Skip to main content

After firing Manuel, Mets will take easy way out, hire vanilla manager


Here in New York, the stage has been ideally set.

Come season's end (and for Mets fans, that day arrived two months ago), the Mets will fire manager Jerry Manuel and have their pick of three drastically different-yet-all-perfectly suited candidates to fill a position once held by such luminaries as Mike Cubbage and Art Howe and, eh, never mind.

First, there is Joe Torre, the Los Angeles Dodgers skipper who announced last week that he has grown tired of the never-ending sun and the never-ending divorce drama of his ballclub's wackadoo gazillionaire owners. If one reads between the lines, Torre isn't done in the dugout -- just done in the Dodgers' dugout. He has also made clear that, of all the potential jobs out there (Atlanta, Oakland, the Cubs, the Mets), the Mets appeal to him the most (ignore his denials yesterday. Spin control, nothing more). Some 33 years ago, a 36-year-old Torre began his managerial journey by landing a gig with the Mets. They were terrible then, they're terrible now. At long last, Torre can make right.

Second, there is Bobby Valentine, the ex-Mets skipper who does studio work for ESPN. Having led the modestly talented 2000 Mets (Two words: Benny Agbayani) to the World Series, the feisty, unpredictable Valentine knows what it takes to win in the Big Apple. There's also something lovably kooky about Valentine that fits the organization and the city. He does odd things, makes bizarre statements -- and the fans worship him for it.

Third, there is Wally Backman, who managed the Class A Brooklyn Cyclones to a 51-24 record in his first year back with the organization. The gritty, hard-nosed, hard-living second baseman for the world-champion '86 Mets, Backman is as beloved in New York as a Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda. His style -- all-out, run-at-every-opportunity, suffocate-the-opposing-team-until-it-quits -- is made for New York, as is his hardscrabble story of being hired and fired to manage to Arizona Diamondbacks within a span of four days in 2004 (Here's a tip: If you want to see an absolutely breathtaking baseball documentary, catch Playing for Peanuts, which follows Backman during his year from hell managing the independent South Georgia Peanuts).

So who will the Mets hire? The legendary Torre? The cocksure Bobby V? Good ol' Wally?

Robert Paul Melvin

Yup, Bob Melvin.

Really, Bob Melvin

Do I have an inside source on this one? No.

Did a scout tip me off? No.

The reason I am convinced the Mets will tap the he-who-makes-vanilla-pudding-seem-exciting Melvin is because, quite frankly, this is what the modern Metropolitans do. Over and over and over and over again. They tempt their fans with Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker, then bring in the woefully overmatched Howe, as they did for the 2003 season. They hear a New York boy like Jason Marquis talk of his desire to return home and pitch at Citi Field, then decide John Maine can fill the rotation slot just fine (admittedly, Marquis has been horrible in Washington. But that's not the point. When a pitcher who has had double-digit wins for six straight years says he wants to play for you, you listen). Bengie Molina is seeking a catching gig? Meh -- we can land Rod Barajas! Carlos Delgado can't cut it. Good news -- Mike Jacobs is out there! Marcus Thames is looking for work as a fourth outfielder? Dude's overrated -- let's get Gary Matthews Jr.! Willie Randolph is no longer cutting it as manager? Thank God (yawn!) Manuel is here! He'll be just fine.

Melvin is so perfectly suited for the Mets, the team might as well start peddling his (inevitably overpriced) jersey at the Manhattan-based team store. His playing career (a .233 average over 10 wayward seasons) oozes mediocrity. His managerial career (a 493-508 mark over 6 ½ seasons with the Mariners and Diamondbacks) oozes mediocrity. He is a perfectly nice man (a la Manuel) with a perfectly mellow disposition (a la Howe) who is -- to no real fault of his own -- as inspiring to New York fans as a cold plate of spaghetti.

Which is great, because just two years after nearly winning the NL East, that's what the Mets have become: A stale dish of plain noodles, desperately trying to remain on the table alongside the beef Wellington that is the Yankees.

Count on Melvin becoming the latest chef.

Count on diners staying home to eat TV dinners.