We’re getting nearer the trade deadline right now and this is one of the two seasons during which MLB General Managers are judged – the other being the annual Winter Meetings. This is a crucial time for just about every franchise every year. Much like an NFL team drafting a quarterback, decisions made now could either brighten your franchise’s future or set you back three years. Nine times out of ten, your record will determine your actions. Are you 12 games out of first and 10.5 out of the Wild Card? You’re a seller. Are you in the thick of the chase? You’re probably a buyer, depending on market size and budget. Do you have a crop of free agents leaving you at the end of the year? You’d probably be selling, unless, again, you have a shot at the brass ring.
So GMs are the focus right now. The Mets have had 12, and when you’re dealing with a 55 year old concern, the results will definitely be mixed. The Mets are no exception. George Weiss was their first de facto General Manager, though his official title was President. He had built the dynastic Yankee teams of 1949 – 1964, though he “retired” from the Bronx after the 1960 World Series. The ownership of the fledgling Mets felt him the perfect steward for the franchise’s fitful start. In co-ordination with the odious Board Chairman M. Donald Grant, Weiss created the bumbling, stumbling early Mets out of whole cloth. Yes, he was responsible for Marvelous Marv Throneberry, Elio Chacon and Cho Choo Coleman, but he also laid the foundation for future success by signing youngsters like Cleon Jones, Ed Kranepool, Bud Harrelson and Paul Blair.
In 1966, Weiss retired for real and was replaced by Bing Devine. Devine had been the GM of the St. Louis Cardinals, but was cashiered after the 1964 season amid some front office intrigue involving owner Gussie Busch and, of all people, Branch Rickey. Devine had a proven track record, having built the St. Louis world champs of ’64. He came over to New York as Weiss’s deputy. He was an instrumental cog in the acquisition of the franchise’s most important player, Tom Seaver and engineered a bunch of shrewd moves which left the Mets poised for success. He left the job after only one season – he and his family missed St. Louis and he was welcomed back into the Cardinals’ fold. Once he was gone, Chairman Grant had enough of independent-thinking GMs and decided he put his own stamp on the team, once and for all.
As Devine’s replacement, Grant installed former relief pitcher Johnny Murphy at the post. Murphy got a lot of credit for guiding the Mets to their Miracle, but he was mainly ineffectual, winning the World Series with Weiss & Devine’s players. His main contribution was bringing in the final piece to the puzzle – Donn Clendenon – at the trade deadline in ’69. After the World Series, Murphy succumbed to a heart attack and passed away before the New Year. Another Grant toady, former catcher and manager Bob Scheffing was installed in the chair. Scheffing’s tenure could be classified as “up-and-down.” In his time, he traded away Amos Otis and Nolan Ryan, but also acquired Felix Millan, George Stone and Rusty Staub, all three key components of the 1973 NL Pennant winners. Scheffing decided to retire after the 1974 season and was replaced by long-time farm director Joe McDonald. McDonald’s tenure was marred by Grant’s interference. On Grant’s say-so, he engineered deals that sent away Tug McGraw, Staub and Seaver. He also presided over a farm system that found itself bereft of any real talent to replace these departed stars, Lee Mazzilli being the notable exception.
After the sale of the team to Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon, the days of the cow-towing GM were over. The new owners brought in a professional – a real GM, if you will. Frank Cashen had presided over the Baltimore Orioles successes from 1966 through 1977. He would receive minimal interference from upstairs and was free to build the team as he saw fit. We all know how that one turned out: after a slow-build from 1980 to ’83, the Mets staged their longest consistent run of success to this day. From 1984 through 1990, the Mets averaged 95 wins a year, won a World Series and an NL East title. If today’s post-season format had been in place then, we’d be talking about the Mets’ dynastic run as a perennial playoff team. Cashen retired after the 1991 season and was replaced by his top lieutenant, Al Harazin. This was one of the few huge mistakes of the era. Harazin’s expertise was in the area of contracts and salary negotiations. Player and talent evaluation was not his strong suit. He oversaw the disastrous early-‘90s Mets, the Worst Team Money Could Buy in the parlance of the day. Bobby Bonilla, Eddie Murray, Vince Coleman… you know the litany.
After two years he was replaced by another Cashen man, Joe McIlvaine. McIlvaine was as ineffectual as Harazin, but for a different reason. His first love was scouting and he was constantly out on the road, looking at young players. According to many, he was never in the office, much to the consternation of the owners. When he wasn’t able to right the ship after four seasons, he was replaced by Steve Phillips. Phillips had been a player in the Mets’ system, eventually rising to the post of Farm Director after his playing days were done. He did a more than creditable job, building the teams that would reach the NLCS in 1999 and World Series in 2000, picking up a fella named Mike Piazza along the way. Phillips was relieved of his duties when the successes of those two years couldn’t be sustained and turmoil swirled around the team. His deputy, Jim Duquette took over. Duquette’s tenure was brief, only one season. His notable move was the trade of Scott Kazmir to Tampa Bay for Victor Zambrano. After that one, it was no surprise he was let go.
One of Phillips’s former assistants, Omar Minaya replaced Duquette. With an open checkbook Minaya built the Met teams that got to Game Seven on the 2006 NLCS and had division leads late in both 2007 and 2008. His penchant for throwing money at the team’s problems and fighting the previous year’s war was what did in his tenure, the last straw being the horrible Jason Bay signing.
All of which brings us to the incumbent. Sandy Alderson runs the show now, has been since 2011, and his track record speaks for itself. The Mets are stumbling now, once again unable to build on a two years in the playoffs. Alderson has proclaimed a “reset,” rather than a “rebuild,” so it will be interesting to see how the next few weeks play out.
Let’s all watch GM Season.
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