Playing Not To Lose

Along with SNY analyst Bobby Ojeda. fellow former 1986-‘er Darryl Strawberry is calling out the team for not only leadership issues (or lack thereof) but for not putting “fear” into their opponents.  “They laugh at these Mets,” says Strawberry.  While I agree with him to a certain extent, he has to understand, as well as many of us who came of age in the hey-day ’80s Mets teams (myself included), that the dynamic of baseball has changed such that it will be hard to compare the rip-your-heart-out brawling baseball teams in the 1970s and 1980s, Mets or otherwise, to today’s scrubbed and polished image players who have an endorsement deal.

I think it’s ironic that these same two guys have a lot of nerve calling the team out now.  Certainly, there are issues, but for a guy who slammed his pitching hand in a door after drinking too much one night and used a sorry “hedge clipper” cover up story, and a dude who sadly battled many demons only to leave his best years in New York behind him, well, let’s just say I won’t take what they say to heart easily.

Lately, with the Mets lackluster second-half coupled with a less-than-impressive West Coast road trip, everyone is talking “leadership.”  Who is the leader of the team?  Is Jerry Manuel the right guy to lead this team?  Who is the go-to person in the clubhouse when a player is having problems at the plate? Can the pitchers talk to a fellow pitcher to ask about their game approach?

Let’s start with Jerry Manuel.  Let me state for the record that I don’t necessarily have a problem with Manuel’s type of managing.  He’s the quintessential “player’s manager.”  He puts out the lineup and let’s the guys play.  Unfortunately, his style of managing does not translate well into the team he has today.  A good manager makes adjustments, and it’s clear to me that Manuel does not have a clue how to make those adjustments.

We may never see a team like the 1986 team play again, ever.  Not just the Mets but in baseball in general.  Players today have been coddled since they’ve been in Little League.  They’ve played on teams where they get trophies simply for “showing up” as opposed to being the “best” at something.  While that has worked wonders in building up the self-esteem of some youngsters, the fact is, there is no attitude, there is no hustle because they know at the end of the day, they get paid and that’s that.

I’m certain some players care about winning.  However, they are not TAUGHT how to win.  Manuel puts out a lineup and expects everyone to go out and do their jobs.  Unfortunately, like the MBA in the old FedEx commercials, they need to be shown how.  When Keith Hernandez was traded to the Mets on June 15, 1983, he came with a chip on his shoulder, an MVP award under his belt and years of participating on winning teams in St. Louis.  He brought that attitude to the young players who were being cultivated on the Mets farm system.  In fact, he said himself when he saw Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling and Darryl Strawberry being brought up through the ranks, he knew the Mets were going to be something special.  When they added Gary Carter to solidify calling the game and his rough-and-tumble style of play helped round-out Hernandez’s field generalship, magic happened.  Hernandez’s respect amongst his peers and managerial staff made him the first captain in Mets history, and Gary Carter was named co-Captain.

Of course, Mets manager Davey Johnson had a lot to do with the so-called “swagger” of those teams.  However, he was smart to understand what and who he was working with.  He told them, famously, after not winning anything in 1984 to falling short in 1985, that they would not only win but they would DOMINATE.  Can you imagine saying that not just to the Mets but to ANY team these days?

My problem with the suggestion that, for instance, David Wright should be elevated to some figure head status in that he’d hopefully make the team his “own,” is this:  He is far too young…heck, he hasn’t even had that many years in the majors, let alone even won a championship, save the NL East pennant in 2006.  He could always walk after his contract is up.  I don’t think he would, however. I’m not saying if the Mets were to give a Captain’s “C” to someone, he could be the figure head someday, he could be good at it, just not now.  Let’s allow him to mature and BE a leader simply by doing, and not just because the management said, “This is your team, do what you want.”

He needs to be taught how to win.  None of these guys know how to do that.  Not Carlos Beltran, not Jose Reyes, not Luis Castillo.  Maybe Johan Santana.  That is evident after the team tends to win his starts these days.

This team needs to lead by doing.  I am not one to suggest a change in management will do anything tangible but in this case I highly endorse getting rid of Jerry Manuel immediately.  It’s clear that this team needs a manager who will LEAD, set a game plan, understand the roles of each player and not just hope for the best.

Hope is not a plan.