An Amazin' Mess!: Tony Bernazard Fiasco Exemplifies Mets' Lack of Leadership
The season began on such an upbeat note for the New York Mets.
While most Mets fans were clamoring for the Mets front office to make huge splashes by signing Manny Ramirez and Orlando Hudson, the Mets quietly re-signed their own players in Carlos Delgado and Oliver Perez.
Sure, there were no "big splashes" made like their crosstown rival, but the Mets fixed their biggest glaring weakness by trading for J.J. Putz and signing free agent closer Francisco Rodriguez for much less than anyone thought they could.
There was a great optimism around Queens, just as the Amazin's were opening their beautiful new ballpark. They had arguably the game's best starter in Johan Santana, arguably the game's best closer in Rodriguez, and arguably a lineup that rival the World Champion Phillies for best in the NL.
Then the season started, and soon after, reality began to set in.
Citi Field would prove to be a cavern for Mets hitters, and the numbers proved, it as the Mets put up some of the worst power numbers in the league.
Perez and Putz would both prove ineffective before ending up on the disabled list. The Daniel Murphy experiment in left field would prove to be a disaster.
Finally, the injury bug would bite a whole slew of Mets players, including Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and Delgado, none of whom have yet to return to the lineup.
The Mets would hang around in contention for much of the first half of the season, but the losses would become too great; at the same time, the rival Phillies would begin to play their best baseball of the season. The result would bring the Mets under .500 and as far out of first place as 10 games.
While it's true the on-field Mets have not lived up to expectations, nobody, no matter how much of a fanatic they may be, could expect the Mets to win with a lineup of David Wright and seven part-time players. In fact, it's probably more surprising that the Mets stayed in contention as long as they did.
No, this Amazin' Mess that resides in Queens is not on the field of play. The real mess is behind the scenes of what may be the worst-run professional baseball franchise this side of Washington, DC.
It begins at the top with owner Fred Wilpon and his son, Mets COO Jeff Wilpon. The elder Wilpon began as a one-percent shareholder of the Mets in 1980 and became co-owner with Nelson Doubleday, Jr. in 1986, until Doubleday sold his stake in the club to Wilpon in 2002.
That, my fellow Mets fans, is where this mess begins.
In the seven years since Wilpon became sole owner, the Mets have had four winning seasons, yet are only six games above .500 with a record of 569-563 (not including this season). The Mets have also made the playoffs only once in that span, losing the 2006 NLCS to the St. Louis Cardinals—not to mention those two late-season collapses.
More alarming than the consistent mediocrity is the consistent turnover within Mets management. During those same seven years of Wilpon's tenure as Mets czar, there have been three different general managers and four different managers, as well as highly publicized comments from former personnel about the lack of a chain of command in the organization.
(Remember Art Howe not having control of the locker room because players such as John Franco and Al Leiter had direct contact with front office officials, including the Wilpons?)
Which brings us to today and this fiasco with Tony Bernazard.
Bernazard, who openly lusted over Manny Acta's managerial skills (yes, the same Manny Acta who has never managed a team to even a .500 record), lobbied for the firing of Willie Randolph and Rick Peterson, ripped off his shirt and challenged Mets minor leaguers to a fight, berated his assistant and a scout from another team, and got into a screaming match with Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez.
Bernazard was indeed a cancer within the organization, helping to undermine the authority of his managers and coaches and being an unprofessional representative of the New York Mets—but that alone is not the reason Bernazard should have been fired.
Bernazard was in charge of player development, and quite frankly, the Mets' minor league system is atrocious.
The teams have played terribly, with both the Mets' AAA and AA farm teams in last place with sub-.400 winning percentages. Not to mention the Mets have no prospects with any trade value, other than Jon Niese and Fernando Martinez, with both losing value every day (remember Lastings Milledge?).
For that, and that reason alone, the Tony Bernazard firing is long overdue.
So now with Bernazard gone, and the Mets playing their best baseball in months (even if it is only three games), all of the distractions surrounding the Mets seemed to be behind them.
That is, until yesterday's press conference.
Omar Minaya could have told the press about the firing of Bernazard, feeding the sharks in the water the blood they've been eagerly awaiting, and left it at that. The move would have probably even removed the heat from Minaya's seat—yet like everything else in Queens, it just couldn't be that easy.
Minaya, in a roundabout way, accused NY Daily News reporter Adam Rubin of breaking the story about Bernazard challenging his farm team to a fight in an effort to get Bernazard fired, because Rubin wanted a position in player development.
A confrontation of words between Rubin and Minaya ensued, with Minaya stuttering and stammering for words to defend his statement.
Once again, an embarrassing moment by a Mets front office official.
The tabloids of New York were plastered with stories about the press conference yesterday. Sports talk radio in the New York area was ablaze with calls about Minaya's unprofessional behavior. Many television and radio personalities, as well as sportswriters who will surely be at odds with Minaya for the rest of his tenure in New York, have speculated that the comments could lead to Minaya's demise as Mets GM.
So even while the play on the field has gotten better, the Mets have still managed to be an embarrassment.
Even more disappointing, Mets fans are used to it.
Unfortunately, this has been the norm in Queens, and until the team is handled differently and a chain of command is not only put into place, but also strictly enforced, this will stay the norm in Queens.
Change needs to start from the top down, and it needs to start now.
I never thought I'd say this, but where's Hal Steinbrenner when you need him?
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