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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.

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The Last Days of Jerry Manuel

[T]he ending always comes at last
Endings always come too fast
They come too fast
But they pass too slow…
— Jimmy Webb

The Mets began this baseball season by playing the Florida Marlins. They suffered their first loss while playing the Florida Marlins. They absorbed their first serious body blow when they were swept by the Florida Marlins. They kick-started their best stretch of baseball by sweeping the Florida Marlins. Then they started drifting aimlessly out to sea while playing the Florida Marlins in Florida Marlin home games far from Florida. Wednesday night, they finished playing the Florida Marlins.

And they never stopped losing to the Florida Marlins.

I think it’s fair to say if I never see Gaby Sanchez, Dan Uggla, Mike Stanton or any of the Florida Marlins again, it will be too soon, though the Mets’ first game of 2011 will be against the Florida Marlins, and, by then, I’ll be carping that I can’t wait to see the Mets play anybody — even the godforsaken Florida Marlins.

The final Met loss of the penultimate season at Soilmaster Stadium, on what was technically the last night there was summer, would have been a memorable train wreck had anybody any reason to keep an eye on the tracks. This was the kind of game — fall way behind immediately; scratch and claw enough to make you believe redemption is getting loose in the on-deck circle; find a way to fall cruelly and viciously short at the end — you fume about for ages if it means anything in the standings or if it’s the middle of May or if you’re 15 years old and haven’t yet fully learned what the Mets will do to you if you watch them too often and too closely. As was, in as meaningless a context as the Mets are capable of providing them, it was still pretty bad.

Seriously, this is what I think of every time they show Niese in profile.

Jon Niese, pictured at left, got knocked silly in the first inning. Well, he knocked himself silly by walking three Marlins en route to digging the five-run hole from which my momma done tol’ me the Mets were never going to emerge. Overall, Niese has been a feelgood story for the 2010 Mets, but it feels now like he ought to take a seat as soon as possible. The kid from Defiance has defied the odds to a great extent this season, logging 165.1 innings to date, far more than we could have counted on coming off last year’s gruesome leg injury. It was to his credit that after the five-run first he bore down and was mostly effective until he left in the bottom of the sixth. But it would probably be to his detriment to ask much more out of him and his not-quite 24-year-old left arm.

Hopefully his final two starts — his because on the attrition-addled, Ollie-saddled Mets of September 2010, nobody else is available to take them — won’t represent some kind of workload tipping point per his long-term well-being. Maybe worrying about another dozen or so innings is unnecessary fretting, but he hasn’t been particularly effective in a month, and there’s more to Jon Niese’s Met future than the Brewers on Tuesday and the Nationals on the final Sunday.

There’s almost certainly nothing left to the Met future of Jerry Manuel beyond October 3 except one final press briefing in which he sheepishly grins, shakes his head and says something you’d laugh along with if you found anything about the team he leaves behind amusing. Of course he won’t be back next year. It’s an open secret, which nonetheless doesn’t make it polite to speak about in decibels above a whisper when Jerry’s in the room.

A few weeks ago Wally Backman seemed to be openly coveting Jerry’s job when he answered some questions for the Post. Last Sunday, Mike “Talk to the Back” Pelfrey couldn’t resist speculating what it might be like playing for Joe Torre if Joe Torre was managing the Mets. And Torre himself briefly let it be known he wouldn’t be averse to considering such an opportunity before “closing the door” on it when informed he appeared gauche being so openly amenable to taking another man’s job.

The last big game Jerry Manuel managed was, not surprisingly, against the Florida Marlins, two years ago next week. The Mets didn’t win that one either, though it’s tough to pin it on Jerry’s managing. Consensus had it Manuel came into a tough situation midway through 2008 and made the best of it, leading the club through a 40-19 revival at one point and guiding also-runners to almost-winners. When his status was shifted from interim to permanent, it was a popular choice.

