On Rowand and Leadership

A few days ago, Joel Sherman wrote that pursuing free agents David Eckstein and Aaron Rowand — mainly for their personalities — would be a good idea for the New York Mets.

Back in mid-season, when asked about his potential free-agent status by The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Todd Zolecki, first-time all-star Aaron Rowand was more eloquent than most, saying, “My decision could be made for me. . . . I don’t care how much money you offer me. I don’t want to play for somebody who’s going to finish fourth or fifth. That’s not why I come to the field every day. I want to win.”

That’s the kind of thing we like to hear. And now that he has reached free agency, he has the opportunity to pick the team he believes has the best chance to win.

A few days ago, Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia Daily News had a column headlined, Phils Would Miss Rowand’s Talents, but really meant his presence in the clubhouse.

In the article — which is an interesting read — Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was asked how many wins could be directly attributed to Rowand’s intangibles. His response was

“I have no idea,” he said. “But he’s a huge part of our team. He plays a part in everything you think about. Clubhouse. Standing up. Defense. Offense. He’s always talking about ‘we’ and ‘us,’ always talking about winning every day.

“And I believe in that. I believe you see how people react to it. It’s easy with the salaries and the schedule for players to get complacent, or down at times. But he takes care of that for you.”

Now I know that Rowand’s numbers were inflated by Citizens Bank Park, and that his 2007 career year likely won’t be duplicated. But it wouldn’t hurt the Mets to have this guy in right field (sorry Aaron, centerfield is Beltran’s) strictly for his defense and his intangibles. And while the statheads can’t measure “intangibles” and therefore dismiss it as poppycock, I believe — like Manuel — that personalities can have a significant effect on a team’s success. For example I’m not surprised the Mets won less than 90 games in ’07 after hearing from Carlos Delgado that the team was occasionally “bored”. And I believe sincerely that, for example, the fiery Thurman Munson’s leadership played a part in the Yankees’ success of the late 1970s, as Keith Hernandez’s did for the Mets in the mid 1980s.

You can say all you want about the Mets’ pitching blowing their season, but the team that leaped ahead of them had even more atrocious moundsmen. And it wasn’t necessarily the pitching that put the Mets into a tight September race — there were plenty of games that could have been won in June and July, had the offense shown a slight interest in hammering the baseball. All the Mets needed were two extra wins; maybe a respected, big-mouthed leader in the clubhouse could have been the difference.

Of course, Rowand could come to the Latino-dominated Mets and have zero effect, due to the language and culture barriers. That’s one point that Sherman is missing in his article — you can’t just shoehorn a strong personality into a clubhouse and expect him to change the attitude of the team (see Dodgers: Jeff Kent). But I like the things said about Rowand, and believe that the Mets could use one or two more vocal leader-types in their clubhouse. If Rowand’s not the right fit, perhaps someone else.

Any thoughts on this angle? Ideas for other leader-types to pursue? Think there’s someone already on the team to fill the role? Post your comments, please.

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. sincekindergarten October 11, 2007 at 4:44 am
    This–the leadership angle–is why I, as well as bunches of Mets fans–want Paulie back. He seemed to be the only player who played with any sort of fire and urgency in September, as if he could see where the team was headed.

    It would seem to me that if the Mets did go out and sign Rowand, then LMillz goes for a pitcher. Maybe Billy Beane gets a call, Joe Blanton’s name comes up, Billy tells Omar that he has to throw in someone else, and Omar hangs up.

    I think that the attitude of the Mets in the month of September contributed to the fall as much as the bullpen. Rowand would help cure that.

  2. isuzudude October 11, 2007 at 6:17 am
    I agree, Lo Duca is part of the Mets leadership equation. He, Wright, Pedro, and Billy should be the leaders. We could provide a laundry list of potential leaders from outside the club, but most of them wouldn’t fit on the team.

