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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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No Era for Rojas

The Mets’ announcement that they would not retain their manager should have constituted a five-alarm bulletin. Wire machines across the city should have shaken. Daytime programming should have been interrupted. This is traditionally head-of-state transfer-of-power stuff. The helicopter is on the south lawn. San Clemente awaits. Somebody grab a bible and swear in our next presumably fearless leader to preserve, protect and defend the sovereignty of 41 Seaver Way.

Except it didn’t feel that way at all Monday when Metsopotamia learned via tweet (certainly not on Facebook) that the Mets would, not unexpectedly, decline the option on Luis Rojas’s contract. Dry corporate language for bloodless times. Sandy Alderson issued a statement of gratitude before acknowledging “a change is needed at this time”. Rojas’s cordial response was helpfully embedded in the very next paragraph. No spouting off to favored beat guys at the contemporary equivalent of Toots Shor’s for this deposed manager. He could even return to the Mets in some “yet to be determined capacity” if he chooses, per the release.

Maybe it’s because of the professionalism of the process that the end of the Rojas run (222 games managed, 119 games lost) landed as almost agate type, rating a line above so-and-so being activated from the 60-day IL. Or maybe it’s because we’ve been through so many of these kinds of announcements of late that they’ve lost their ability to stir even the most engaged of Mets fan souls. In about four years’ time we’ve witnessed the offing, by whichever euphemism was handy, of Terry Collins, Mickey Callaway, Carlos Beltran and now Rojas. We also watched Sandy Alderson step aside as general manager in the middle of 2018 for health reasons; an ad hoc front office structure fade away a few months later; Brodie Van Wagenen make a splash in the fall of 2018; Brodie Van Wagenen’s splash transform into a puddle by the fall of 2020; Alderson re-emerge as Mets president; would-be whiz kid Jared Porter not reach Opening Day; Zack Scott go on administrative leave in his first and presumably only interim season handling what had been Porter’s GM job; and, oh yeah, the team go through the machinations of being sold, not sold, then finally sold. You can only stop the presses so many times before the presses shrug.

We used to name eras for managers. Except nominally, I’m guessing we won’t be doing so for Luis Rojas, pilot of the New York Mets across one short season and one practically endless slog. There was undeniably a Stengel Era; a Hodges era; a Johnson era; a Valentine era. I’ve occasionally referred to the Art Howe Era, probably ironically, but not without belief those 2003 and 2004 teams were Howeish to their core.

Because COVID protocols continued to limit most media-player interaction to virtual, it was hard to divine if the Mets of 2020 and 2021 bore the indelible stamp of Rojas. Nobody’s ears reached the clubhouse to be whispered in. Nobody reported with regularity on what One Met Said or had the chance to make close-up observations and inferences. We who pay attention from the outside heard just about everything uttered for public consumption as it was broadcast by the TV and radio rightsholders, while little else appeared to be passed along privately. Nobody’s gripes were recounted juicily if anonymously. There were few surprises filling out the game stories.

If any Met didn’t love Luis Rojas, that Met didn’t mention it over Zoom. If any Met didn’t love anything — besides not being relentlessly cheered as the club slid from first to third in the National League East — that Met didn’t let on. The bulk of the postgame talk was about how positive everybody remained, lose or win (mostly lose after a while), and how everybody was thrilled to be a teammate of everybody else.

A happy clubhouse. A content clubhouse. Come October, a dark clubhouse.

Was the complacent tenor of the team the doing of the manager? It’s difficult to tell. Maybe it’s irrelevant now that Rojas is no longer the manager. My sense is Luis pursued his responsibilities as directed by whatever internal consortium decides how a ballclub is to be managed these days. The year before he took over for the trash-canned Beltran, Rojas was the nebulously titled quality control coach, liaising between the c-suite and the bench, and probably one of the people who weighed in on how the Mets should be managed in a given situation and/or generally speaking. Being promoted to manager likely didn’t empower him to act solely from instinct.