Everything since then has gone horribly wrong under Manuel. He earned the shot in 2009 through what he had done to get to the end of 2008 in contending shape (I still have no idea how we led the Phillies as late as we did). He earned a chance at redemption in 2010 because 2009 didn’t seem a fair reflection of his skills in the wake of all his players’ injuries. 2010 is clearly the end of the line. He hasn’t motivated the Mets, he hasn’t strategized the Mets out of their continual malaise, he couldn’t slow the Mets’ post-Puerto Rico tumble from making its inevitable downhill descent.

On merit, Jerry Manuel doesn’t deserve to return. But he does deserve to go out as one of thirty major league managers — the kind who isn’t talked about or talked to as if he already isn’t there. I won’t feel bad when somebody else is managing the New York Mets (unless it’s Art Howe again), but I do feel bad that Manuel can’t get to the finish line without his dismissal being cavalierly treated as a foregone conclusion. When Willie Randolph’s managerial tenure was on the clock and Gary Carter publicly leapt at the chance to not just throw him under the bus but to back the bus up over his still employed body, it was a cringeworthy incident. There’s a code that says you don’t do that. It’s fine for the rest of us to grease the skids, as we’re just watching from a distance, but when you’re in a profession, it’s simply bad form to join a conga line intent on kicking a colleague to the curb.

“I don’t know” is a good all-purpose answer to give for the record when somebody asks about replacing a manager who’s already in office if you’re either a prospective replacement or one of the players who’s still being managed by that guy. And if you’re a person talking to that guy, take it easy on him. You can hear it in the voices of the Mets’ beat reporters when they question Manuel about almost anything, with the implication embedded in every inquiry about next year being you’re not going to be here but…

Every Wednesday, Jerry Manuel is paid to sit on the phone and chat with Mike Francesa (because who would voluntarily want to talk to him?). Francesa doesn’t need much prodding to come off as obnoxious and self-important, but yesterday he was amazingly matter-of-fact in his patronizing tone, referring to the Mets in the third-person plural to Jerry, as if he was talking about a team already skippered by somebody besides the person on the other end of the line. At one point, Manuel got very terse and asked, in essence, is it OK if I still use “we” here?

At that moment, even Mike Francesa sounded as if he felt shame. And if you can shame Mike Francesa, you must have some marketable skill, even if managing the Mets in 2011 isn’t it.

14 comments to The Last Days of Jerry Manuel

  • Jon

    I’ve begun to think of Jerry in some ways as Art Howe, condemned to manage out the string but stoic and dignified amid their failures. Jerry brought the team a jolt it needed in ’08 and though I appreciated what he was trying to accomplish, his strategies IMO were mostly wrong, never took, and in many ways made tough seasons worse. I wish him the best in his retirement.

    In retrospect (though not to toot my own horn I also said it then) the housecleaning we’re about to get should have occurred after ’08.

  • Eric B.

    Sadly, I’m one of those fans who almost never roots for a housecleaning (2000’s era Knicks notwithstanding)…I tend to just fool myself into thinking/hoping things will get better. Obviously, I’d advocate for a second baseman who can hit a little—and one more quality starter–and a new manager and general manager. But I’m already thinking about a healthy Jose Reyes, Jason Bay, Santana, and Carlos Beltran (looking better) as “all the improvement we need”–since young players like Davis, Thole, Niese, and even Pagan are “bound to improve.” Our starting pitching “looks pretty good” (Dickey, Niese, Santana, Pelfrey) with one more top or second tier starter, etc.

    I’d actually be disappointed if they gave up and dealt everybody… There’s something wrong with me.

  • Florida Met Fan Rich

    Why in the heck cant we EVER beat the Marlins?….0fer in Florida for the year!

    They suck just as bad as we do! You would figure we could win one game by accident!

    Luckily nobody was there to see the game last night.

    Less than 5 months to Spring Training is the only good thing left to talk about!