    Of all teams, I see Rowand going to the Yankees. He can say all he wants about it not being about the money. But when the Yankees start throwing $15-mil a year contracts in your face, suddenly that pen starts writing your signature by itself. Plus, the Yanks ARE about winning (even if they can’t get out of the 1st round), and have a hole in CF that Melky Cabrera has been thrown into. I could very easily see the Yanks signing Rowand, moving Melky to RF, and go with Matsui/Damon at LF/DH. That means Abreu walks as a FA…could he become another leader we’re looking for to play RF? I’m not a fan, but I am open to persuasion.

  3. joe October 11, 2007 at 8:07 am
    If indeed Paulie has any influence in the clubhouse, I would consider that another reason to bring him back. Not sure why, but I get the feeling that LoDuca looks to the public like more of a leader than he really is. I sincerely hope that I’m wrong, because I also like his fire and passion.

    Good suggestion on Rowand to the Yankees … that does make sense. Couldn’t you just see him as another Paul O’Neill type?

    Abreu? No thanks. He was the poison holding back the Phillies last year. And though he still hits around .290 with lots of walks, his power numbers have been going down significantly (huh, right when MLB started steroid testing) and he has regressed in all areas of his game.

  4. RockStar78 October 11, 2007 at 9:38 am
    Leadership in the clubhouse would help, but I don’t think we’d even be having this discussion if Willie took more charge himself. To hear comments like “we are so talented, that sometimes we get bored” is all you need to hear. Someone like Rowand could help, but it won’t be enough to change the team’s overall personality. Ultimately, Willie is the one who needs to change it. So if I were him, I’d stop with the overconfidence and stop telling the team how good they are and stop having them assume that they are the best.
  5. joe October 11, 2007 at 12:37 pm
    From our perspective, it does appear that Willie needs to take a larger leadership role. However, we’re not in the clubhouse before and after games so who knows.

    Further, while I agree Willie should be a leader, I think a manager is either going to be a HUGE, egocentric leader (Bobby V.) or a quiet leader (Torre). And in the case of the quiet leader, there needs to be at least one or two players who take on significant leadership roles.

    Personally, I don’t see Randolph as a Bobby V. type. And as I mentioned, I’m also not sure Rowand would be as influential in the Mets clubhouse as he was in Philly. The Mets need a Pops Stargell or a Keith Hernandez — a well-respected, longtime veteran and winner. Delgado and Alou are supposed to be those guys, but not sure they have strong enough personalities to do it on their own.

  6. RockStar78 October 11, 2007 at 1:45 pm
    And there really isn’t anyone on the free agent market or via trade that is the kind of leader that you mention, so it’s going to have to come from within or Willie is going to have to do it. The sense of entitlement and overconfidence he brought over from the Yankees seemed to result in their playing without urgency for much of the year, so that’s going to have to change. I guess we can hope that the disastrous ending to 2007 will be enough in itself to correct that. Otherwise, Willie is going to have to try something different from his “never panic” mode.
  7. joe October 11, 2007 at 2:54 pm
    Good points RockStar. Delgado may be our only hope … maybe if he hits again, he’ll have the confidence to get in some people’s faces. Though he seems to be more of a big teddy bear.

    Further to the Willie / urgency point — he gives mixed signals. Yes he shows this “never panic” facade, but then makes panic-like decisions, such as starting Brian Lawrence over Philip Humber while up by three games because “you can’t trust the babies”. And burning out relievers by mid-May.

  8. RockStar78 October 11, 2007 at 3:06 pm
    Good point as well Joe. I’m sure Willie was obviously panicked when the Phillies completed the second sweep at Shea and the 10 errors were made, but he still put on the “never let my players see me panic” facade. I understand his point, but when things get desperate (as they did after that sweep), that was the time to drop the “never panic” nonsense. The team needed a spark, a kick, something to get them going, and Willie never wavered from his even keel stick (as far as we know). This team doesn’t have 12 straight postseason appearances like the Yankees, so there should be no sense of entitlement. Sometimes, I think Willie fails to see that.
  9. joe October 11, 2007 at 3:14 pm
    Yeah I think you are right — Willie spent too many years in the Yankee dugout, expecting to go to the postseason.

    That works fine when you have a $225M payroll, and can field an All-Star at every position. Most other teams could use a bit of energy on and off the field.