- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Yet Another Sterling Example

The only surprise, one supposes, is it didn’t happen at three in the morning [1].

No, this time [2] it was around 3:45 in the afternoon, televising the execution live on their own network. They planned to off Tony Bernazard. Instead they shot themselves in the foot — a foot that must be made of titanium.

They shot off their original feet long ago.

They did it again [3], didn’t they? And when you think of the Mets doing it again, the initial inference you make is never “you mean they won another ballgame in exciting fashion?”

Yet somewhere in there Monday, they did that, too [4]. It was indeed exciting, almost thrilling, the way several Mets players built a little rally in the eighth inning, setting the stage for a big blast by a nice man who hasn’t given them much in 2009. Fernando Tatis had become synonymous with double play. Now you can reclassify him under clutch grand slam, one that beat the Rockies, one that closed the Mets’ remotely plausible deficit for the Wild Card to 6½ games. They’re still behind seven teams, they’re still teetering on the brink of contention extinction [5], they’ve still got quite a hole out of which to dig themselves before we can say they have redeemed what has been, up to now, a lost season.

Spending a few hours at Citi Field watching the Mets beat Colorado 7-3 was a lovely distraction from the way the Mets braintrust conducted itself Monday. But it’s not supposed to work that way. The baseball players and the baseball games are supposed to be the focus of our attention. If we know who any of these people in suits (or out of their shirts) are, it’s because we bought the yearbook and didn’t flip straight past those first few pages with their pictures. Men like Omar Minaya and Tony Bernazard shouldn’t be our concern. Even in this hyperattentive age when those holding their job titles will inevitably step into the spotlight’s glare, we don’t much care about them as a rule. Make a good trade, sign the right free agent, don’t screw up the draft is about the extent of our interest in the Executive Vice President & General Manager or the Vice President, Player Development.

As much attention as I pay to the Mets, I wasn’t much more than mordantly amused [6] by the Bernazard escapades at first.

• He yelled at someone [7] who worked for him because someone was sitting in his seat? Tacky, but all kinds of idiots get in positions where in they can abuse their underlings and it unfortunately happens. I didn’t know if it was news, but it was certainly bad form.

• He challenged minor leaguers to bare-chested brawls [8]? Sounded unseemly, but what do I know about jocks and motivational tactics? Not textbook management, to be sure, but if it somehow worked, it would seem old-school charming in its way.

• The thing I read Sunday, however, by Adam Rubin (now the world’s most famous baseball beat reporter, if in fact he is still a baseball beat reporter), really bothered me. It was the “bus driver story,” which you can read here [9]; the essence is Tony Bernazard was rude, crude and a world-class jerk to a clubhouse guy on another team for no reason other than he could be. This was not his “deputy,” nor was it a group of Binghamton Mets technically under his jurisdiction. This was the Lakewood BlueClaws’ Clubhouse guy— someone Big Shirtless Ton’ judged not worthy of an answer to the innocent question, “Can I help you?”

About then, I was asking myself, “What is the net benefit of keeping Tony Bernazard?” I hadn’t noticed a cascade of prospects landing at Shea Stadium or heading toward Citi Field on Bernazard’s watch. From a cold, hard self-interest perspective, was Tony Bernazard some kind of baseball wizard whose outbursts were worth indulging as idiosyncrasies because he was going to make my team better? Even if he was (and you can form your own judgment from some evidence presented here [10]), I became less and less interested in divining Tony Bernazard’s magic or acumen or whatever it was that made the Mets value him. Perhaps if the Mets were more successful these sorts of stories wouldn’t seem so damning. Then again, stories like these probably give a pretty good hint as to why the Mets aren’t all that successful.

Personal conclusion: I didn’t want him associated with my team. I felt dirty knowing the team I love was employing somebody reported and corroborated as behaving this badly.

Yet I didn’t feel nearly as dirty rooting for a team that gave Tony Bernazard major responsibility as I did when they got around to firing him.

I’ve always looked for the silver lining [11] with Omar Minaya. I’ve disagreed with many of his decisions and have thought, particularly since the Willie Randolph firing, that he is the wrong man to face a camera or a microphone under duress. But I bought into the idea that he turned the Mets around. He signed Pedro. He signed the first Carlos. He eventually got the second Carlos and then Billy Wagner and then Paul Lo Duca. He didn’t trade David Wright or Jose Reyes, something I’m convinced Steve Phillips would have done. Just for not being Steve Phillips I liked Omar. I liked Omar’s biography, the Queens roots, the experience with the Mets when they were winning in ’99 and ’00, the good college try he gave it with the Expos. We had turned pathetic under Phillips and Jim Duquette seemed overmatched. I bought into Omar.

When I buy in, I buy in for the long term. I cut slack if you’ve given me some reason to recall why I wanted you around in the first place. On some level, I’m still grateful to Fred Wilpon for being part of the ownership group that rescued my team from the deterioration of the de Roulet era. Sterling Equities [12] has probably done more harm than good to the franchise since taking over completely early in this decade, but I keep thinking about what it was like before Fred Wilpon (and Nelson Doubleday) arrived in 1980 and can’t let that residual gratitude evaporate altogether. Same for Omar. Omar arrived in October 2004 and things got better. Things peaked in October 2006 because, I believe, Omar made many good moves. Since then he’s made many bad moves, but I want to believe that the man who rescued us from the abyss is still the man in charge, that’s he a competent executive and a decent person and that he’s capable of returning us to where it seemed we were headed.

I no longer believe that.

