When most of us think of Justin Turner, we think of the fun-loving guy who walks to the plate to the girly pop sounds of “Call Me Maybe” and who likes to deliver shaving cream pies to the faces of unsuspecting teammates when they are being interviewed on TV. But according to minor leaguers Zach Lutz and Brian Bixler, that’s all a carefully designed act to portray Turner as a wacky guy when in reality he is a conniver, a Svengali who uses manipulation to get management to yield to his every wish.
Bixler, Lutz and Turner were all in competition for a backup roster spot this season. Bixler put up a .949 OPS but was the first player of the trio eliminated from job consideration. The battle between Lutz and Turner went down to the last day before the Mets picked the veteran Turner (with a .660 OPS) over Lutz, who finished Grapefruit League play with a .794 OPS.
“Everyone thinks JT is a great guy but trust me, none of us wants to be alone anywhere in the locker room with him, especially in the shower,” Lutz told reporters while he was packing his bags after being informed that he did not make the club. “The guy is pure evil, he’s got powers that none of us really understand and Terry Collins gets a glazed look in his eye every time after they have one of their famous talks.”
Lutz went on talking about his Spring performance when Turner came by to offer his condolences. He gave Lutz a $100 bill, whispered something in his ear and walked away. A reporter started to ask Lutz what Turner told him but before he could finish, Turner showed that his pranking spirit extended beyond his teammates, as he delivered one of his shaving cream pies directly into the face of the unprepared scribe.
Shaking his head in disbelief, Lutz tossed the reporter a towel to wipe his face clean. And he shared what Turner told him: “He said at least it was Vegas and not Buffalo and he told me I could spend some free time in a casino. He gave me this money for the roulette wheel and told me to always bet on Red.”
Continuing his chat with reporters, Lutz said: ”When you’re competing for a job with an incumbent, it’s like a heavyweight title bout. The challenger has to knock the champ out because he’s not going to win a decision. I didn’t knock him out. That’s why Bixler went down first – he would’ve knocked him out and JT pulled some strings to have him cut early.”
When Collins was asked about Bixler, the manager’s eyes glazed over and he muttered something about Spring Training numbers meaning nothing and how Bixler wasn’t suited for a backup role on the club.
Bixler, when reached on his cell phone for his thoughts made it plain that he was grateful to the Mets for the opportunity. He also added, “I thought I took advantage of that opportunity and I was confused why I was sent out. If I had no chance to make the team, why did they make me go through the dog and pony show? I think Turner had something to do with me being cut early.”
For his part, Sandy Alderson said that since the Mets had so much turnover in the outfield and the bullpen and even the starting rotation that he owed it to the fans to keep Turner around for continuity. When asked if the fans would rather see a better team or a familiar face, Alderson replied: “Fans will get over when you replace stars. I should know – I’ve traded Carlos Beltran and R.A. Dickey and was widely praised.
“But I’d rather walk barefoot on cut glass than get rid of a guy like Turner. I think Valdespin will end up the same way. But at least no GM would actually give up anything for Valdespin. That is, until he learns to start throwing pies in people’s faces. Then he becomes invaluable. You have no idea how many times I’ve turned down trade offers for Turner since he started doing that.”
Meanwhile, Turner said his versatility and his knack for coming up with a big hit is ultimately what won him the final bench spot job. “Lutz is a great guy and I’m sorry he’s not going to be here,” Turner said. “But I can play anywhere – I’ll even catch – and Lutz, well, let’s just say he’s a good hitter.”
When pointed out how bad his own defensive numbers are, Turner dismissed these out of hand, saying, “Everyone knows defensive numbers are as unreliable as Spring Training numbers. The only number that matters are RBIs.”
Reporters throughout the locker room could be seen shaking their heads in agreement while writing down Turner’s words.
Meanwhile, Lutz was left to shake his head in disbelief.
“It was bad enough when he used his powers on Collins and Alderson. Now he’s even putting reporters under his spell, too. And we all know that once the reporters start backing him that he’s set for life. There’s no one left to say the emperor’s got no clothes.”
Lutz has a lifetime .874 OPS in the minors, including an .899 mark in Triple-A. Turner has a lifetime .815 OPS in the minors, including an .805 mark in Triple-A. Where they’ve had significant ABs at a comparable level, Lutz has been the better player. But because he lacks Turners pie throwing capabilities, he’s simply out of luck.
But Lutz and Bixler will tell you that Turner’s skills go way beyond that. Collins refused to comment about Turner’s hypnotic influence, while Alderson issued a terse, “Ridiculous!” to the charges. Both quickly changed the subject.
No player on the active roster would comment publicly about Turner’s off field magic. Even when offered anonymity, his teammates would nervously look around the room to make sure no one was within ear shot before refusing to answer.
Reporters are left with no recourse except to say:
“Hey, I just met you, And this is crazy, But here’s my number, So call me, maybe?”