You will read no 1969 retrospective without being reminded every five pages that Gil Hodges’s leadership was that season’s true MVP. When you watched Once Upon a Time in Queens, you understood anew that Davey Johnson framed the 1986 “we’re gonna dominate” attitude we continue to idealize. Bobby V was Bobby V and we never forgot it between 1996 and 2002. Yet we’ve been informed for close to twenty years — roughly since Valentine’s swashbuckling style fell out of fashion in Flushing — to forget our romantic image of what a manger is or does. Alderson was a modern hero in Moneyball (the book) for calling out the antiquity of the skipper as Leader of Men. Nope, Sandy told Michael Lewis, the field manager is essentially a middle manager, an apparatchik to whom “the fate of the organization” should not be left. When Rojas entered the family business in the mid-2000s, he surely knew which way the wind was blowing. He might have aspired to be as admired a manager as his dad was. He likely discerned that earning admiration within the industry as it evolved from Felipe Alou’s heyday wasn’t going to stem from being a singular figure.

Luis Rojas indeed never gave the impression he was a lone wolf. He matured as a minor league manager in what had become a collaborative enterprise. Sure enough, nearly every decision he explained for two years was delivered as something “we” decided. I never thought he was deflecting responsibility for what didn’t work or being modest about what did. He had coaches by the fistful surrounding him and an expanding analytics department besides. The manager is one among “we” these days. I doubt Rojas chafed at carrying out instructions rather than being trusted to his own devices. His rise through the ranks indicates he fit baseball’s prevailing ethos.

Whatever portion of the most recent Mets manager’s job it was to relieve a starter or implement a hit-and-run, it was, by all indications, less than the share of mind he gave over to taking the temperature of the room. Keeping talent happy and hopefully productive seems to be what a major league manager is hired to do. Winning may not have topped the list of Career Objectives Luis presented when he interviewed for the role he held. The Mets of 2020 and 2021 appeared to be enjoying themselves, if nothing else. They rarely appeared bothered by their collective shortcomings. Everything was about “just trying to stay positive” when it wasn’t about disseminating playful (and maybe not so playful) hand gestures.

I honestly don’t know how much emphasis Luis Rojas placed on winning when addressing his troops. I don’t know how much troop-addressing a manager really does. I assume the idea of baseball players as “troops” is hopelessly outmoded, but it’s language we’re used to. Did Rojas try to fire up his charges? Or did maintaining an even keel supersede all emotional concerns? This is the man who said managing late in the season required no change in approach from managing early in the season. The arc of the season — and the Mets’ fortunes as it careened toward its end — suggested otherwise.

Those who claim to be somewhat in the know praise Rojas as a “good baseball man”. Does anybody get ostracized as a terrible baseball man? I take it to mean a good baseball man in 2021 doesn’t make enemies and communicates effectively within the realm of saying what people up the collaborative chain wish to be said. I used to think being a good baseball man meant teaching a light-hitting middle infielder how to bunt for a base hit when the third baseman is playing back. Maybe Luis did that, too. While I wasn’t sorry to learn he won’t be the Mets manager in 2022, I took no particular glee in his dismissal from the dugout. If he agrees to be reassigned within the organization, that’s fine. He’s not a pox on the Mets. He just wasn’t the right individual to guide or motivate a group that underachieved during his two seasons at what we still call the helm, no matter that the helm probably doesn’t exactly exist.

The Mets will name a new head of baseball operations. The baseball operations executive, with input from Alderson, Steve Cohen and whoever else gets listened to, will choose a manager. The business of state will resume. We’ll just try to stay positive.

13 comments to No Era for Rojas

  • eric1973

    I hope ‘Robot’ Rojas does not accept a position with the team, and I hope that he is pushed out the door.

    Why? Because it’s guys like Rojas and Zack ‘The Drunk’ Scott who conditioned these players that Starting Pitchers can only go 6 innings, and that Relievers can only go 1 inning. And that the worst hitters on your team should pinch hit in critical situations. And that the best pitcher in a generation should throw every single pitch 100 mph, and that he would be able to do this for an entire season.

    And to your point, Greg, Rojas, in his statement, actually sounded surprised that perhaps he was actually supposed to win.

