost plenty of prospects, but who would the Mets need during the next three to four campaigns with a relatively young and homegrown team? Could Nick Markakis (from LI) be available for a similar or slightly lesser group of prospects? Carl Crawford is a left-fielder who, for all his positives, strikes out on a pace with David Wright. And as a free agent, he will cost a bundle that the Mets do not have right now. Can Jason Bay play the right corner, thereby opening up a poor defensive but perhaps good stroking platoon of Duda/Evans?

    With a solid bullpen and a keen manager to inspire his troops, the Mets can do some damage and be exciting. There is no reason that a top of the order of Reyes, Pagan and Wright can’t steal 120 bases and create some havoc for opposing pitchers. Good bats on ball guys in Murphy and Thole. An all-star defensive infield when Tejada is at 2B. If Bay is just good (not great) at the plate, who knows what the Mets can achieve?

    • Joe Janish November 21, 2010 at 1:46 am
      DaMetsMan, I agree with most of your thoughts. However, I’m not sure how realistic some of your ideas are when the Mets’ budget is factored in. From what we are hearing, the team has $5M to spend on free agents this winter. If that’s true, it’s not enough to get the pitchers you suggest — though, I agree with all of those names you mention. The Mets will have to really shed a bunch of money to create room to sign more than one or two healthy, reliable arms.

      I like the Beltran/Papelbon idea and in fact had been thinking the same thing; keep an eye out for a post on the subject.

      I don’t think Upton or Markakis are do-able considering what the Mets have available for chips, but I could be wrong. I’d love to see either in Flushing next year.

      As for Reyes, Pagan, and Wright combining for 120 SBs I definitely think they can do it, but I don’t know if they’ll be allowed to do it. If the saber / Moneyball philosophy is imposed upon the team, then stolen base attempts would presumably be less than we’ve seen in the past from the Mets; from what I understand, statistics say that SBs generally aren’t worth the risk. Though, it’s possible that I’m misinterpreting that part of saber-strategy.

      Thanks very much for the feedback.

  5. Elliot S. November 20, 2010 at 7:48 pm
    Mr. Janish,

    You lose credibility with your unnecessary language choices, the most likely interpretation is to mock those who disagree. To wit:

    There’s no reason to put “Manager of the Year” in quotes, unless you intent to assert that the award is meaningless. (I agree with that, for what it’s worth.)

    Similarly, it’s factually incorrect to claim that the “theory that the manager has nothing to do with a team’s success or failure” is “sabermetric” in nature. And it gets us made fun of, rightfully, on their blogs.

    Look man, I’m a Backman supporter. I think it’d be great to bring his gritty style of play to this team, bring back some of the 1986 magic, and as you say, light a fire under the asses of guys like Wright and Reyes (and Bay!). But you do us all a disservice when you’re a dick about it.

    • JAM73 November 21, 2010 at 1:19 am
      Mr. S:

      What a ridiculous comment. I’ve read this post multiple times and believe Joe has “Manager of the Year” in quotes as a designated award, since Melvin was, in fact, named “Manager of the Year” in 2007….I highly doubt this was written as an insult like you insinuate.

    • Joe Janish November 21, 2010 at 1:34 am

      I positively, absolutely, did not mean to de-value Melvin’s award by putting it in quotes. I sincerely believed at the time that it was the proper way to display it. Now that you bring it up, I’m thinking it would have been more correct to either italicize it or simply keep it in caps without the quotes. In other words, there was no sarcasm intended, and I apologize for being misconstrued.

      Believe me, I often write with dripping sarcasm and it is fully intended, and I will owe up to it when asked. In this case, it was not the intention.

      As for “theory that the manager has nothing to do with a team’s success or failure”, I’m not understanding your beef. The sabermetric crowd has been preaching for years that the manager has little effect on a team’s success or failure. I disagree with that sentiment. So which part is factually incorrect? Are you saying that the statheads believe that a manager has an affect the final W-L record or that the theory is not a theory but a proven fact?

      As for being made fun of, I don’t care — never did, never will. If I worried about what other people thought about my opinions, I wouldn’t be blogging the way I do. Some people agree with my strong stance on subjects, some don’t — thank goodness we don’t all agree on everything or this would be a boring world to live in.

      As for being a dick, I am admittedly guilty of that fairly often — that’s my style. In this post, though, I didn’t think I was so bad — at least, not compared to my usual tone. This was pretty tame in my opinion.

      In any case, thank you for reading. It was a pretty long post, so your time and attention is appreciated. And also thanks for taking the time to post your opinion.

  6. greg adler November 20, 2010 at 9:47 pm
    this team NEEDS an aggressive manager not another laid back one.. Melvin will last 2 seasons if he is lucky
  7. DaMetsman November 21, 2010 at 4:17 am
    Funny. The more I gaze upon all the Mets blogs and Internet renderings of NY newspapers and mags, the more I think the choice will be Backman.

    From a practical standpoint there are three overwhelming reasons the front office will now choose Wally…

    1. Marketing. He is clearly the people’s overwhelming choice and the Wilpons have to not only fill seats, but win back the throngs who have been displaced at Citi Field by high ticket prices, two late collapses followed by two losing campaigns, and a recession. You gotta give the people what they want or risk losing too many people. There is no upside with Melvin or Collins short of going to the World Series. Wallyball and his reaction to each game will keep the fans coming, watching, listening and BUYING.

    2. Passion. The fire-in-the-belly and Mets-bleed runs rampant in Backman. It has been eight seasons since the Mets had a manager with anything close. If the Mets get a meltdown from Wally, it will be for good reason. I loved his comment when asked yesterday if the Mets could win. He said, “they can win — still!” In other words, there was not much of a reason that they should have been losing. I kind of see it that way as well. There is no substitute for great leadership.

    3. The Promise. It’s not much of a secret that Jeff Wilpon really liked Backman’s style early on at Brooklyn and promised him a shot at managing the Mets. Question is, did he mean the ascension would be imminent? We’ll find out in the next 72 hours, won’t we? I’ll tell you this, if they go with Melvin or Collins, Backman will be there in due course, unless the worst happens and he gets a call from another organization. Can you imagine if he manages another MLB team and Melvin or Collins hit the skids? Back to the marketing argument. Paging Don Draper.

    • Joe Janish November 21, 2010 at 12:27 pm
      I think you are right on all three points — well done.

      Now, whether these considerations will play into the final decision, we’ll find out in the next 48 hours.

      BTW it would be pretty crappy of Jeff Wilpon to go back on his word, if indeed he promised Wally the job.