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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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More Baseball, Les Moss

If we’re being fair to the primary participants and their loyal fans, this would be a good time to end the World Series. Each side has won twice, once at home, once on the road. Everybody’s had a chance to show their best selves. There’s something to feel good about from most every angle.

We’ve seen San Francisco and Kansas City trade decisive wins. We’ve seen K.C.’s bullpen totally stymie San Fran. We’ve seen the Giants storm from behind and continue to rain runs down on the Royals. We’ve seen bounces go every which way. We’ve seen Jarrod Dyson rob Hunter Pence of a short single in center. We’ve seen Yusmeiro Petit single into short center where Dyson couldn’t hope to make a catch. We’ve seen Petit record the first base hit of any World Series reliever since Al Leiter and total more career World Series base hits than Carlos Delgado. We’ve seen ephemeral 21st-century Mets Joaquin Arias and Jason Vargas in case we’d been missing them. We’ve seen the heart of the Giant order represent the target audience for those ubiquitous Viagra ads and we’ve seen their bats in action for hours at a time. We’ve seen — as if we needed to be reminded from a similar calendar confluence 28 years earlier — that World Series games played on Saturday night, October 25, are never to be assumed over before they’re over.

After four games, nobody’s a loser. After two or three more games, a team that doesn’t deserve to be thought of as one will have lost.

But that’s the Giants’ and Royals’ problem. For the rest of us, I hope this thing goes seven. No, actually, I hope this thing goes seventy-seven. What do I care if these teams wear themselves out for 2015? Give ’em Christmas off and arrange a Boxing Day doubleheader.

This Series, only the fourth since 2003 to go at least six games, has served as not just a wonderful baseball showcase but a terrific baseball laboratory. How long to go with the starter? When to pinch-hit? How does anybody refer to Big Game James Shields (postseason ERA: 7.11) with a straight face?

Actually, I think I’ve got that one figured out. It was explained in this exchange between Woody Allen and Jon Lovitz from Allen’s 2000 film, Small Time Crooks.

“Remember my nickname when we were in the joint?”
“The Brain?”
“The Brain. That’s what the guys used to call me, right?”
“But Ray! That was sarcastic!”
“That wasn’t sarcastic, that was real.”
“No, it was sarcastic.”
“There was nothing sarcastic about it!”
“No, really, it was.”
“It was real. I was The Brain.”
“No, it was sarcastic.”

Maybe Shields will be sincerely Big Game tonight. Maybe Madison Bumgarner somehow won’t be Enormous Game for a change. No matter what happens at Phone Company Park in Game Five, there will be a Game Six for ex-Met Bruce Bochy and ex-Met farmhand Ned Yost to manage on Tuesday. One of them will have earned or re-earned a place in World Series managing history in the same glorious Leaders Of Men procession that includes Gil Hodges and Davey Johnson. One of them will have to suck up less desirable results in the tradition of Yogi Berra and Bobby Valentine. Neither can have the pennants attached to their permanent records taken away from them.

Players play. Managers manage. Or manage to stay out of the way of their players. Or inspire their players to elevated heights. Or keep all keels even. Or, per Casey Stengel, keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided. Or tactically manipulate matchups. Or strategically configure outcomes. Or can’t do a thing once the ball is in the hand of the guys they sent on the field.

Few of us have played the game. All of us have watched the game and figured out what should be done to win the game. We all manage in our heads. I managed along with Yost for a while Saturday night, diverging from his decision to allow Vargas to bat with the bases loaded and two out in the third, even with his team already up by three. Stengel dared to pinch-hit, no matter how early, when the opponent’s throat was within his grasp. It would have been unconventional in 2014 (as it was unconventional in 1964 and 1954) but if you sent up Billy Butler or Nori Aoki to bring down the hammer, what would have you lost — three more theoretical innings of Jason Vargas?

As was, Vargas worked the count to 3-and-2 against a wild Jean Machi, thought he walked and then struck out. It was one of those moments when you — whether you’re thinking like a manager or a fan — are overcome by the sense that something has just gone very wrong for the team that scored four but could’ve scored more. Though, to be fair, it was during that same third inning that I began composing comparisons between the Royals and a certain 1969 team that lost its first World Series game and swept their next four.

Anyway, managers manage and none of us can say for sure all that entails and what all of it means. At the moment, there’s a universally acclaimed manager with a ledger of success suddenly on the open market. There’s a team near and dear to all of us that could use some success. Joe Maddon and the Mets could maybe make beautiful music together. They could maybe make us not be interested in teams from Kansas City and San Francisco in October because our season wouldn’t yet be over.

Or this team that Terry Collins has steered from 79 sullen wins when he took over four years ago to 79 uplifting wins lately is ready to soar under the guidance of his steady hand. Everybody who is in regular professional contact with him says nothing but nice things about Collins. Plus the Mets have already signed him for presumably less dollars and time than a commitment to a more glamorous alternative would require. Not long after Maddon emancipated himself from the front-office turmoil in Tampa Bay, Jeff Wilpon and Sandy Alderson each gave Terry Collins rare offseason votes of confidence just two months after confirming that the manager would continue to fulfill the terms of their agreement with him and manage in 2015. It brought to mind Jay Leno’s line after David Letterman left for CBS, causing rumors that he’d lose his tenuous hold on The Tonight Show to finally dissipate: “You know what NBC stands for? Never Believe Your Contract.”

Maddon might do better than Collins in Flushing. Or he might not be the right fit. The last big-name manager (depending on your view of the size of Art Howe’s name) who the Mets nabbed between seasons was Jeff Torborg in October 1991. The 1990 A.L. Manager of the Year seemed the greatest of gets. Then 1992 rolled around. Because something didn’t work 22 going on 23 years ago doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work now. But it does imply that not everything that sounds great when the Mets aren’t playing would work when they are.

