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Dispatches from the Bubble

Top Mets brass has descended on Miami [1] for the final series of the year. It’s a shame minority owner Bill Maher [2] isn’t among the traveling party. One of Maher’s recurring features on his HBO program, Real Time, is “Dispatches From the Bubble,” wherein some politician is spotlighted asserting fact-like talking points that are pretty clearly at odds with reality. Maher’s aim is to show these people are living inside a bubble impenetrable to challenging thought or compelling evidence.

Which brings us to the Mets’ decision to retain their coaching staff whole for 2013 [3], a nonmove that might be looked at, broadly speaking, two ways.

1) It could be seen as a vote of confidence not just in the abilities of Dan Warthen, Ricky Bones, Bob Geren, Dave Hudgens, Tom Goodwin and Tim Teufel, but as an indicator that they, under the direction of Terry Collins, are charged with implementing a very precise system of Mets baseball that will transcend the composition of the roster at any given instant. As the Mets continue to promote young players from within, their development will hinge on hearing a consistent organizational voice at the major league level, and these coaches have been determined to be the best delivery vehicle possible for the Met message.

2) It could be seen as easier than repainting the names on the parking spaces.

The trajectory of the 2012 Mets went from giddily good — 31-23; to slogging along — 15-16, albeit with the wins dramatic enough to keep you from noticing they were outnumbered by the losses; to miserable tailspin — 27-48 since July 8, including Monday night’s grim abandonment of pitching, hitting and baserunning fundamentals [4] (the Marlins were no picnic to watch, either, but in the end, they had Giancarlo Stanton and we didn’t). In other words, the 2012 Mets were never that great, despite what Collins keeps telling us, and they’ve been far from decent for a very long time. So why, one is left to wonder, is it imperative to keep in place this set of men who instructed and inspired these Mets to no heights?

I suppose that’s a rhetorical question, because the essence of Collins’s answer — that they work hard and it’s not their fault — sheds no light. I imagine to him, hunkered down with these fellows as he is from day to day, they seem perfectly suited to their tasks. Maybe everybody in the Mets organization knows everybody else is giving it his best and everybody is swell and, besides, from the vantage point of the bubble, this is really a pretty good team that just hit a little rough patch three months ago.

After all, weren’t they eight games over .500 for one day?

Here’s Collins’s explanation for every coach coming back — or, more accurately, why no coach is being reassigned:

“You can get carried away by blaming coaches for a lot of stuff that happens. If you didn’t see a work ethic, I can understand coaching changes. If there were issues that some guys had, I could see that. I was around these guys every single day, and there hasn’t been a day go by where they haven’t tried to stay positive. They haven’t thrown their arms up in the air and said, ‘Well, we can’t help this guy.’ That’s never been an issue.”

One wishes to assume everybody who dons a Mets uniform gives it his all and that the organization isn’t so shocked by seeing full-out effort that it equates basic trying with brilliant succeeding. (Jason Bay always busts it down the line, too.) As for fault, no, I won’t necessarily blame Ramon Ramirez on Warthen or Bones; or Angel Torres on Goodwin; or the various parts of Josh Thole, Mike Nickeas and Kelly Shoppach that don’t function on Geren and Hudgens. No greater fount of wisdom than R.A. Dickey insisted, “Our poor season hasn’t been because of them. Believe me.”

But if the coaches are credited when things work out (Collins lauded their “development backgrounds”), is there any accountability when they don’t? Is there a net-net analysis done to determine if each coach is doing more good than harm? Or that perhaps there are other coaches who could do what the Met coaches do, but better? Is anybody deemed responsible if the bullpen implodes year after year or are the pitching coaches just around to take bows when a starter goes seven innings a few times? When a patient hitting approach yields runs in the first half of a season, is that more telling than when the same approach has perhaps too many oh-and-one holes being dug in the second half? When a coach takes a young player aside to explain how he just erred and what he needs to do to correct his mistake, is the coach to be rewarded for being diligent? Or is the coach to be deemed as ineffectual when the same player does the same stupid thing a week later?

This is still rhetorical because I really don’t know. Year after year when I was a kid, I could count on Rube Walker and Joe Pignatano remaining pitching and bullpen coach, respectively, even when the managers changed, regardless of what the starters and relievers were doing in a given season. It never occurred to me that Eddie Yost, third base coach for eight years, had anything to do with whether the Mets won or lost. I just knew Eddie Yost was always in the third base coach’s box when the game began because Lindsey Nelson would confirm it. I didn’t quite know exactly what difference coaches made then and I don’t know now. I’ve asked from time to time and I’ve watched each of them, true to Collins’s word, hustle all over the field during BP, but I still don’t know.

I do know I don’t like to see people lose their jobs if they don’t truly deserve to, and cosmetic changes don’t really cover up what’s wrong with a bigger picture. Yet in an endeavor where there they literally keep score, and where the score was run up big-time on the Mets for yet another season, it’s just weird that nobody on the management side of the field is judged accountable. Everybody works hard, nothing is anybody’s fault.

The Mets are doing great in the bubble. It’s in the standings where they have their problems.