    Maybe the next guy will try to win, or maybe we will just get another Rojas clone, where ‘happy talk’ is Job One.

  • 9th string catcher

    Probably best not to overthink it. Does Rojas make any discernable difference to your team in terms of wins? Does he come from a winning culture? Does he bring any special insight or natural skills that will help your team win? I never saw it. His team was undisciplined, underperformed and uninspired. Is that rojas’s fault? Well, it certainly was his problem, and he seemed unable to fix it. So, again, what does he bring to the table? Not much.

    Sort of like the Darnold situation. You might win with him. But there are so many other things that need to be fixed, might as well clean house and start over.

  • Dave

    I’ve come to believe that there are a small handful of managers/coaches in sports who genuinely make a significant difference in the team’s performance and/or often make strategic decisions that have a direct impact on outcomes of games. But in most cases, 95 % comes down to “how good are the players on the roster?” The answer for the Luis Rojas Era Mets was “not really good enough.” I think baseball is growing very comfortable with the aspect of COVID protocols that keep the media at a Zoom call distance; it allows the organization to control the narrative as well as revealing much less about who is making what decisions and what others involved – including players – think of those decisions. So as a result, we got Rojas’s constant first person plural, holding no one accountable…until the front office held him accountable.

    But that was inevitable. A new POBO, a new GM, whatever the titles, are going to want to hire their own manager, who will want to hire their own coaching staff. After you finish below .500 for 4 out of 5 years and 9 out of 13 or whatever it is, it’s time to acknowledge that what you’ve got isn’t working. Mets practically need to do the exact opposite of everything they’ve done over the past decade-plus. I do agree that Rojas is a “good baseball man,” whatever boxes you want to tick to reach that criteria. He will certainly not accept a demotion from the Mets back to player development or whatever, he’ll move on and will have a good career as a good baseball man.

  • open the gates

    I’ve been hearing on the airwaves and in podcast-land that Luis Rojas got a bum deal – that he was a middle manager type who was fired just for following orders. Well, yes and no. Yes, he was fired for following orders. No, he did not get a bum deal.

    A good middle manager (if that’s even what a ML manager should be – depressing if it’s true) shouldn’t just be an orders-follower. A good middle manager has a head on his shoulders and will stand up to the front office when he thinks they are wrong. And a good front office will listen to them. We’ve seen this repeatedly throughout Mets history. Gil Hodges is a bit before my time, but the most successful Met teams I remember were, as you pointed out, under Davey Johnson and Bobby Valentine. And neither were orders-followers. Davey used to butt heads with the front office all the time. And the Bobby Valentine/Steve Phillips wars were legendary. But the results were inarguable. Both managers stood by their instincts and expertise. And to their credit, the front office listened to them. On the other hand, the corporate hacks among the managers had teams that were mediocre or worse, and were the first on the firing line when the blame game began. That’s where Rojas fits in.

    This is why I hope (but don’t expect) the front office will hire someone who is willing to take them on when necessary – someone with a little backbone. It’s why some of us wanted Wally Backman for so many years. In retrospect, he would have been problematic, but that’s the kind of guy we need. Dare I use the word – a maverick. Sadly, corporations don’t tend to hire mavericks these days. And the Mets are corporate to the bone. Rojas was hired as a corporate hack, and was then fired for being a corporate hack. He will probably be reassigned somewhere in the Mets org, and will be just fine. The problem is, the guys who hired him should really be firing themselves. And who thinks that’s really going to happen?

  • open the gates

    So I was rereading my comments, and come to think of it, the guy who hired Rojas (one Brodie Van Wagenen) actually was fired, and the guys who hired Brodie actually sold the team and skipped town. But you know what I mean. The Mets corporate ethos remains from the previous regime. Steve Cohen has a job ahead of him, if he’s willing to tackle it. Retooling a corporate ethos ain’t easy.

  • Eric

    “He had coaches by the fistful surrounding him and an expanding analytics department besides.”

