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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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All Hail Relative Normalcy

The best thing about tonight’s 4-3 victory over the Marlins? It was a relatively normal baseball game.

It wasn’t Monday night’s six-error shitshow in which the Marlins won by sucking less. Nor was it Tuesday night’s ludicrous display of non-pitching, with Jon Niese pitching as badly as he could without actually losing and old non-friend Brad Penny getting whacked around. It was a relatively normal, crisply played ballgame. Which was a relief.

You had some good storylines, of course — baseball always provides those. There was Matt den Dekker chipping in three hits and Kirk Nieuwenhuis walking three times — a skill he didn’t seem to have even heard of two years ago — while Curtis Granderson protected his .210 average on the radioactive green pine of Lorialand. There was Jacob deGrom pulling a Wheeler by pitching well but threatening to run out of bullets by the fifth inning. There was Giancarlo Stanton hitting a line drive into the left-field seats that might have behanded the fan who was lucky enough to not catch it, and the oddity that Stanton’s blow wasn’t the most impressive of the night: Nieuwenhuis hit a ball into the second deck that disappointed me only because it didn’t send a satellite tumbling out of orbit to destroy that Red Grooms monstrosity.

Oh, and you had your nightly trigger for grumbling about Terry Collins. Collins threw poor Dario Alvarez into the fire for his first major-league appearance with the tying run on third and Christian Yelich up, which didn’t work — Yelich promptly singled in the tying run and Alvarez was gone after two pitches. Collins then let Carlos Torres bat in the top of the eighth with the bases loaded and two out and the Mets trying to extend a 4-2 lead. Torres struck out, then gave up the Stanton homer in the bottom half of the eighth anyway. The alibi for Terry is that the Mets are short-handed (as they always are), what with Josh Edgin and Daisuke Matsuzaka suffering cranky elbows and the team reluctant to strip Las Vegas for the playoffs. Plus Terry might be belatedly worried about Jeurys Familia‘s arm falling off, or perhaps concerned that Familia’s next throw to a base might actually maim one of his infielders.

I won’t claim any of those moves made much sense to me, but I’m not on the Fire Terry bus. Why not? Well, a few reasons, none of which is exactly a ringing endorsement:

1) The Mets aren’t going to do it, and I’m too old and tired to waste my energy campaigning for something that isn’t going to happen. Jeff Wilpon probably forces his employees to search the couch cushions for nickels each night; you think he’s going to pay Terry a million bucks to go fishing next year?

2) I think we overrate how important managers are to on-field results, and vastly overrate how much of a difference changing them will make. If you told me Joe Maddon was available, I’d take to Twitter and start baying at the moon for Terry to go. Failing that, though, every manager does pretty much the same stuff: He bunts despite the math indicating bunting is stupid, picks a pet reliever and tries to destroy his arm, and gives bland answers to obvious questions asked by bored beat writers. Baseball is undergoing a strategic renaissance in everything from player development to roster construction and on-field strategy, but it’s front offices that are the agents of change. Managers? Please. If you beamed in your average manager from the 1950s, you’d have to tell him to manage to the save rule whether or not it makes sense and forbid him to let a starter throw 180 pitches. (Unless you’ve rehired Dusty Baker, in which case tough luck.) If he followed those rules you’d probably never notice the change.

3) What is the attraction of Wally Backman beyond his not being Terry Collins? I will listen if you give me a reason, backed with data or a number of well-chosen anecdotes, that you think Wally would be a superior tactician to Collins. I will most definitely not listen if you give me an answer that’s an ode to passion, grit, the aura of the 1986 Mets, the fact that “he’s a winner,” or one that mentions Gil Hodges yanking Cleon Jones out of a game. (By the way, Gil’s long walk out to left happened nearly a half-century ago, in an era without monster salaries, agents playing watchdog or hourly media firestorms.) Wally’s chief contributions to the Mets would be to get ejected in more entertaining ways and to be beeped on SNY more often. I’m not taking to the barricades for that — not because I’m a Collins defender, but because it strikes me as deeply pointless.

Anyway, you had a reasonably crisp game, some nice contributions from the kids, a pair of Hey honey ya gotta see this homers and a Terry Collins headshake. Not bad entertainment for a couple of hours in Lorialand, right? If you wanted more than that — a .500 team, say, or a real payroll — well, sorry. You signed up for the wrong outfit, my friend. Better take what you can get.

9 comments to All Hail Relative Normalcy

  • open the gates

    So here’s my argument for Wally.

    Collins is probably halfway out the door anyway, because there are only so many losing seasons a manager can rack up without being fired. Fair or not, that’s baseball. Now, assuming that we’re looking for a new manager anyway, consider the following:

    1) Backman’s team is in the playoffs – something the seniors haven’t managed in a depressingly long time;

    2) Backman just won his league’s Manager of the Year Award, which means that folks who have seen him work a lot more than I have think he’s pretty good at his job;

    3) He was already a candidate for the job the last time out;

    4) He’s already in the system, so there would be less of a learning curve in terms of organizational goals; and to me the most telling –

    5) In an organization that is on a youth kick, he’s managed most of these kids as they were on the verge of getting to the majors, and managed more who will be coming up soon. This is not unimportant when you consider that the last two times the Mets got to the World Series, their managers were both the former AAA managers who came up to the majors together with the kids. They knew what made the young guys tick and how to motivate them. Wally’s in the same position now, and he’s obviously had success with these guys.

    So there you have it. I’m not saying we need to kick Terry to the curb for Wally (though I am really not a big TC fan, to say the least). But if Terry’s going anyway, I think Wally should have the inside track to replace him. Just my humble opinion.

  • Rob

    I think open the gates’ #5 point hits the mark pretty squarely regarding Backman, and there is a parallel to when Dave Johnson was first hired. Secondly, you can’t really have a “Terry/Wally” discussion without mentioning grit and/or passion. Most of the time when you change managers you’re primarily getting a personality change.

    I’m not a big supporter of Terry Collins the strategist, but as you alluded to, who are the great tacticians anymore? On the other hand, since Bobby Valentine left in 2002 we’ve had a string of wishy-washy milquetoast corporate managers. Whether the next guy is Backman or not, it’s fair to wonder what more of a “field general” type leader can bring to this team.

    For what it’s worth, Joe Maddon didn’t have much of a resume when Tampa Bay hired him (he spent 30 years roving through the Angels’ system), so there’s not always something tangible you can point to as an indicator for future success.

    • This is true re Maddon. What I meant — and the shorthand was careless — was that Maddon seems to accept and indeed champion approaches that run counter to the prevailing baseball wisdom of being a field manager, much of which I think is pretty far from wisdom. How much of that is Maddon following FO directives and how much of it is his own belief/doing is something I don’t know.

  • Dave

    Jason’s 1st point hit the nail on the head. Unless your name is Bobby Bonilla, the Wilpons are not going to pay you for doing nothing. Well, I suppose one could argue that there are a few people on the current roster being paid for doing nothing, but I want to stay on topic.

    Wally would be among the oldest managers in MLB, and he’s yet to make his debut. The issues that led to that you’re hired/you’re fired fiasco with the DBacks are no longer in play. Some guys just wind up being good minor league managers.

  • FL Met Fan Rich

    Thank goodness for football. I couldn’t believe T.C. Let the pother bat in the 8th.

    He has got to go!

  • Michael

    TC is too short to be a mlb manager.