Memo to the New York Mets: I was kidding
Seriously, it was a laugh. A chuckle. Ha ha, hee hee. That column I wrote on September 22 -- "After firing Manuel, Mets will take easy way out, hire vanilla manager." I wasn't being serious when I said you'd name Bob Melvin as your next skipper. It was, again, a joke. Get it? The Mets are so boring, they'll probably hire ... Bob Melvin to run the team.
Uh ... yeah.
So here we stand two months later, with Sandy Alderson, New York's new general manager, having just wrapped up interviews with his final four candidates. And they are:
• The feisty Wally Backman -- who seems to have no real chance.
• The feisty Chip Hale -- who seems to have a slight chance.
• The sorta kinda feisty Terry Collins -- who seems to have a pretty OK chance.
• The so-boring-I-just-got-bored-writing-about-how-boring-he-is Bob Melvin -- the frontrunner.
How the heck did this happen? Two months ago, the speculation about the Mets opening focused on three men -- Backman, Joe Torre and Bobby Valentine. They were all names that resonated with New York's fan base and, more importantly, all names with genuine qualities a flat-lining franchise could use. For all his well-known flaws, Backman is universally regarded as a top-flight manager; a man who gets the most out of his players; who counts on aggressiveness and refuses to wait around for runs. For all his well-known flaws, Valentine is a one-of-a-kind baseball strategist who understands the intricacies of the game as well as any person who's ever managed (and who led the Mets to the 2000 World Series with an outfield of Jay Payton, Timo Perez and Benny Agbayani). For all his well-known flaws, Torre, well, there are very few well-known flaws. Who knows more about earning the trust of his players? About understanding New York? About winning?
Employing one of those three men, however, would be too easy for the Mets. This is an organization that needs to make things hard on itself; that somehow finds a way to take apple pie and transform it into mud (or, in old-school Shea terms, take Tom Seaver and transform him into Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson and Dan Norman).
In 2010, hiring a manager is -- as it always has been -- about brining in someone with intelligence and experience and wisdom. Yet after so many down years, the fans who pack Citi Field require more. The Mets were a remarkably boring and unemotional team in 2010. When their main offseason acquisition, Jason Bay, wasn't hurt, he was jarringly ineffective (.259, six homers, 49 RBIs in 95 games). When their closer, Francisco Rodriguez, wasn't blowing saves, he was beating people up. Like Melvin, Jerry Manuel is one of the nicest, happiest, friendliest human beings to ever walk a baseball field -- and last season, as the losses mounted (83 in all), he continued to smile. And giggle. And joke. His regular segments with Mike Francesa on WFAN were so unspeakably painful because they were so unspeakably optimistic. Mets fans wanted anger. Wanted frustration. Wanted threats. Wanted ... something.
Bob Melvin is a perfectly fine baseball man who, in six full seasons as a major league manager, has twice won 90 or more games. He is a good, solid, OK major league manager. One former major league coach whose teams went against Melvin's told me, "He won't do anything to hurt his ballclub, but he won't do much to make a ballclub better."
The Mets deserve more.