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Designated Survivor

“I promoted from within. Promoting from within is very big in my family.”
—C.J. Cregg, The West Wing

Once upon a time, some team that wasn’t the Mets did something that got the commissioner’s attention, and ultimately the Mets benefited. Maybe it’s déjà vu all over again 54 years later.

Summoning the greatest fortune-laden precedent in Mets lore — William Eckert spiking the Braves’ contract with USC pitcher Tom Seaver in 1966, leading to a hat [1] and the word “Mets” being picked out of it — may be a glass overflowing interpretation of what’s going on now, but let’s dream big. Let’s dream that the dark cloud out of Houston that deprived us of Carlos Beltran’s managerial services encompasses a silver lining that was under the Mets’ nose the whole time. Let’s dream that we’ve scratched off a lottery ticket that reveals three Alous [2] and wins us the kind of jackpot Tom Hallion’s ass would envy.

Let’s dream that Luis Rojas, the second 22nd manager in New York Mets history, is the best-case scenario to emerge from a bad scene [3]. Rojas, we learned Wednesday, is a dotted “j” from being announced as next man to take the reins [4] in the Met dugout, reins that had been barely gripped by his designated predecessor.

Step right up and meet Luis Rojas, 38 years old and sporting the same major league managerial record held by Beltran and, for that matter, every major league manager entrusted with his first top job. I know of him more or less what you know of him. He’s part of the Alou family (Moises’s brother; Felipe’s son; Jesus’s and Matty’s nephew; and, because genetics ain’t always kind, Mel Rojas’s cousin). He was a Mets minor league manager for a lot of years. He was their quality control coach last year. Based on the archival footage SNY has been airing in a loop, Luis’s responsibilities seemed to include taking part in Opening Day introductions, having two conversations in the dugout, wearing his jersey in a school library, and heading back to the clubhouse after a game.

Rojas has been hiding in plain sight, doing whatever the Mets told him to do and doing it well enough to keep doing it from 2007 forward. He did it promisingly enough to earn an interview for Mickey Callaway’s vacated chair last fall. The consensus from those who likely didn’t think about devoting his candidacy incisive analysis was he’s young and probably required more experience before he would be taken seriously. Three months have passed, one more manager has exited and, suddenly, young Luis Rojas seems to have gained a world of wisdom.

It helps to have been around the organization, to have gotten to know everybody’s name and face, to have been liked by those he’s managed and coached. The wheel was already invented by Brodie Van Wagenen and Jeff Wilpon when they staged the nationwide talent search that yielded Beltran [5]. There was little time for anything but bolting on a sturdy spare good and tight and heading down I-95. The Mets weren’t expecting to start skipper-seeking again so soon. Hell, they’re still paying Mickey Callaway.

Serendipity is an appealing outcome here. I’m reminded of an early episode of The West Wing in which the White House was ecstatic that it got its ideal Supreme Court nominee lined up. Yet before the hour was over, they dumped Peyton Cabot Harrison III in favor of dark horse Roberto Mendoza, with the clear message that Harrison was flawed and Mendoza was the real gem all along. That’s a plot twist we can all get behind.

The second chance the Mets didn’t particularly want theoretically gave them an opportunity to reach out to a name-brand manager they didn’t pursue in October. Whatever philosophical or budgetary issues deterred them from embracing the possibility of Buck Showalter or Dusty Baker in the first place didn’t evolve come January. They wanted their collaborative manager, and if we knew anything about Rojas as a quality control coach, it was that he was regularly described as a “liaison” between the front office and the clubhouse. That’s a pretty new-agey concept for baseball, but for nearly twenty years we’ve been hearing that analytically inclined decisionmakers don’t necessarily think an independently operating field manager is an asset. Even World Series rings aren’t quite the currency they used to be. Other than Davey Martinez in Washington, no team is currently helmed by a manager that won it a world championship, a first for MLB since 1966 and a rarity dating back over a century. No Cora in Boston or Hinch in Houston, obviously, but also no Maddon in Chicago, no Yost in Kansas City, no Bochy in San Francisco. Francona and Girardi are, like Maddon, managing somewhere, but not where they did their gaudiest work. Either the industry is experiencing a brain drain at the managerial level or it doesn’t matter who’s nominally calling the shots because the shots are being determined by committee upstairs.

Still, you need somebody downstairs before, during and after games, especially in front of a microphone twice a day. If Luis can explain why two plus two equals four without wandering off on a tangent that knowing arithmetic isn’t really that important, he’ll already be nimbler than Callaway at dealing with the media. It’s a low bar. The overall learning curve may prove steep, but Rojas will have plenty of support from the organization, albeit the Mets organization. The dugout is crammed with coaches, which may be why we rarely picked Rojas out of the crowd in 2019. I get the feeling that if the sports impostor Barry Bremen [6], who used to sneak into All-Star team photos and such, were still with us, he could have grabbed a blue windbreaker in March and lasted as a presumed component of Mickey’s staff until June without anybody asking any questions.

Two years ago, Luis Rojas was a name in the media guide, manager of Double-A Binghamton. Two years ago, Brodie Van Wagenen was Jacob deGrom’s agent, sticking his two cents into our consciousness just to let us know his client needed to get paid. Now they’re the successors to Hodges & Murphy, Berra & Scheffing, Johnson & Cashen, Valentine & Phillips, Randolph & Minaya and Collins & Alderson. Those are the manager & GM combos that gave us playoff berths. Let’s stick with dreaming big.