Without a single game being played, or even a free agent signing or trade being made, Mets fans are happy with Sandy Alderson as the team’s new general manager. There are many reasons for this. The easiest thing to do is point to his record, as he was responsible for building the late 1980s Oakland A’s clubs that went to three straight World Series.
We can also point to his belief in numbers and advanced statistical measurements. It is comforting knowing that we are going from a GM who said, “Give me talent and I’ll give you on-base percentage,” to one who knows why OBP is actually important and that there are things to pay attention to besides Wins and RBIs.
But to me, the biggest thing is the feeling that an adult is now in charge. With Alderson the prevailing belief is that things are going to be done because they are the right things to do. Decisions won’t be made because they are easy or popular or have a one in a million shot of working out.
And that is why I am not worried about who the next manager of the Mets is going to be.
The easy and popular thing to do would be to hire Wally Backman. Most fans clamor for Backman to get the job and the former second baseman even has ownership on his side. Alderson interviewed Backman and was impressed enough to advance him to the next round.
With another GM, the concern might be that Backman is advancing due to popularity. But with Alderson, the man with Harvard Law smarts and Marine toughness, the impression is that Backman has advanced solely on merit.
I have no idea if Backman would be a good manager for the 2011 Mets. Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla played under Backman in the minors and has nothing but good things to say about him. Backman impressed the Diamondbacks enough for them to make him their manager, before details of non-baseball matters derailed his career. And this year in the low minors, Backman went 51-24.
Those are all things in support of Backman’s candidacy. But do any of them really matter? The main question is: Who is the best manager for the 2011 Mets? Who is the guy who can move the team forward, back over .500 and towards contention for the playoffs?
Can Backman motivate his players?
Can he handle the media?
Can he tell established veterans that their role has changed?
Can he find five capable starting pitchers?
Can he run a bullpen?
Can he construct a productive bench?
Can he take orders from Alderson yet retain control of the clubhouse?
It seems to me that these, and a 100 other questions, are more pertinent to Backman’s candidacy than if he lights up a room or has a fiery personality or is a link to the club’s 1986 World Series team.
You hear a lot about Backman’s fiery personality and how it would be a benefit to the current Mets. After sitting through Jerry Manuel, Willie Randolph and Art Howe, it’s easy to understand why fans and the mainstream media want someone with a fiery personality. After three straight guys who could be described as “bland,” fiery might be a move in the right direction.
But labels like that do not concern me. Like with the general manager in Alderson, I want the manager to be an adult. I want the manager to be someone who does what’s right for the franchise, not for himself.
Actually, I think I would prefer the manager to be more of the strong silent type. I would prefer a manger from the Walter Alston mold, rather than the Billy Martin one. Yes, Martin was brilliant in his own, flawed way. But his success was never sustained. Alston managed 23 years, each on a one-year contract.
Alston did not say much, but there was never a doubt who was in charge. My favorite Alston story was one day the players were riding on an old bus and complaining about the poor mode of transportation. Alston told the players to shut up. He added that if anyone wanted to complain, they could step off the bus and the two of them could settle it man-to-man.
Now, this is not Martin picking a fight with a non-aggressive player. This is Alston, showing everyone who was in control of the situation. Nobody took him up on the offer.
Some liken Joe Torre to Alston and perhaps, ego aside, there is some truth to that comparison. But ideally the next manager lasts the entire tenure (and more) of Alderson’s four-year contract. Is Torre, at age 70, a long-range answer? Probably not.
Actually, I do not have a favorite for the Mets’ next manager. But I have faith that Alderson will make the right choice. I expect the adult to make an adult choice, one that’s in the best interest of the New York Mets.
And if that ends up being Wally Backman, that’s great.
Ultimately, I am happy to let the process work itself through, convinced that the Mets will have a competent manager. Because with adults in charge, I am convinced that the next manager won’t carry a bench comprised of catchers and second basemen, nor will he think that Gary Matthews Jr. is a better option than Angel Pagan or that a player who was 0-5 with a 4.47 ERA in Double-A needed to be a major league reliever or helm a team that’s among the leaders in sacrifice hits.
Much like the pitchman in the Viagra commercials, the Mets have entered the age of knowing how to get things done. We saw this with the hiring of Alderson, followed by hiring of well-respected assistants in J.P. Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta. I expect the manager to be a similar good hire.
Cue Howlin’ Wolf and “Smokestack Lightning” and get ready to go upstairs to the room with the light on.