Who Let the Dogs Out?
In case you missed it, Jose Reyes was removed from Friday’s game for not hustling out a ground ball.
The full description, and quotes from both Willie Randolph and Jose Reyes, can be found on MetsBlog.
SNY broadcaster Keith Hernandez applauded the move, saying that Willie had to “nip this thing in the bud”.
Unfortunately, there was no bud left, Keith. Willie had to pull out one flower from a big patch from the roots.
Lazy play has been the trademark of the 2007 Mets since about mid-May. If it took Willie this long to realize his guys weren’t hustling, maybe he should consider another line of work. Even the fans in the upper level, section 48 could see quite clearly that this Mets team is a far cry from the passionate, never-say-die, hustlers and grinders of a year ago. The faces may be the same, but the hearts have changed; these guys expect wins to come easy, and go in the tank the minute the score seems out of reach.
Why Willie chose this game, and this player, to make his point is baffling. But then, many of his moves this year have been head-scratchers. Forget about his in-game strategy (if that’s what you call it) — we know that he’s challenged in that area. What Willie is supposed to bring to the table is player management: the ability to get the most out of every player on the roster, in working as a team toward victory. He did a nice job of it last year, using the bench, taking the youngsters aside and teaching them, playing the hot hands at the right times, and sticking with certain players through rough times. And his players played hard, all the time. That was one thing about the 2006 team: they were relentless. Talent took them a long way, but tenacity separated them from the rest of the pack.
What happened to that attitude this year? It seemed to evaporate sometime around Cinco de Mayo — so maybe it’s the result of long hangover. The team, at the time, was winning, but you could see the breakdown beginning. Here and there, someone would jog the last few steps on a grounder to second base. Carlos Delgado would watch his fly balls bounce off the fence in the batter’s box before taking off for first. Carlos Beltran would “forget how many outs there were”. Damion Easley would let grounders pass by without stretching out his glove — much less dive. Pitchers would be late in covering first on balls hit to Delgado. Little things, but they were there, and not only did the fans see them, but so did Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Gomez, and other youngsters. Next thing you know, D-Wright is making a habit of jogging down to first on grounders. Gomez is watching his homer go over the fence (where do you think he learned that from?). Then the Mets go into a tailspin in June, and sleepwalk their way through two weeks of play. You can see — on their faces and through their body language — that they give up after falling behind by more than three runs. Through it all, Jose Reyes is still smiling, hustling, and maybe pressing a bit in an effort to spark the team.
Finally, though, Reyes slips. He’s played nearly every inning of every game at a high level of energy and enthusiasm. Maybe he’s getting fatigued (yes, Keith, an athlete under 25 CAN get tired). Maybe he’s losing a bit of his enthusiasm, between losing and watching the dogs on his team. Maybe he’s tired of being the main guy going all out, every game. Whatever it is, he loses his concentration, the smile goes away for periods, and he starts missing balls in the field, has some poor at-bats, and once in a while, he doesn’t run 100% on a grounder. Why should he? Other guys on the team jog, why can’t he?
Indeed, it was not a lack of hustle on Reyes’ part — it was a lack of judgment. He sincerely believed his grounder was a foul ball — of that there is no doubt. Of course, he’s not the umpire, and he shouldn’t be watching the ball, and shouldn’t be wondering if it will go fair or foul. But this is what the “leaders” on the Mets have taught him: don’t run so hard out of the box. Take a look first and see. No need to expend your energy. Before “Willie’s Guys” came along and taught him the new way to play baseball, Reyes would have been sprinting to first the moment he made contact.
If you read the quotes by Jose Reyes in response to being taken out, he said mostly the right things. There was one phrase, though, they opened the door to his real feelings :
“I think the ball would be foul, but you still have to run. It was my fault there, so … but I think it would happen to anybody. So, hopefully it doesn’t happen to me next time … “
” … it would happen to anybody …” is the hint. As if not running out a foul ball was akin to a meteor falling out of the sky and onto your head. Not running doesn’t “happen”, it’s something you choose not to do. What he’s trying to say is, he thought the ball would go foul, and it didn’t. And therein lies the problem — Reyes has been “taught” to check out the situation before taking off. Thanks to the Carloses, old man Franco, and other “veterans”.
Further, if you watched Jose in the TV interview, his face told a different story. His words were “I was wrong, I should have been taken out, blah blah blah,” but his face was saying, “out of all the guys in this doghouse, why me? why the one guy who has laid his heart and soul on the field every single game? why not Beltran? why not Franco, who walked to first base in Philly? why not Delgado, who jogs all the time? why not Wright, who’s following Delgado’s lead? why do all those guys get pass after pass, yet the one time I do something wrong, I’m the one taken out?”
Willie Randolph let this fester for two months, and chooses Friday night to make an example of somebody. That’s fine — Reyes probably should have been sat — but it’s too little, too late. The mutiny has already taken place, and the veterans have established the attitude of this team. It will take a small miracle for the dogs to reverse their ways in time to save the season, because the two less-skilled teams behind them — the Braves and Phillies — are making up for their lack of talent with hustle, passion, and focus on fundamentals.
Many are pointing to this move as a defining moment in Willie’s managerial tenure, the move that establishes himself as the ultimate leader of this team. I disagree — I think it’s defining the exact opposite.