  • metsadhd

    Greg
    I am sorry but I must respectfully diasagree with you completely.
    Jerry if he had an ounce of self-respect shoul have resigned the end of July.
    He cannot motivate this team in any aspect.
    Like a Japanese manager, he should blame himself and resign with dignity.
    he knows he is never going to get a second chance so he is suffering in the name of the continued paycheck.
    if he is a money grubber like the Wilpons, he has to accept the pain that goes along with him.
    Just like talking to a hospice patient about the next year, if Jerry chooses to be in denial, why do the rest of us have to buy into it?
    Jerry is incompetent this year, time to say nay shout Sayanora.
    die die dieanu

  • 5w30

    RE: Niese profile …
    I’m picking up my baby bumblebee, Won’t my mommy be so proud of me, I’m picking up my baby bumblebee ….

  • Patrick O'Hern

    I always find myself wanting the Mets manager fired and then feeling sorry for him.(exception Dallas Green) Anybody else think that a crappy win against a crappy team in a crappy season should not be a Mets classic game on SNY? Especially in thy same crappy season.

    • A six-run eighth and a tumbling catch into the dugout is close enough to classic. It will look immensely better than nothing once the season is over, and you can’t say that about much from 2010.

  • Charlie

    Ya know, if Davey Lopes were to be suddenly offered a managerial position elsewhere or otherwise kicked upstairs, I wouldn’t be at all displeased to see Jerry M. come to work under Charlie M.. He’s always impressed me as a class act and I wouldn’t hold his former employers OR his former employees against him.

    That said, Los Mets can go ahead and lay down and DIE this weekend so the Phils can clinch at home (seeing as you couldn’t take at least ONE lousy game against the Braves last week). Make yourselves useful as well as ornamental, as my dear dead Dad would say.

    P.S. I truly LOVE this site’s 30 minute edit window; a sign of class & intelligence that far more blogs/websites should employ.

  • metsadhd

    Is Megdal in the mix for a job?

  • MetsLand

    If you don’t like Mike Francesa and complain about him all of the time, why do you listen to him?

  • Andee

    I often wonder, had the tables been turned and Jerry Manuel was the Yankees’ manager from 1996 onward and got all those ringzzz, and Joe Torre was the Mets’ manager from 2001 onward and didn’t, if people would now be genuflecting in front of Manuel rather than Torre. So many times managers get credit (or demerit) for roster construction they had little to do with.

    And really, there’s not a whole lot of difference in their managerial strategies, at all; it’s just that Jerry has more of a taste for sarcasm in public, which some people don’t care for (but which most of his players don’t seem to mind, unless they suck, in which case we don’t want them around anyway). And it would truly be difficult to meet the Lead Standard for Mets managers set by Dallas Green, who shredded his young phenoms’ arms and then had the temerity to question their manhood to the press when they broke down.

    It also amuses me that when it comes to a Jerry replacement, fans who have a strong opinion about it seem to break down into three categories.

    One group wants a guy who’s a total pussycat, who’d never utter a cross word about any of his players in public, not even if they knocked over a pierogi stand run by Bosnian refugees and deliberately ran over a box full of cocker spaniel puppies with their getaway car on the way out. (For some reason, many of these same fans also seem to want Bobby Valentine back, which makes me wonder just how old they were in 1997.)

    The second group wants a fiery, kick-ass, turn-over-the-buffet table kind of guy, who’s likely only to be pointed and laughed at by veteran players who could buy and sell that manager 8000 times. (Billy Martin never had to deal with a bunch of scrub infielders and relief pitchers who were already set up for life.)

    And the third group wants some impossible two-headed hybrid of both. Good luck to ‘em.

    Me, I can’t get too excited either way. Because what I’ve observed is that changing managers makes a difference to a team…until the day it doesn’t.

    • Amen. If you isolated certain moments in time — Davey in May 1990, Bobby in August and September 2002, Dallas in the second half of 1995 — you’d see managers we remember as geniuses or hopeless a-holes were perceived otherwise when things were going aberrationally poorly or well.

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