April 18, 2008

It's NOT Willie's Time To Go!!!

No, I haven't been brainwashed by Willie's long list of good deeds, nor by the fact that he's one hell of a great person, nor by the fact that we just swept the (lowly) Nationals; rather, I just don't think that, if the Mets were going to make a mangerial change, that doing so in the middle of the season is the right way to go.

That's not to say that I necessarily approve of the job that Willie is doing, or has done, up to this point. Willie is still much higher on my "approval list" then many of his managerial bretheren are; and, other than a handful of instances, mid-season managerial replacements end up doing more harm than good.

It's been a bit over three years, and I think it's high time we reviewed Willie's strengths and weaknesses, and why we are not so readily calling for Willie's managerial head!

Quite frankly, as bloggers, and as fans, we aren't privy to the inner-workings of the Mets' clubhouse nor to conversations that go on behind closed doors. Additionally, we also aren't able to gauge what type of leadership is going on in the clubhouse or on buses or planes, when it comes to what players say to each other- or don't. All we have to go by is what we see on the field, the results in the standings, and the quotes we read and interviews we listen to. At times, that's enough to make a decent judgement about things, particularly how as to how a pitcher is throwing, whether a positional player seems like he's not quite healthy, based on how he's swinging or playing the field...and at other times, like how Willie reacts to situations that we don't have access to (and by "we" I mean fans, bloggers, etc.), we really don't see the entire picture.

We each have opinions about what is going on, right and wrong, about the ole orange and blue, and we are not only entitled to it, we are also entitled to air our opinions, because that's what they are - OUR thoughts about what is going on with our favorite team and what can be done to change things when we're not winning, or to keep things going when we are.

Of course, one of the first targets we're going to look towards is the Mets' manager - usually an easy target, especially when its members have recently included the likes of Art Howe and Jeff Torborg. Where Willie is concerned, there are so many things to be concerned about, and yet a number of things to still be excited about. The concerns are pointed more at Willie's success, to date, as a manager; the things to be excited about mostly concern Willie, the man.

First, the three main concerns, and why:

Questionable In-Game Strategies: I think that there has yet to be a game played, especially during the past year, that I haven't doubted Willie's strategies, at least once per game. These usually center around pitching decisions, primarily bullpen selection; pinch-hitters (when and which one), and use of the "basics" - such as hit-and-run, bunting, sacrifices, etc...It seems as though Willie is often out-managed by his peers, including some who themselves are not exactly known for their in-game strategizing (Charlie Manuel, etc.), and it's very frustrating in light of the fact that Willie was such a heads-up, intelligent player. Joe Torre, Willie's role model for most of the past 10 years prior to joining the Mets, was never known for his great strategizing, either - but when you have had the likes of Paul O'Neil, Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams, all great clutch performers, it's not as necessary then when your roster is solid with some stars but also somewhat inconsistent from position to position, year over year. Torre had a consistently large nucleus of players during his time with the Yankees, and he knew what to expect from them and they knew what to expect from him - and it worked for both parties to the tune of 4 World Series victories and perennial contention. Willie doesn't have the same luxury- his two prime stars, Reyes & Wright, are still young (25 or younger) and impressionable, and the majority of his roster is made up of recent acquisitions, mostly veterans, who seemingly could benefit from Willie's cool-handed way of dealing with them...and perhaps they lose faith when they, too, see a lack of a plan where the bullpen is concerned, no mixing of the batting order, and holding to the so-called "book" of handling situations rather than thinking "out-of-the-box" as would be expected from a player who would have done anything necessary to manufacture a run during a fantastic career. Perhaps we, and maybe the players, have the wrong expectation of Willie, and what we see right now, and what we've seen since 2005, is the only style of game-management that Willie is capable of. They say that the definition of "insanity" is doing the same thing, over and over again, and expecting a different result...well, let's not say we Mets' fans have never been called "insane"...usually not to our faces, however...

Aloofness, which masquerades as Cockiness: Willie is who Willie is, perhaps thinking of himself as too much of a "finished product" in order to make it in the hardest town in the world, the same town that fell in love with him over 30 years ago. He knows, better than you or I, what it takes to be truly successful in this town when it comes to playing the game we all love...however, that confidence has also become his weakness, as his inability to bend and be more humble in his failings is what, I think, most infuriates our fanbase. He comes off as aloof, cocky, and free of emotion, which drives fans crazy and makes for great copy for the media.

