Who Let the Dogs Out?

The Mets' Doghouse

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.

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. Micalpalyn July 7, 2007 at 3:16 pm
    have you ever played sports? I once played back to back soccer games by the end I could not run.

    yesterday I watched DW. He had sooooo many long throws I cannot believe his arm works (except at the plate).

    another story I tell, and i would fire Keith. Who was that was fired from our booth (Mccarver because he would criticise BV’s moves openly?)…Remember Dallas Green? He who made Paul Wilson throw 140 pitches on the last day of a meaningless 1996 season, yes PW had a 1hit SO, but Paul never threw fast again as his arm DID fall off that day.

    Jimmy Key was fired during a championship season, So was Jeff Torborg….Willie needs to watch his A$$, the Mets have $$$ invested in DW, and Reyes alot less in Valentin.

  2. Micalpalyn July 7, 2007 at 3:23 pm
    You last para speaks volumes….Beltran has stopped hustling choosing to play in 3rd gewar, (If the ball hits the bat and goes out…great). You know sandy Alomar Jr is with the team and HIS Dad is the 3rd base coach….if there is a mutiny /murmuring….it will be out there soon. Julio (generalisimo) Franco are you ready?

    Omar really does not show his hand but no doubt he is watching. Personally I’d chop Willie, and install Carter or Oberkfell, with Franco as a hitting coach/bench coach.

  3. joe July 7, 2007 at 10:37 pm
    Yes I have played sports. Football and baseball through high school, baseball through college (D-1), baseball through my 20s, and now baseball through my 30s (I have a doubleheader Sunday morning, in fact, and catching both ends).

    Interesting angle on Omar and Willie … I know Omar sees everything, but I wonder if he’d unseat Willie in the middle of a season. I guess anything is possible. We must wonder if Willie’s reprimand of Jose was the result of Omar talking to Willie and telling him something must be done — because this laziness has been going on way too long.

  4. isuzudude January 28, 2008 at 9:02 am
    “Remember Dallas Green? He who made Paul Wilson throw 140 pitches on the last day of a meaningless 1996 season, yes PW had a 1hit SO, but Paul never threw fast again as his arm DID fall off that day.”

    Paul Wilson’s 1996 gamelog: http://www.baseball-reference.com/pi/gl.cgi?n1=wilsopa02&t=p&year=1996

    Now show us the game where Wilson was left in to throw 140 pitches. Certainly wasn’t the last game of the season, as proclaimed. A closer examination of the 1996 season reveals that Bobby Valentine had taken over as manager for Dallas Green before the end of the season, which means, even if your statement about the 140 pitches was correct, it would have been BobbyV who left him in too long, not Green. It pays to do your homework.

    Thanks to reg cure (whatever the heck that is) or else I wouldn’t have re-read these posts.

  5. joe January 28, 2008 at 1:43 pm
    wow … internet really sucks for those of us who remember things differently LOL

    Green used to push Izzy a lot that year … but, in defense of ol’ Dallas, I still don’t understand why a healthy, 23-30-year-old professional pitcher can’t throw 140-160+ pitches a game. My guys in college went up to 135-140 regularly and no one had an injury. In fact one of them is still in MLB and having no arm issues whatsoever.

  6. Micalpalyn January 28, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    Good catch: It was a awhile ago and the memory has begun distant.

    Isu: Correct BV was hired on Aug 26th and PW pitched 6 games for him. The last 5+ inning with 2unearned runs. Possibly the game i remember (so clearly) was actually in SF on May 30th. on 99 pitches. His high that yr was 121 (in the previous game) . He did not pitch in the ML until 2000. So clearly something happened.

    Joe is correct too. Clearly lokking at the numbers Izzy was far more used than PW. Interesting that Izzy pitched 9innings of a 4-11 loss to the Expos right before Dallas fired (Jul 19th) in which he threw 137 pitches. Later Jul 30th & aug 4th he pitched 8IP (per game), throwing 124 & 93 pitches. Per the site you referenced Izzy was sat from Aug12th till Sept 3rd when he pitched 3 innings (followed by two 6inning stints). His arm ‘fell off’ the following yr.

    Thanks for the correction and expounding some demons. I dont withdraw the point but definately the facts needed correcting.

    Joe: I like this arguement but cant quite agree. Yes there are some pitchers that can master their output but way too many that cant pace themselves over a full game and burn out after 5-6 innings. Its a sore spot: note the Rice program (Phil humber’s uni) have to some gdegree been labelled with the stigma of having their top pitchers leave college with arm problems.

  7. joe January 28, 2008 at 4:03 pm
    One of these days I’m going to write a post and really open up this can of worms, but for now …

    BIG differences between my college program and the one run at Rice:

    1. My kids were slowly brought up to a 180-pitch count through a gradual, and varied (long toss, 45-ft throwing, etc.), eight-week throwing program. 180 pitches because I counted 15 pitches per inning, for 9 innings, PLUS 5 warmup pitches in between. Lots of coaches forget to add the warmups into the program, and/or don’t train their kids for complete games.

    2. My kids threw every day (except for starters who had one day off after games).

    3. My kids were not allowed to throw sliders until after they perfected three types of fastballs, a changeup, and proved they couldn’t throw an overhand curve. Most big-time programs add a slider to a kid’s arsenal immediately.

    4. My kids were not allowed to throw breaking pitches until they proved to me they could throw their fastballs and changeups for strikes with their eyes closed — literally. If they could throw straight balls with their eyes closed, that was a good indication that their mechanics were sound — no Mitch Williamses on my team!

    Most coaches (and pitchers) thought I was nuts, but these were the fundamentals to building arm strength and remaining healthy (of course there was much more to the program, i.e., weight training, running, etc.). I built the plan with the help of several pro and amateur pitching coaches, and two athletic trainers (including one with specialty in biomechanics). The goal was to build pitchers who could keep pitching through their 40s if they wanted to.