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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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It's 3 A.M. — Do You Know Where Your Manager Is?

Good lord it’s tiring being a Mets fan. Is this supposed to be work? And if it is, do we get mental health insurance?

Staying up to watch the Mets play (and lose) West Coast games feels like the least of it. The Mets have been out west so often this year somebody should check to make sure Walter O’Malley’s not behind it. But the late hour is appropriate considering it got late awfully early around here this year, to say nothing of yesterday morning.

What really sums up June 17, 2008, the day Willie Randolph was fired shabbily if deservedly, was not Omar Minaya’s public relations nightmare of a press conference, a method of damage control so revolutionary that it would have to be labeled damage expansion.

It was not the drumbeat of criticism from every unfriendly corner of the media, the kind of flak I used to feel compelled to counter but now could only nod along with. Joel Sherman thinks we suck? Michael Kay says we’re bush league? Bill Madden declares we’re hopeless? In other seasons, for other causes, I’d rile up and defend the faith. Not yesterday. The Mets do suck. The Mets are bush league. The Mets have no hope. Pile on, fellas, pile on. We deserve it.

It wasn’t the substance of the dismissal of Willie Randolph, whose record for more than a year speaks…I mean spoke for itself.

It wasn’t even the midnight ride of the press release.

What really sums up June 17, 2008 for me was the point in the afternoon when it occurred to me the kind of enterprise to which I’ve given myself over and how I didn’t want to associate myself with it any longer; how I wasn’t able to put the two and two together that normally adds up to overwhelming concern for its good fortune as if it is my own; how I couldn’t care less whether the Mets would win Tuesday night or Wednesday night or any night.

I was in that zone I’ve been in rarely, the spot where I decide baseball doesn’t matter, the Mets don’t matter. All the tickets I’ve accumulated for the rest of this season, including a pair for the last baseball game scheduled to be played at Shea Stadium? I didn’t want to use them. I didn’t want to spend another minute or another dime on loyalty to its tenant. It would be appropriate if last Saturday turned out to be the last game I ever attended at Shea. It was a rainout. It wasn’t even a game. It was just all wet. Perfect.

This wasn’t a gesture of solidarity with Willie Randolph. This was a safety valve going off somewhere inside. The pressure had to drain. It happened after the five-game losing streak that ended ’98. It happened after the seven-game losing streak that almost ended ’99. It happened after 9/11 when baseball was just a game in a world that had suddenly gotten very serious. I came running home to the Mets after all those “that’s it, I can’t do this anymore” moments, of course. And yesterday I figured I’d do it again eventually because I always had, but as of June 17, 2008, I didn’t know when.

Certainly I had no idea I’d do it so soon.

I did it last night. I did it after Omar spoke, after Omar embarrassed himself, embarrassed ownership (which deserves more embarrassment than even an Omar Minaya press conference can provide), embarrassed the concept of communications, embarrassed his former manager, embarrassed logic, embarrassed Mets fans everywhere. I did it after Omar Minaya offered gems about how Shea’s executive suites leak like a Shea men’s room; about how Willie Randolph was, in his mind, a de facto affirmative action hire; about how 3 A.M. Eastern time, which is what it read on most of his customers’ clocks when Jay Horwitz hit send, is just a matter of perception; about how making Randolph fly hither and yon as prelude and postscript to his absolutely inevitable dismissal wasn’t careless and inane at best, thoughtless and inept at worst; about how he makes all the big decisions on his own, such as when to pay off a rather large managerial contract to someone not to manage this year and next, as if the Wilpons say, sure, go ahead, it’s only money. I’d say any press conference that begins with the words, “As you know from our press release,” when the press release represented all that was screwed up about the process everybody was gathered to ask about, is not destined to be remembered as an effective one.

It was after that that I decided I could continue on as a Mets fan. That’s because I heard Jerry Manuel speak. And I fell in love with Jerry Manuel.

I’ve got a Manuel-crush on this guy.

Maybe I was so low I could be picked up by anything positive, but damn if Manuel didn’t have me at hello, or at least when he said, no, the Mets shouldn’t be obsessed with putting their collapse behind them, that it should have been front and center in their thinking, that if he had been manager, he would have made sure they couldn’t pretend to forget it ever happened.

Here on the Angel Stadium podium, I thought, is not a politician like Omar and Willie and Fred and Jeff. This is a baseball man. This is someone not entangled in all the silly string that defines internal Mets politics. This is someone who says, yeah, it’s great for a new manager to say we’re going to run a lot more because it makes you look good but he isn’t necessarily going to commit to that because the game situation will dictate his strategy. This is someone who says his starters are going to be counted on for seven, eight innings per start. This is someone who says New York fans deserve better. This is someone, I concluded during our brief introduction, who gets us, gets us and it far more than Willie Randolph ever did. I think we always mistook Willie’s familiarity with the market for a comfort level that didn’t exist. Willie’s default mode was generally uptight and defensive and a bit snippy, particularly when questioned about what’s wrong with the Mets. How dare you question Willie Randolph? He’s been a winner all his life!