Earlier today, on Charlie Steiner's XM Baseball show, the Bergen Record's Bob Klapisch compared Willie to hall-of-famer Frank Robinson, the first African-American manager, in his demeanor, which he called "dour." He also said that Willie comes off as "aloof" as most of us would agree with, and said the Mets' clubhouse lacks fire whenever Pedro Martinez isn't around. Some of that blame has to lie with the GM, as Willie hasn't assembled this team; the rest of the blame lies on the manager's shoulders, as he sets the tone for the team and if he allows things to be glossed over, either in the media or behind closed doors, then whatever happens as a result is also on his shoulders.

For someone who is such a good person, and does so much for his communities (baseball, humanity, Brooklyn, New York, etc.) it would be nice if he was thought of in a more flattering vein...unless the cockiness becomes watered down, his off-the-field contributions will continue to play second fiddle to his inability (so far) to lead his team to the promised land - the World Series!

Apparent Lack of Fire: It doesn't take Larry Bowa-like tactics to stir up a team, or for that matter, a fan-base. However, a little fire now and then, in any fashion, would go a long way towards placating fans as well as giving a kick in the keister to players who often seem like they're just collecting paychecks rather than pissed off at a loss or a bad play. He doesn't have to throw a base, a la Lou Pinella, but some dirt, a few shouts, a cooler over-turned in the dugout - not too much to ask for! He also doesn't have to get in players faces, like the late Billy Martin once did, but if players felt more like their manager wasn't going to take any bad calls standing up, and let it all hang out - just once in a while- perhaps they would be more apt to do likewise, and some championship-like desire would bubble over and rub off on everyone else in the clubhouse. Willie says he has fire all the time, and it burns deeply within him - and I am the last person who would doubt that...now let it out a bit and let everyone else see it- and you'll be amazed at how much it would enhance, not hurt, your reputation!

Okay- that's more than a "mouthful" in the critique department...and the "positives" are more subtle - such as Willie being an excellent role model, a hard worker, thoughtful, even-tempered, charitable and intelligent. Those are all excellent attributes for a dad, a teacher, a big brother- but without the things Willie seems to be "missing" he seems like his days as manager of this club are dwindling daily...that being said, if Willie doesn't lead this club to the World Series, at the end of the season, more than likely, his days as manager will, indeed be over. However, for continuity sake, firing him during the season is not the way to go, as the ballclub will take time to learn and adapt to their new manager's tendencies, and vice versa, not a positive thing for a contending team to have to go through. Therefore, as the title of this post said, it's not, in my opinion, time for Willie to "go" as manager of the Mets...

Finally, let's not kid ourselves- the position of manager in baseball is far less critical then their football bretheren, for example. In 1964, the same players who played for Ralph Houk one year earlier and won the World Series still went to the World Series under first-year manager Yogi Berra, only to lose in 7 games to the Cardinals. Granted, there were many who thought Yogi unable to handle the position, and his tenure lasted only one year as Houk bowed to pressure and brought Cardinals' manager Johnny Keane to the club to manage in 1965. However, Yogi was cursed with an injured Whitey Ford, a staggering Mickey Mantle, a Tony Kubek who barely played that year, and weirdos such as Joe Pepitone and Phil Linz (and his legendary harmonica). Basically, what Yogi showed, in hindsight, is that he did as good a job, or possibly better, than Houk had done the year before, in spite of more taxing circumstances. Ultimately, the players got them there, and ultimately, their injuries and old age are what kept them from winning the Series, not anything that the rookie manager Berra either did or didn't do.

So, the next time Willie makes what we think is a terrible decision, brings in the "wrong" pitcher, leaves his starter in too long or takes him out to quick, or puts up the "wrong" pinch-hitter, we should also remember that if that pitcher had pitched better that outing, or the pinch-hitter had come through in spite of himself, Willie was also this close to looking like a genius- if only for one game! Willie is our manager, he's going to be here for the entire season (unless something really drastic happens, which we hope won't be the case), so let's concentrate on positive things and hope Reyes continues to be Reyes of "old," Beltran continues his quiet leadership (and throws in a few more well-timed homers), Castillo's knees turn out to be younger than Miguel Tejada (55?) and David Wright's throwing problems quickly become a thing of the past! Otherwise, Willie's shortcomings will come in louder and stronger, and this season will collapse in on itself quicker than we can say "7 up with 17 to play"...and goodness knows, if that happens, I'll be the first one in line with the broadsword, standing over the plank!!!


Anonymous said...

willie gives my ulcers ulcers

Anonymous said...

hes good but he can only be as good as his players let him be