Mets fans can strike Joe Girardi off their wish list. News is out that Girardi has taken the offer from the Phillies to be their new manager. It’s easy to understand Girardi’s allure to many. He has a Manager of the Year Award and a World Series title on his resume and a lifetime .554 winning percentage. Additionally, one of his strengths is running a bullpen, something the Mets haven’t seen from their skipper in many a year.
But despite this, it never seemed Girardi was a priority for Brodie Van Wagenen. Sure, he gave him an interview, which is more than he did for Dusty Baker or Buck Showalter, but it seemed more of a courtesy than anything else. We don’t have any idea what happened in the interview or why there wasn’t more interest from the Mets to hire Girardi. All we can do is try for informed speculation. And the best guess is that Girardi wanted more control than Van Wagenen wanted him to have.
We all want to win and we all think we know the best way to accomplish that goal. The problem comes when you become convinced that there’s only one way to win and that you’re the only person on the planet that knows the answer. For me, my preference is to build around pitching and the three-run homer. If you gave me the choice of any manager in history, we’d have 1970 Earl Weaver in the dugout.
But if we had 1982 Whitey Herzog instead, that would be pretty awesome, too. Herzog’s ’82 Cardinals finished last in the league in homers. But they won, anyway. And what’s more important – winning or winning the by the way you deem best?
One of the most frustrating players for me to watch was Ike Davis. My perception of Davis is that he was more interested in doing things his way than doing things that worked. Note the word perception. That’s my view from the TV set. Reality could be a completely different beast. But to support my perception, recall his insistence on swinging at every pitch once the count got to 0-2. Or his refusal to slide on close plays on the basepaths. Or his indifference to fielding balls that he thought were foul. Or his abandoning his stance that helped him to hit 32 HR.
Davis got off to a terrible start in 2012, sporting a .501 OPS after the game on June 5. But Davis and Dave Hudgens put a ton of work in to revamp his swing. The end result was a guy who put up a .906 OPS in the final 103 games of the season. And he did this with a batting stance that could be best described as looking like a bear getting ready to take a dump. It looked ridiculous but the results were tremendous.
Flash forward to 2013. Davis discarded what worked the previous season and had a miserable year. Why he felt the need to abandon what had been so successful drove me insane. Who cares if you look like a goof if you’re putting up All-Star numbers?
My perception of the Mets’ managerial hiring process is that Van Wagenen is pulling a Davis. He’s more interested in doing it his way than doing it a successful way. Was Girardi the slam dunk candidate out there? In a season where Baker, Showalter and Joe Maddon were all available, it’s hard to say that was the case.
But anyone who’s watched the team the last 15 years would tell you that the Mets are giving away games from the dugout. While it’s not realistic to think a manager can make chicken salad from chicken excrement, it is realistic to think how he employs the guys on his roster over a 162-game season can have an impact on a handful of games.
My opinion is that the quartet of Baker, Girardi, Maddon and Showalter would have a positive impact, especially compared to the five managers the Mets have hired since they forced Bobby Valentine out. And my opinion is that any of the guys who ends up with the job is going to be closer to Mickey Callaway than Weaver.
But the way the game is these days is that GMs prefer that their managers take a subservient role. And in a way that makes sense. In what other successful business do you have middle managers have so much influence over how things are run?
However, it’s my belief that things work best in baseball when there’s a creative friction between the manager and the GM. My opinion is that you’ll end up with a better team if you hire a guy who brings something to the table other than being just a “yes man” for the GM. No one has a monopoly on truth and my take is that sometimes the manager has to tell the front office to take a hike when they propose something foolish.
If the GM is telling the manager to pitch Tyler Bashlor in high-leverage situations, the manager should say, “That’s a terrible idea, I’m not doing it.” My guess is that’s exactly how Girardi would operate. My opinion is that’s why he’s managing the Phillies and not the Mets.
No one doubts that Van Wagenen is a very bright guy. The way he conducted the 2019 Draft was an impressive feat. Signing Justin Wilson was a great pickup. The trade for J.D. Davis turned out to be a steal for the Mets. But let’s not pretend that all of his ideas have worked out so well.
Ideally, there’s a system of checks and balances going on among the owners, the GM, the manager and the media. They all have a role to fill and sometimes that role is to say that what we’re doing is wrong and that something needs to change. Whenever one on those four entities listed above has too much power, things get out of whack.
And right now we have owners who are more interested in the bottom line than they are winning and a media that’s much more interested in preserving access than critically judging performance. And you install a “yes man” manager and it’s easy to see a situation where the GM has way too much power and influence.
Maybe the Mets hit a home run with whichever first-time manager that they hire. Hey, Dave Martinez is in the World Series, it’s not impossible. But the Nationals had a $197.2 million Opening Day payroll last year and you heard more about their GM making moves to address their awful bullpen than you did about him making calls to the dugout about when to remove a starting pitcher.
It would be nice if the media was more interested in questioning why the GM is intent on selecting a “yes man” manager rather than angling to be the first outlet to report who’s going to get an interview. It would be nice if the owners decided that they could make more money if they spent (wisely) more money. And it would be nice if the new manager would be more interested in making moves to help the team win, rather than always saying yes to the front office so they could hang around longer and cash more checks.