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.