Even Before Injuries, Mets Lack of a Go-To Guy a Problem
Every great team has either one or more players that are considered team leaders. It may be a veteran or a younger member of the squad, a position player or even a pitcher. This is the guy that takes the blame when things are going wrong, passes around the credit when the team is playing well and steps up in the big moments.
The Yankees dynasty in the late 1990s had basically an entire roster that fit that description. Even reserves on the end of the bench like Jose Vizcaino and Luis Sojo drove in the game-winning runs in Games 1 and 5, respectively, of the 2000 World Series. The two veteran back-up infielders made the most of their opportunities, something that the current era of the Mets has seriously lacked.
Come to think of it, the last three guys that come to mind that filled this role in Flushing were Robin Ventura, Al Leiter and John Franco - all long gone. The three were members of the last pennant winning Mets club, the one that lost to the aforementioned Yankees nine years ago this October.
The transition period from the Bobby Valentine-led perennial playoff team to 2006 is not worth mentioning. Art Howe may have been a nice guy but his days spent in the manager's office are best forgotten.
Three years ago, Willie Randolph had the Mets in prime position to make it to the World Series. Even with a manager with that was not universally liked throughout the clubhouse and media and no recognizable team leader, the Flushing Faithful were still a Yadier Molina home run from celebrating another trip to the Fall Classic.
In 2007, the Mets were cruising until their September collapse. Randolph did not do anything to shake things up even as the losses were piling up and their margin of error grew slimmer. Not one of the 25 men (plus minor league call-ups) on the roster took it upon himself to get in another's face when head hanging became a constant post-game ritual. "Tomorrow's another day," and "We're still in it mathematically" are statements for losers and excuse-seekers, not someone who is going to stop the bleeding.
Randolph was fired after the Mets did not get off to a hot start and his replacement, Jerry Manuel, was even more laid back and quiet than his predecessor. What the team needed was a swift kick in the pants but instead got tucked in and read a bedtime story.
Duplicating their disaster exactly one year later, Manuel was even more even-keeled than Randolph as the wheels came off. Where was the sense of urgency? Even more of a reason for the need of a clubhouse leader is when your manager is out of touch with reality, but no one took the reigns.
Carlos Delgado, a veteran who turned his season around after a bleak start, did nothing. The two young infielders, David Wright and Jose Reyes, chose not to take charge even though the seat was wide open. Carlos Beltran? The $100-million centerfielder may be considered a top player but is not considered clutch. If the Mets do not win a ring during his stay here, Beltran's legacy may be going down with the bat on his shoulder against the Cardinals in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS.
Manuel received a two-year extension for the same reason that got Randolph fired. General manager Omar Minaya erred in that aspect and also by not shaking things up. He brought back the core of the same team that did the unthinkable two consecutive seasons.
This season, the Mets may have the excuse of a litany of injuries but it was not as if one of the players now on the disabled list was stepping up as a team spokesman. Never known as a fundamentally sound bunch under Randolph, the Mets have become a joke with Manuel at the helm. Base running mistakes and errors (physical and mental) have become a nightly occurrence.
"That's part of the game," said hitting coach Howard Johnson. "Everybody goes through their ups and downs. We've had a few games where we haven't [run the bases well]. Those things we have to correct."
Johnson, who was one of the leaders on the Mets teams of the early 1990s, must know down deep what really needs to be corrected and the other things will follow suit.