Remembering former Mets manager Bamberger

Much has been made about Terry Collins and his “fiery” demeanor.  It’s a marked change from his predecessor, Jerry Manuel, and a departure from what the Mets usually have for a skipper.  In fact, who is the last Mets manager who would be described this way?  Perhaps Dallas Green.  Let’s run down the recent Mets managers and come up with one word to describe them.

Manuel – flaccid
Willie Randolph – paranoid
Art Howe – dull
Bobby Valentine – egomaniac
Green –dinosaur
Jeff Torborg – clueless
Mike Cubbage – Was he around long enough to get even one word?
Bud Harrelson – frightened
Davey Johnson – winner
Frank Howard – tall
George Bamberger – disinterested

All of the previous descriptions make sense one way or another for a major league manager, but disinterested seems like one of the last words one would use to describe a man hired to manage a team in New York.  Where was Sandy Alderson’s due diligence when Bamberger was hired?

Bamberger took control of the Mets for the 1982 season and it was a celebrated hire at the time.  He did not have much of a major league career, but Bamberger hung around the minors long enough to win 213 games and he had plenty of success after he retired from the game.

He made his major league debut with the New York Giants in 1951 and appeared in seven games in ‘51-‘52 with the team he grew up rooting for as a kid on Staten Island.  Bamberger ended his major league career in 1959 with the Orioles and stayed in the organization as a coach.

Bamberger became famous as the pitching coach for the Orioles, a job he held from ’68-’77.  In that span, he coached 18 20-game winners, including the famous 1971 staff which featured four pitchers to notch 20 wins (Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson).  The Orioles advanced to three World Series during Bamberger’s tenure.

The Brewers picked Bamberger as their manager for the 1978 season.  In the previous year, Milwaukee posted a 67-95 record.  In their first season under Bamberger, the Brewers had a 93-69 record, which topped the previous franchise-best mark of 76 wins.  Bamberger was selected The Sporting News Manager of the Year for his work in his rookie season of calling the shots.

It was more of the same in 1979, as the Brewers won 95 games.  However, things got derailed the following season, when Bamberger underwent a quintuple bypass surgery. He resigned during the season, fully expecting that his career in baseball was over.

However, Mets general manager Frank Cashen remembered Bamberger fondly from their days with the Orioles and reached out to his friend to return to the field.  Bamberger was hesitant, but a reported $250,000 contract gave him all of the reasons he needed to return.  Plus, the Mets held Spring Training near his Florida home and Bamberger still had relatives living on Staten Island, so it seemed like a good fit for him.

The Mets seemed to be on the rise after suffering years of dreadful baseball following the trade of Tom Seaver in mid-1977.  They were invigorated by a brief run at the second half National League East crown, which was the solution to how to handle the loss of six-plus weeks of the 1981 season due to the strike.

Additionally, the Mets brought in a state-of-the-art scoreboard for the 1982 season.  And the club was thrilled with the addition of George Foster from the Reds.  Foster was coming off a season with a 150 OPS+ and was seen as an offensive cornerstone.  The tandem of Foster and Dave Kingman was going to give the Mets one of the most-feared offenses in the NL.

Yet the pitching still left a lot to be desired, which made the Bamberger hiring all the more impressive.

However, even a magician could not produce chicken salad from the 1982 versions of Pete Falcone, Charlie Puleo, Craig Swan, Mike Scott and Randy Jones.

To Bamberger’s credit, the 1982 Mets got off to a decent start.  They were 10-10 in April and after a strong May in which they went 17-10, they were just 3.5 games behind the division-leading Cardinals at the start of the day on June 1st.

But it fell apart in spectacular fashion from there on out.  The Mets played .333 ball over the final 114 games of the season, including a 5-24 August which was worse than any month turned in by the 1962 Mets and among the worst in team history, even if not quite as bad as the 4-25 July posted by the 1963 squad.

The 1982 Mets were an extremely disappointing squad in most every fashion.  Somehow Craig Swan went 11-7 and posted a 3.35 ERA but the pitching staff was a disaster.  Nine pitchers made at least five starts for the club, and every single one of those also pitched out of the bullpen, even Swan made 16 relief appearances, as Bamberger constantly tinkered with the rotation.

The Mets finished 11th in the 12-team NL in ERA but even that performance was better than what the hitters turned in that season.  The Mets finished tied for last with an 84 OPS+.  While Kingman led the league with 37 homers, Foster was a colossal disappointment, as he batted just .247 with 13 HR and 70 RBIs in 151 games.

Remarkably, Bamberger returned for the 1983 season, but resigned after the club opened the season 16-30 and lost nine of their last 10 games.  He famously said about his resignation, “I probably suffered enough.”

One of the many reasons for the Mets’ poor start in ’83 was Bamberger’s decision at second base.  In ’82, a 22-year-old Wally Backman came up and posted a .387 OBP in 96 games.  Yet Backman started just three games before being sent to the minors in mid-May.  In his place, Bamberger started Brian Giles, who posted a .308 OBP and a .298 SLG.

Bamberger finished his Mets career with an 81-127 record.  His .389 winning percentage was even worse than Joe Torre’s .405 mark in 706 games.

The highlights of Bamberger’s regime are few and far between.  He elevated Jesse Orosco to closer and taught Carlos Diaz his famed “Staten Island sinker.”  Diaz was later the main part that fetched the Mets Sid Fernandez.

He was also the first Mets manager to write Darryl Strawberry’s name into the lineup, but that was due much more to circumstance than anything else, as the Mets promoted Strawberry more as a PR move than any maneuvering by Bamberger to get him on the squad.

When Bamberger arrived on the scene, he quickly established rules to make the Mets more professional.  One of the criticisms of Torre was that he did not run a tight ship and Bamberger was brought on to restore order.  Among other things, he invoked policies that eliminated dogs and kids from the clubhouse and required players to wear jackets and ties.

None of that helped the Mets play better baseball. Hopefully when Collins brings his professional approach to the Mets, he will get better results than Bamberger did.