We should all be able to introduce ourselves amid resounding employer-generated fanfare when changing careers the way Brodie Van Wagenen did as he left superagenting and shifted into hopefully super general managing. We should all have the kind of top shelf opportunity available to us when we tire of succeeding in our previous career.
If Van Wagenen is pretty good let alone super as Mets GM, it won’t seem weird that this is what he’s doing or that he’s doing it for us. If Van Wagenen is miscast in his new role, the results will transcend the weirdness. For now, it’s still weird. If we’d heard of Van Wagenen prior to his appointment as general manager, it was as somebody trying to put the lucre in lucrative for his baseball-playing clients, negotiating on behalf of individual Mets and prospective Mets with the Mets organization. Now he personifies the Mets organization and we will perceive him as we perceived Sandy Alderson, Omar Minaya and all their predecessors. Many contribute to the construction of a baseball team. We focus on one man. Sandy’s gotta make a move. Omar’s gotta go. What on earth is everybody from George Weiss to Jim Duquette thinking?
What all those fellas had in common was they had been GMs for somebody else, or assistant GMs for the Mets, or some kind of executive within the infrastructure that pieces together a baseball team. Van Wagenen has been in baseball, but organization-adjacent. Think about those medical salespeople you see flitting in and out of doctor’s offices while you wait to be called into the examining room. Now think about that slickly coiffed salesperson suddenly greeting you on the inside, telling you to turn and cough.
Not a perfect analogy. There is none. It is weird. Yet it doesn’t strike me as unreasonable that the guy who brings the latest in high-end baseball personnel to the reception window of a baseball organization has framed himself for that organization as the latest in must-have material. I’ve sold you on pitchers. I’ve sold you on hitters. Now for something completely different, let me sell you on me…
It apparently worked on the Wilpons like Lyle Lanley’s promise of municipal makeover via monorail worked on Springfield. Brodie Van Wagenen sold himself to the Mets. The weirdness will take care of itself one way or another. I hope it takes care of itself with parades on top of pennants. I have no idea if it will, but that would be the optimal outcome of the Van Wagenen wager. The Mets are betting on articulateness, connectedness and intelligence piling high and deep enough to cover any gaps in job-specific experience.
There’s something to be said for articulateness, connectedness and intelligence. There are many current, former and deputy general managers out there. Most of them guide or have guided baseball teams that haven’t won championships. Thirty organizations, one championship per year…that leaves behind a lot of coulda-beens and wanna-bes not to mention used-to-bes. There’s only so much ultimate winning to go around, no matter how hard you try to cultivate it. There are, no doubt, many fine front offices dotting the baseball landscape, yet the only one anybody’s writing odes to this week belongs to the Red Sox. Last year it was the Astros who could do no wrong; the year before that, the Cubs. Reach any further back, and you’re no longer winning. You won. Past tense.
I’m capable of taking a certain degree of comfort in what has been won whenever it was won. Sandy Alderson’s tenure as general manager may or may not have been splendid on the whole, but 2015 sated me where his track record is concerned. Getting to that World Series recontextualized the miserable seasons he oversaw as growing pains. Whatever came after, as in 2017 and 2018…hey, lay off Sandy, he got us to the World Series! Still, we ended the Alderson Era bogged down in misery. I’m aware 2015 occurred. I will always appreciate 2015 (and 2016). But I know the approach of 2019 puts ever greater distance between the resounding victories from then and the lesser circumstances defining now.
Did Alderson and the operations he helmed until late June leave us in a worse place than we were in when Alderson succeeded Omar Minaya in the autumn of 2010? It’s hard to say. The 2015 World Series really did include the New York Mets. So did the 2016 postseason. They were great years. Alas, the tickets that admitted us to those festive falls won’t scan anymore. Everything’s been on the fritz since Conor Gillaspie took Jeurys Familia distressingly deep. Something completely different might very well be the order of the day.
Upon his introduction, as he attempted to transition from weird choice to impressive as hell, Van Wagenen invoked the c-word: culture. The man who has never run a baseball organization stressed that what this one needs most, besides an injection of him, is a changed culture. “A winning culture.” “A culture of positivity.” So much culture that Free Yogurt Friday will henceforth anchor the promotional schedule. Mickey Callaway emphasized culture when he was hired to manage in 2017. Boy George didn’t talk up culture as much as fresh Met management does — and he was in Culture Club. I guess it’s not much of a selling point to come into a troubled situation and declare an intention to relentlessly stay the course. In Van Wagenen’s case, I wonder if he was pointedly interpreting the whispers of his erstwhile Met clients that Brodie, dude, everything here is really effed up; or if he found himself practically tripping over sluggards and layabouts in the hallways when he returned for a second interview; or if he was just slinging the usual BS that gets slung at how-do-ya-do press conferences.
I honestly don’t know what “culture” means in the context of building a baseball team that consistently wins far more often than it loses, perhaps because I’ve had so little recent experience closely following a baseball team that does that. I don’t remember a word about the Mets’ awesome culture in 2015. I mostly remember Alderson trading for Van Wagenen’s client Yoenis Cespedes. A far more winning and positive culture developed once we stopped depending on Eric Campbell and John Mayberry, Jr., for RBIs. There was probably some pretty decent culture clicking on all cylinders for a while to catapult us from crummy when Alderson got here to the World Series once Alderson put down roots. The warranty on the gears must have lapsed later.
Engineer all the culture you can, Brodie. Or get lucky and reverse-engineer the story after the fact. I don’t really care how the Mets get better as long as the Mets get markedly better fairly soon and don’t fall apart shortly thereafter. Win like the presently irreproachable Red Sox did by getting good, then staying good, then escalating to magnificent. Or win like the Astros or Cubs did, by giving into temporary grimness in the name of eventual greatness. Or do whatever the Royals did, besides beating the Mets. Bulk up the analytics. Use an abacus. Meaningfully increase the payroll. Spend sparingly but wisely. Collaborate so everybody’s core competencies are activated, actualized and optimized — ask the usher who jealously guards field level seats during rain delays for his theories on defensive positioning; he’s pretty good at keeping anybody from advancing. Or puzzle it out all by yourself while you’re stuck on the LIE and give yourself a bonus and title bump for every World Series captured.
There were other more traditional candidates for GM. Even the relatively unorthodox candidates were run of the mill compared to Van Wagenen. It’s no longer about who wasn’t picked, though. It’s not even about the fellow who was. We’ll trust in Brodie because we have to. We trusted in Sandy. We trusted in Omar. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it will work again.
Sometimes it won’t. Mets Fan Culture hasn’t yet fully suspended reality-based rooting. Cynicism, skepticism, pessimism and fatalism have become as formidable a rotation for us as deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler and Matz (along with Vargas, who is capable of blending in with either quartet). Two years when most everything went wrong will explain hesitation to all out embrace the uncertain like it’s a sure thing. Plus six years when little went right prior to the sunny interregnum of 2015 and ’16. Plus not winning The Big One for nearly a third-of-a-century. Plus, until and unless proven otherwise, the owners who hired the new GM. General managers enter and exit. Somehow the culture keeps requiring transformation. Go figure.
Better yet, go Mets. “I want to give Mets fans hope,” BVW said by way of LGM in a tidy Twitter video. “I want to create optimism. I want to change the narrative that this franchise doesn’t succeed. I want them to believe we’re going to succeed now and every year to come.” I’m not hip to how Brodie’s negotiations usually proceed, but I’ll make a proposition to him: we’ll believe a little now, you succeed a little soon and we’ll both do our best to ramp up exponentially from there.
Do we have a deal?