A week or two back, my friend Lyndsey, a die-hard Mets fan, posted on my Facebook wall. She asked, when will the Mets fire Jerry Manuel?
I told her that I wasn’t sure and that I’d likely be writing on this sometime in the coming weeks.
That time has come. The Mets should fire Manuel now.
Before I go on, allow me to say that this was an easy conclusion to arrive at but not an easy one about which to write. I don’t take lightly the matter of calling for one’s job. I am, by my own admission, in the nascent stages of what I hope will be a prosperous career in sportswriting, but it takes some crust to pen the call-for-a-firing piece, because if it’s not well supported, you’re just another blood-thirsty hack.
Forgive me for a moment while I go all Sports Guy on you and invoke a Clint Eastwood line from The Unforgiven: “It’s a hell of a thing killing a man. Take away all he’s got, all he’s ever going to have.” (This, by the way, somehow became the mantra of my brother, Drew, for a period of his life, to the extent that my sister, Julie, and I eternalized it as children, even though I’m pretty sure neither of us has even seen the movie.)
But the point is, it is a hell of a thing calling for a man’s job.
Now that my conscience is clear, back to the matter at hand: Manuel’s gotta go. One could make a compelling argument that he could or should have been canned at any number of junctures during his two-plus years as manager, and one could certainly argue that he wasn’t a good candidate for the job in the first place. All of that, though, is moot, and managers are easy scapegoats for poorly constructed teams, which, in fairness, Manuel has undoubtedly presided over throughout his tenure. With their +13 run differential through Thursday’s game, the Mets would have been a .500-ish team with John McGraw on the bench.
Counterintuitive as it may seem, now is the time to axe Manuel because he wants to win. Winning should not be a priority for an out-of-contention team in late August. The priority now must be to look toward the future. Manuel’s future, by all accounts, is a pink slip this offseason. So, why should he care about sending down Fernando Martinez or starting Rod Barajas over Josh Thole, or starting Luis Castillo over Ruben Tejada?
On Wednesday, Manuel told WFAN that he still thinks the Mets can be in the playoff picture with a hot streak. Now, I don’t expect him to say, “we suck,” but I also don’t doubt that he’ll manage the team like it’s a playoff contender until elimination arrives. By that time, F-Mart will have lost more at-bats to Jeff Francoeur, Thole to Barajas. Ugh.
On Thursday, Manuel was questioned about the decision to start Barajas and his +77 career OPS over a promising, still-developing prospect in Thole.
“The case is to win games and put what you think is the best team out there,” Manuel said.
Now, Thole caught 14 innings on Wednesday. Had Manuel said, “Josh needs a breather,” I could have lived with it. But he didn’t. He implied that the lineup is better with Barajas. This has the doubly harmful effect of hurting the team now (which isn’t such a big deal) and hindering Thole’s development (which is a big deal). Either way, it’s an epic logic fail.
Whether this bizarre, unnecessary, and ultimately damaging shift in organizational philosophy (remember the homegrown-players movement of two Sundays ago when the Mets seemingly put up the white flag?) comes from up top is a matter of debate, although it stands to reason both the front office and Manuel would prefer to operate under the delusional pretense that the playoffs are still within reach. For Manuel’s part, it’s forgivable; why wouldn’t a lame-duck manager want to collect as many wins as possible to save his job?
For the front office, however, it’s especially foolish. Though the Wilpons have long vexed Mets fans with the assertion that Meaningful September Baseball™ is the organization’s goal, they’d be better served this season to fire Manuel and cast an eye toward 2011, for the sake of both developing young players and appeasing a despondent fan base. And since the standings won’t allow for it, the Mets could actually be a draw in September if they took the bold step of replacing Manuel with Wally Backman, knight-in-shining-armor du jour.
The fans are clamoring for the fiery former Met to lead the team because, if nothing else, he’ll be entertaining in ways the laid-back Gangsta and buttoned-up Willie Randolph simply weren’t. But practically speaking, Backman is also supposedly sharp with developing young players. So, why not give him the season’s final 40 games? “Here you go, Back. So long as you don’t screw it up, you’ll be considered for the gig on a permanent basis during the offseason search.”
Even if the Mets choose not to tab Backman, they need to realize that their best interest and Manuel’s no longer jibe, and the Gangsta needs to take his tired act elsewhere. It is a hell of a thing killing a man, but what if he’s already a dead man walking?