That said, let me invoke the name Les Moss, onetime manager of the Detroit Tigers….literally onetime.

Les Moss, like Terry Collins, had worked in his team’s minor league system. Moss, like Collins, knew his personnel. Moss, like Collins, was generally well regarded. Unlike Collins, Moss managed his team to a winning record. In 1979, Moss’s Tigers were 27-26. That, however, was the extent of Les’s winning record, however. Although Detroit was off to a good start in his first year at the helm, upper management replaced him in June.

Sparky Anderson, you see, was suddenly available. He’d been let go by second-place Cincinnati the year before despite five division titles, four pennants, two world championships and eight winning records in his nine years running the Reds. He was going to take the next season off but then decided he wanted to manage again ASAP. Some other team had apparently put out feelers. Moss’s promising start notwithstanding, the Tigers pounced. They hired Anderson. Five years later (each of them carrying a winning mark), Anderson managed them to 104 victories and his third world championship, or as many as Bochy sits two wins away from claiming. Sparky stayed on the job through 1995 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.

It is impossible to determine whether Les Moss would have accomplished for Detroit what Sparky Anderson did. It is certain that being replaced 53 games into his tenure — while holding that winning record — was a tough break. “Well,” Moss told Tiger GM Jim Campbell after absorbing the bad news, “that’s baseball.”

That’s as much baseball as Rod Kanehl batting for Bill Wakefield in the second inning in ’64 or Eddie Robinson hitting for Moose Skowron in the first almost exactly 10 years earlier. Both of those Stengelian moves, like Campbell throwing Moss overboard in order to swiftly scoop up Anderson, worked out just fine. Of course baseball is also “the best moves are the ones you don’t make.” One example in the managerial realm: quiet Walter Alston was allegedly on the verge of being fired in favor of his vocal coach (and voluble critic) Leo Durocher following the Dodgers’ 1962 collapse. Instead, Alston — with three league flags and two world championships already stuffed in his pocket — was retained. Los Angeles won three of the next four pennants, two of the next three World Series, kept Alston until 1976 and watched his induction into the Hall of Fame in 1983.

So you never know. But you’ll never find out unless you at least reach out to Joe Maddon, who transformed the historically sad Devil Rays into the perennially formidable Rays, and seriously consider whether he, rather than Terry Collins, is the manager who might accelerate the Mets’ journey to a Giant- or Royal-like October.

15 comments to More Baseball, Les Moss

  • Dave

    When pigs go airborne. What about the Wilpons would give anyone the impression that they would be eager to keep paying Collins while hiring someone to replace him? They are averse to big moves, and if I’m Maddon, I’m tired of working for a low payroll team. Not hard to picture him sitting out a year and waiting for the Dodgers to decide that Mattingly isn’t their long term guy.

  • Lou from Georgia

    My preference would be the Mets spend money on a player or two, not Joe Maddon. Everyone has been hyping up Bruce Bochy while simultaneously saying how bad a manager Ned Yost is (who wears number 3 in honor of Dale Earnhardt of all people) but both are even in the World Series. Too much stock gets taken in the manager’s role I think. Both WS teams have good pitching and stellar defense- the edge might be that the Giants have MVP caliber players at a couple positions. For the Mets to get back in the conversation, they need to improve offensively and up the middle defensively. Unless Joe can play shortstop, pass.

    • I don’t think Bochy being the manager and the Giants being on the cusp of a third world championship in five years are coincidental happenings. I also think it’s sad that the Wilpons have made us think we can maybe either have a couple of better players or a better manager but not both.

      • kd bart

        Bochy’s the same manager he was in 2013 when he only won 76 and the same manager he was in San Diego 10-15 years ago when he had 5 straight losing seasons. Talent on the roster makes the difference.

        • Lou from Georgia

          The Giants are loaded with talent, and have the money to pay for it. How many position players alone are superior to the Mets’ version? Perhaps 3rd base is a wash, and our center fielder is maybe one of the best in the NL, but other than that? Even their scrappy little guys are better than our scrappy little guys! If Terry had that lineup I’d find it hard to believe that even he’d screw it up.

  • Josh

    Let’s say hypothetically the Mets sign Joe Maddon this offseason but don’t add any significant players as a result. Where do you think that puts the team at for next year? In the playoffs or still on the outside looking in?

    • Hypothetically, if you were just to work with the available talent and plan on rebounds from Wright and Granderson, development from Flores at SS and Nieuwenhuis in LF and the return of Harvey…and we hope nobody regresses meaningfully…I think you’re at least in Brewer territory, a little over .500 if not in the playoffs with Collins. With Maddon, maybe a little better. But whether it’s either of them or vintage John McGraw, let’s maybe make a few player moves.

  • kd bart

    Talent on the field has way more of an impact on winning than who’s filling out the lineup card. Concentrate on improving the on field talent.

  • Dave

    Greg – no no no. Among the things I really hope for that are beyond my control are world peace, cures for all dangerous diseases, and that at least one regular 2015 Mets outfielder is not currently on the roster. Kirk and MDD are 4th/5th OF’ers, and as they’re both lefty hitters, one is redundant. Under no circumstances should we be talking about their continued development as a key to 2015’s success. They’re both 27 and neither has spent a full season in the majors.

    • Was responding to the hypothetical query above. My sense, based on nothing more than they gotta do something, is Kirk is lefty PH/defensive repalacement and MdD will get a chance elsewhere.

  • PenaciousH

    Are there any advanced stats, similar to WAR, available to size up, quantitatively, what Maddon has done to this point in his career or to help us conceptualize in a functional way whether Maddon is an improvement over Terry?