Jerry Manuel of Hahira, Georgia seems at this moment a way better fit for New York than Willie Randolph of Brooklyn or Omar Minaya of Queens. Enough propaganda about how great it is to have hometown kids grow up to run the Mets. The locally rooted imported stars who made a big deal about being from around here — Leiter, Franco, Bonilla, Viola — all acted as if they knew something that outlanders couldn’t possibly understand and they all eventually got under our skin. I don’t care where you’re from, just get us where we need to go without making us feel so used.

The Mets remind me of a large, ravenous media company I used to work for. They bought up lots of smaller companies where things were a lot simpler. That company, the big one, was great at telling you your business even though your business had never been theirs until a minute ago. That company would shove motivational slogans down your throat. Now and then that company would send somebody around with a clipboard to tell you you were being moved to a new and smaller workspace — that you were being “restacked,” that you were no more than a file to them.

Except when I worked for that company, the tradeoff was I got paid, so I, like a lot of muttering malcontents, put up with it. But those of us who had been bought up knew our own business, our own publications and industries and the soul that informed them. That large, ravenous company never would. Last I heard, it had sold off most of what it bought up in the previous decade. It hadn’t a clue as to how the stuff it acquired actually worked.

That’s the Mets to me lately. The Mets are always telling us what’s good for us, what we like, what kind of fans we need to be. We will love Omar Minaya and Willie Randolph because they’re New York feelgood stories. We must be made of lead to not be taken with them, just as we must be uncooperative to not fall for “Sweet Caroline” or any other forced group singalong, just as we should be anxious to pony up for $28 t-shirts and $15 parking, just as we should be grateful for the car dealers who pull down what should be our sacred countdown numbers, just as we must be reminded again and again and again to, Everybody, Clap Your Hands…even when our closer has just extended a game that should have been over by now, even when we are in no mood to clap anything for anybody.

Somehow Jerry Manuel, a quiet witness to all of this nonsense, struck me as the antidote to Omarcalypse Now, someone removed from the fray and fresh for the fight. Jerry Manuel is not them. Jerry Manuel is us, even if he’s not a kid from Corona or Brownsville. Jerry Manuel talks directly and warmly and unpatronizingly, at least for one night he did. Jerry Manuel doesn’t let David Wright play himself into the ground even if that’s what David Wright wants. Under Jerry Manuel, David Wright DHes for a night. Jerry Manuel doesn’t let Jose Reyes sprint himself into injury even if that’s what Jose Reyes wants. Under Jerry Manuel, Jose Reyes throws a snit but hears about it — and he sits and he apologizes within three innings of an inexcusable, immature tantrum.

It may come slowly. It may not come at all. Santana went but six. The lineup out there Tuesday night was only scary if you were counting on it. The defense was too frightening for yet another late, late show. But I was rooting for the whole mess as if I had never paused to consider stopping. I was rooting for Jerry Manuel’s New York Mets. I was, more than I have in too long, truly rooting for my New York Mets.

12 comments to It's 3 A.M. — Do You Know Where Your Manager Is?

  • Anonymous

    Amidst a veritable frenzy of Willie postmortems, monographs from suddenly moralistic columnists, and an epic 24-hour media ejaculation under the auspices of “Mets: In Transition,” I can say, as a longtime FaFiF reader but first-time commenter, without any trepidation: this is the best and truest piece to come from all this. Thanks, Greg, as always, for cutting so eloquently to the very heart of the matter.

  • Anonymous

    Right on Greg! You've nailed it again.

  • Anonymous

    Nail on the head, Greg. I've got some Manuel love myself all of a sudden. Let's hope the players do, too. Somehow, after the debacle of the last day, I'm back to giving a hoot, ready to have my heart broken again. Damn these Mets and their magical allure …

  • Anonymous

    I saved F&F for my last morning read, and this is why. But if you really like Manuel, you want the Mets to fail early and fail often.
    There are problems here that managers can't fix. There's a house that needs cleaning. A slate that needs a damn good Windexing, or a dose of that Formula 410 that the world isn't ready for. Players that need exiling. A GM and assistant GM that need showing the door – and thankfully they're next. You can't fire the players… but you can fire the guy who brought them in.
    So root hard and root fast for the same misery we've seen for the previous year plus. Clap your hands for their lack of hustle and passion. Clutch it all to your bosom and tell it you love it. And feel good within your heart that a decent guy like Manuel won't end up with his name stamped all over this mess.