    Don’t forget the performance staff that added “up downs” this year to innings pitched and pitch count as usage metrics. Although you may have lumped the performance staff with the coaches or analytics department, or considered it a hybrid of both.

    It seemed this season that the performance staff outranked all, including the field manager, and its priorities outweighed all, including the competition on the field and in the standings — perhaps increasingly so as the injuries piled up.

    What was Rojas permitted to do as manager this and last year?

    What is Kapler doing with the Giants that he didn’t or couldn’t do with the Phillies?

    • Guy K

      Remember, “process” was more important than “results,” until it wasn’t.

      And, incidentally, the term “process” needs to be retired for good, along with “out of an abundance of caution” and “safe and effective.”

  • Seth

    Folks on here make good points. Was Rojas just a figurehead in the dugout taking orders from above? As with any well-run organization, it should be a collaborative effort. Some of these decisions had to be his.

    “They rarely appeared bothered by their collective shortcomings.”

    Hence the prevailing sense that the team quit. Whether or not that’s true, perception is everything.

  • Harvey

    I know you were being tongue-in-cheek, at least in part, on the lack of attention about the Rojas firing. I think it was in large part because of the media attention on the Yankees and their making the playoffs and the big game tonight. Let’s face it, the Yankees still own New York. Making the postseason year after year will do that.

  • Bruce in Forest Hills

    I can’t prove it, but I don’t think the Mets have allowed a manager to make a decision since Terry Collins let Matt Harvey pitch the 9th inning in the 2015 World Series.

    I think Sandy admitted to a lot in one of his press conferences this week. He said that process is all well-and-good, but in the end you have to win. And if you don’t win you have to change the process.

    Luis Rojas followed the process. Sometime that meant having Edwin Diaz pitch to a hot hitter, or Albert Almora in the batters box with 2 outs in the 9th. That’s the process. It seems like Rojas’s main job was to sell the players on the process. And his next main job was to sell it to the media. It sounds like he sold Pete Alonzo, at least. Francisco Lindor said very nice things about Rojas last week. I have no reason to think the players were insincere. And while I don’t think everyone in the media bought what he was selling, Luis proved to be such a stand-up guy that you really couldn’t criticize him. Sort of like first season Ted Lasso.

    But the process ruined everyone’s season. It got the manager fired, because that’s also what the manager gets paid to do. The whole season sort of demands relegation.

    I hope that in his next gig, Luis Rojas will try to play a bigger role in defining the process of whatever team he is on.

    But it’s not easy for any Manager 2021 to do that. I would note that in 2016 and 2017, while Terry Collins’ decision making powers were slowly being stripped away, Terry did NOT take it lying down.

    He left “by mutual agreement” anyway.

  • mikeL

    well, glad to see old-school guys baker and la russa quickly led their teams to the post-season. i’m pretty certain these guys’ number one concern is not keeping everyone happy, little league style, and got their teams past the finish line on the strength of their baseball heads and guts.
    i always thought dusty could have been good for the mets.
    interesting that the post put up old-schoolers like buck
    showalter in their ‘5 guys who milght replace rojas ‘ piece.

  • eric1973

    “Sometimes that meant having Edwin Diaz pitch to a hot hitter.”

    Hey Bruce, I totally forgot that one in my list of totally nonsensical moves that Rojas made. I guess he thought that over a 162 game span, that move, like the Almora move, would have worked most of the time. Well, it would not have.

    Rojas totally got what he deserved.

  • Joey G

    Of course the players liked Rojas, he let them rule the roost, but did they respect him? Did Rojas challenge them to be better? Did he accept their repeated mental mistakes in the field and on the base paths without accountability? Did he not manage August and September games like they were leisurely Spring Training games? I am particularly amused by the media narrative that the Mets did not give Rojas enough time to grow, and that letting this “diamond in the rough” go now is akin to letting Belichick leave Cleveland or something. Rojas is a nice guy, and to paraphrase Leo the Lip, “nice guys finish third.” Passing this off on upper management policy is also somewhat unfair. At some point, a manager has to feel the sense of urgency and do it his way rather than the “Company way” or suffer the consequences.