Bronx, N.Y., Nov. 11, 2001 — I can’t get the image out of my head. Hungering for baseball news already, tucked somewhere into the sports page among the pro and college football, pro and college basketball, NHL hockey, even early Olympics mentions, I came across an article articulating the difficulties facing the front office of the New York Mets. As anyone who has ever taken a course that was graded on a curve well knows, the worse things get for the competition, the better they are for you. And really all New York baseball fans have a love/hate thing going with the local teams anyway: I love the Yankees — the reader can fill in the blanks on my feelings about the Mets.
The Mets are pretty high profile, they are (finally) spending some money on their team, and they have a fan base a little dubious of the circumstances that had them start the 2001 season without an A-Rod, a JuanGone, a Manny, a Sheffield; with an offense-averse outfield; with infield corners with their best years behind them. So, the article continued, although most of the smart money is behind a Piazza move to first, with the lack of a high-profile catcher free agent and some big name availability at other positions, they may go after a big name at first, like “Jason Giambi or Tino Martinez.”
Huh? Tino a Met? No way!
It’s not like we haven’t been here before. The Mets started their existence with the PR coup of the decade by hiring Casey Stengel as their first manager. They went to the well again when the Yanks fired Yogi after he didn’t win the Series as manager in ’64, and Yogi, IMHO, ruined a pristine Yankee career as player/coach in Flushing (two singles in nine at bats — how sad!). Yogi would manage the Mets to a pennant in ’73 and be fired from there in ’75, and the reverse move was almost disastrous as Yogi held a grudge for 10 years after the Yankees, this time in the guise of George Steinbrenner, fired him in ’85.
Roger Maris in St. Louis was painless, as was Nettles in San Diego and Reggie on the West Coast, but Ellie Howard playing 113 games as a Red Sox? (And David Cone’s 2001 winning streak in red and blue was stress-filled too.) Willie Randolph, who briefly had the honor of being Yankee “Captain” after Thurman’s death, was not only in effect traded to the hated Dodgers, he played 90 games in Flushing too. (And btw, who’s to say that the throwing “yips” a certain LA second sacker brought with him don’t still haunt the position, Alfonso be spared!)
So Hot Stove time is here. Luis and Paulie, it would appear, will move on and not haunt us on future playing fields. And it’s easy to forget that Wohlers was even here (and his presence on a rival team might be more grist for celebration anyway). Chuck is leaving, and even tight-lipped Joe has mentioned Scotty’s impending departure. Ironically Tino’s great year has made his presence simultaneously more desirable and less likely.
We’re all GMs. We all have unlimited budgets, and are dealing with 29 (or 27?) rival front offices that can’t match our ability to judge baseball talent and potential. But let’s not forget, just this once, that favorite Yankees we do send away or allow to leave will end up on other teams. It will rankle. It is a factor.