  • Anonymous

    Very well stated. While Jerry's maturity, soul and sense of humor hardly guarantee a turnaround by this team, here is a guy that we can at least like and respect, who is comfortable with himself, who has obviously grown through pain, has a broader view of life, and who made an absolutely profound metaphysical observation, and decision, that you can not simply pretend that last September did not happen, but rather must acknowledge that it did, look it square in the eye, and work through it. In retrospect, it may have been Willie's biggest mistake to try and convince himslef, his players and the fans that they could simply wish away what happened last year, Psychotherapy 101.

  • Anonymous

    jerry manuel affords me the opportunity to watch this team lose in complete peace. at least for now.

  • Anonymous

    Have to disagree with you Greg about the way it was handled.
    At first my reaction was one of anger and embarrasement just like
    most everyone else, but after hearing Omar's press conference and follow-up interview with Mike
    and the Dawg, I took a time-out to get my own thoughts together, playing
    devil's advocate and trying to see things from the GM's perspective. My
    feelings are that maybe we rushed to judgement on the way the whole
    thing was handled.
    It seems Omar was hoping the team would straighten out and was giving
    Willie every opportunity to get the club going again. Maybe this was
    poor judgement on his part, but it doesn't make him a villian – just a person whose
    best intentions (by trying to avoid the innevitable) actually hurt Willie by keeping him
    hanging on.
    It was not the equivalent of firing somebody on Christmas Eve. Omar was
    upfront with Willie before boarding the plane to Los Angeles of Anaheim;
    he told him the situation would reach closure during this road trip.
    The media circus was getting too much out of hand over the weekend which
    forced his decision Sunday night, but he wanted to give himself a
    night's sleep to see if he had second thoughts about letting Willie go;
    It is usual procedure to fire a manager either before he suits up or
    after he leaves the ballpark and though he could have told Willie this
    morning (instead of 3:10 AM EST) he was well aware that sources within
    the organization have been leaking things to the media and he didn't
    want Willie to hear anything beforehand (he also had to be sure all the
    new coaches, etc. were available so due to logistics the afternoon was
    out);
    When Omar started talking about Willie being the first African American
    manager in New York and he the first New York Hispanic GM, my first
    reaction was indeed, the organization is using race and ethnicity slant
    as a P.R. stunt to make them look like good guys. However, I can see he
    was not trying to blow horns for management but wanted to add a personal
    note on how this had created a special, personal bond between them,
    making it even harder for him to let Willie go.
    So maybe he just waited too long but he did not intentionally wait until Williie
    boarded a plane for Anaheim and make an annoucement atfer 3:00 AM New
    York time. There's no logic other than he doesn't trust his own people to
    keep things confidential.
    That's the most important thing I'm getting out of all of this; there are those within the Met organization who undermine Omar's ability to be the G.M. How else would the players and Sports Illustrated know so much inside information? I'm wondering if these people are doing it on orders through the Wilpons? If stooges for ownership, would Omar want to continue working under such circumstances? If not, and these “sources” are found out, look for more axes within the front office.

  • Anonymous

    What was the count on Omar's utterance of “okay” durin the press conference?? (at least he ditched “youknowwhatI'msayin” for the august occasion). . . the face of the Mets front office communicates on the level of a 14-year old valley girl . . . I guess that's not one of the skill sets that Fredo looks for in a GM . . . Jerry Manuel is indeed a breath of fresh air, but he can't help a franchise whose management/ownership structure is rotten with dysfunction to the core . . . we are entering another long dark night in Mets history unless Selig pulls a Rozelle and forces Fredo & Little Jeffy to hire a competent general manager with true autonomy

  • Anonymous

    Something even more pleasant about Jerry Manuel is I'm fairly certain he's been thrown out of more games as a Met coach than Willie has as a manager. I could be wrong. Does baseball-reference tally that stuff?
    Another huge plus is the opportunity for 55,000 people to make like a Springer show and chant, “jer-RY! jer-RY! jer-RY!”
    Of course, if he's the kind of guy who eventually makes brutal Howe-esque managerial decisions, I could see Philadelphia starting the same chant when they get their opportunity.

  • Anonymous

    i found minaya's press conference so punk that i didn't have the heart to listen to manuel's comments. if anyone can post a link to them, i'd be much obliged.
    while that first inning last night has got to be among the worst openings an interim manager has ever faced, i did love the fact that manuel apparently dressed reyes down in the corridor behind the dugout, or in the locker room. the sny guys were pointedly drawing attention to that.

  • Anonymous

    Remember gang, we still have a time to win some ball games..2 out of 3 this weekend gets us back to .500..How's that for optimism.
    Bottom line- it's just too soon for me to quit on them..
    Orange and blue forever!!!!