Omar Minaya has surpassed the realm of clumsy statements and questionable deals. He has revealed himself — to borrow a phrase that would make the Dodgercentric chairman and chief executive of the New York Mets officer tingle with joy — a bum. He has crafted an inept baseball apparatus, entrusted authority to a lowlife in Bernazard and then, when all else failed, blamed somebody else for his problems.

He blamed the media. It’s what politicians do. Vice presidents [13] and would-be vice presidents [14] have been doing it for ages, and what is Executive Vice President Omar Minaya if not the most lugubrious of politicians at this point? He was the guy who tried to spin two consecutive final-week, final-day choke jobs as strong second-place finishes. About the only thing he did with grace the last two years was not drop the oversized novelty checks as he handed out ginormous contracts to Johan Santana and Francisco Rodriguez.

So now Tony Bernazard (internal investigative findings notwithstanding) is Adam Rubin’s fault. Adam Rubin, if you keep up with what beat writers produce, is the class of the Mets press corps. This is not a latter-day Dick Young [15] or a peer in any tangible way of Wally Matthews [16]. This is not someone who publicly pushes a personal agenda. This is a reporter who does his legwork and presents the facts he’s found in a straightforward manner. If he learned a top Mets executive was making an ass of himself, Rubin looked into it. When he found there was something to it, he published it.

There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s what the media does. It pursues stories. It pursues stories that make you happy if the circumstances add up to “good” news, and it pursues stories that will inevitably constitute “bad” news. For six years I’ve read Adam Rubin. I’ve never once thought, “This is a guy who’s out to get somebody.”

When Omar Minaya flat-out accused Adam Rubin of writing stories about Tony Bernazard’s antics as a way to clear space on the Mets’ payroll for Adam Rubin to succeed him as VP of player development, Omar Minaya crossed to the dark side. Dark and dim. It was, as Rubin put it uncomfortably in the aftermath of the press conference that I hope we Mets fans can look back on someday as Omar Minaya’s richly deserved Waterloo, deplorable [17].

It was deplorable because it was a shot at someone for doing his job. Adam Rubin works for the Daily News, not the New York Mets.

It was deplorable because it defames someone who, reading him regularly indicates, is a good reporter with an excellent track record when it comes to his beat.

It was deplorable because the Mets don’t get how much good they derive from those pesky reporters informing the ticket-buying public of their every move, flattering or not.

It was deplorable because it makes no sense that Rubin — if we are to believe he was after Bernazard’s job — would seek it by writing for mass consumption one article after another that put his theoretical prospective employer in a bad light.

It was deplorable because it revealed that the Mets have zero sense of media relations or public relations savvy. Does anyone prepare Omar Minaya for these press availabilities?

And maybe it was deplorable because someone did prepare him.

I can’t quite get past the use of one word in particular Omar repeated several times…and no, it wasn’t “investigate”. It was “lobby”. As transcribed by Amazin’ Avenue [18], Omar lobbed his grenade as thus:

Adam, for the past couple of years, has lobb[ied] for a player development position. He has lobb[ied] myself, he has lobb[ied] Tony.

Lobbied. (Or “lobby” as Omar pronounced it in the past tense.) It struck me as a strange choice of phrasing. It could mean nothing — maybe he walks around the office saying “lobby” or “lobbied” all the time — but it didn’t sound like a natural word for Omar Minaya to toss around in conversation. There was even the slightest pause before he spit it out the first time.

What it sounded like was a talking point, the kind politicians use ad infinitum on talking head shows; the kind that is intended to spread virally so it will become woven into the discussion, a discussion you wish framed on your terms; the kind consultants drill into their clients [19] for maximum impact in the hopes that if it is repeated enough, it will begin to sink in as fact.

If Omar Minaya says “Adam Rubin has asked how you get a job in baseball [20],” it doesn’t sound particularly nefarious. If Omar Minaya says “Adam Rubin has lobbied…” that’s a whole lot more proactive and opens up the question of a reporter’s motive beyond trying to nail down a story. Now suddenly Adam Rubin isn’t some innocent byline in the News. Adam Rubin is an underhanded sneak who dared to gasp…lobby! the Mets for Tony Bernazard’s job.

As much as it appears Omar went off the reservation in attacking Rubin, his fondness for “lobby” hints, to me anyway, that there might have been more here: that, even with Jeff Wilpon materializing [21] Monday night to tut-tut the notion that Adam Rubin did anything wrong, somebody worked with Minaya not just on a clean, legalese statement about Bernazard but on the most effective way to malign Rubin.

What I’m thinking is this was a coordinated effort to “get” a reporter who wrote things that made the Mets uncomfortable. If my inkling is anything close to right, then I feel even dirtier being a Mets fan now than I did after I heard the accusations in the first place.

Minaya later said he shouldn’t have chosen this “forum” to say what he did about Rubin. Well, no, you shouldn’t have — unless you thought you could get away with it, which you clearly didn’t. If a conflict of interest is what truly distressed the general manager, there were ways to approach it. You talk to Rubin. You talk to Rubin’s editor. You whisper in a competitor’s ear that “you know, there’s a reason Adam’s all over this alleged story.” You sure as hell don’t step on your own Tony Bernazard damage control press conference and turn it into an attack on Adam Rubin’s character.

That’s not baseball. That’s not media relations. That’s politics at its worst. And that’s, per the way this organization runs itself continually into the ground, incredibly deplorable.

Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, is available from Amazon [22], Barnes & Noble [23] or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook [24].