Mets Rewind presents Blue and Orange, a baseball podcast for Mets fans, by Mets fans. Today we introduce you to Pete Mandlekern, a Mets fan since 1964.
Frank Cashen arrived in Flushing with an impressive resume; two World Series rings, a drawer full of bowties and patience.
Throughout Spring Training and most of April 1980 Cashen watched Joe Torre’s team sputter. There were no trades, nor firings. Not a single transaction. The Mets front office was quiet.
“When is the man going to make a move?” Mets catcher John Stearns boldly asked the media. “He’s had 90 days and nothing has happened.”
The new Mets GM didn’t break a sweat. He didn’t blink. Cashen’s first player transaction didn’t come until June, it was barely a twitch. He acquired Claudell Washington from the White Sox for a minor league pitcher. That same week Cashen used his No. 1 draft pick to select a tall, skinny kid out of Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles. His name: Darryl Strawberry.
Cashen made minor trades, signed free agents and put together a patchwork teams during 1981 and 1982. “I was looking for cosmetic things to try to make the Mets look decent until I could rebuild them,” Cashen told Peter Golenbeck in Amazin’.
Sandy Alderson was introduced as the new general manager of the New York Mets at Citi Field last week and, for better or worse, the organization is going through a rebirth.
Alderson adopts a mediocre major league roster and a minor league system that’s been labeled and assessed by baseball analysts as “fair,” “poor” and “a disaster.”
Like Cashen, the Mets new GM has a philosophical track record that is tied to player development. Alderson sold himself to the Mets on this very foundation, hence the four-year contract. There’s no quick fix when it comes to building long-term success.
“I’ve always had a preference for holding on to our own talent and seeing how far it can go,” Alderson told the media last week at Citi Field. “If it succeeds and realizes its full potential, we benefit. If it doesn’t, I think we’ve still made the right decision in terms of our fan base.”
Like it or not, Mets fans are going to get the opportunity to see if Ruben Tejada is a major league second baseman; if Ike Davis and Daniel Murphy will blossom into serious offensive threats; if Lucas Duda is ready to play every day at the major league level; can Josh Thole hit consistently and command the respect of the pitching staff; is Jenrry Mejia ready to pitch at the major league level? How about Dillon Gee? Aberration or the real deal? Brad Holt: Ready or not? Will the real Mike Pelfrey please stand up?
Go ahead, take the entire 2011 season to assess the situation. Alderson – and whomever is given the job as Mets manager – will beta test, conduct fire drills and in season simulations to determine the answers to these and other questions.
One thing is for certain, you won’t find the Mets brass in a bidding war for Cliff Lee or Carl Crawford this winter. There will be no repeat of the multi-year, multi-million dollar press conference player introductions Mets fans have come accustomed too.
“I think we’re going to be busy, but that’s first and maybe ultimately only to assess the market,” Alderson said. “We don’t really know what’s out there. We need to be actively engaged in finding out what’s available to us, who has interest in some of our players … we’re going to be out there fishing.”
Alderson, a military man, is brilliant at working the media to his advantage. He won’t tip his hand. He won’t point directly at a player. He won’t offer specific details on any single issue. In fact, he has the uncanny ability to speak in riddles – and get away with it in front of a room full of New York media.
At last week’s press conference, Alderson was asked about player contracts, the free agent market and the team’s direction. He responded:
“One of the reasons that fans like baseball is because it provides a certain consistency and continuity in their lives that maybe doesn’t exist otherwise. It’s important to recognize that. But, at the same time, I think fans enjoy change.”
Fans like “consistency and continuity,” but “fans enjoy change.”
He’s not being evasive, but deceptive. Alderson is intentionally non-committal. He teaches marketing. He know the value of working the media. Alderson has a gift. It’s the art of the pick-off play from the GM’s seat.
Sun Tzu’s The Art of War states deception provides a competitive advantage. It forces your competition to second-guess your next move. The unknown poses a psychological threat to the competition.
In public Alderson would offer this translation: “I don’t think we’re going to go out actively trying to move anybody. But, at the same time, let’s see what’s out there. So, to that extent, I don’t think anybody is untouchable.”
Before he begins dangling his roster to the league like carrots on a stick, Alderson must first hire a manager, where there’s been no shortage of debate on who is best suited for the job. What does Alderson think? He offered little at the press conference.
“The manager is a very critical part of the overall leadership structure,” he said. “I can appreciate a fiery manager. I also think it’s important for a manager to be somewhat analytical … We’re looking for somebody that fits intellectual requirements, but also intuitive and emotional ones.”
That narrows the available field to roughly 15-20 candidates. Vegas and the New York press have Bob Melvin, Terry Collins or Clint Hurdle as odds on favorites. Keep guessing.
Three decades and five general managers removed from the Cashen era, Sandy Alderson arrived in Flushing with an impressive resume (including two World Series rings) and patience. Sound familiar?
All that’s missing are the bowties … and the next Darryl Strawberry.
Even in hindsight the story is hard to fathom. The New York Mets came to bat in the bottom of the 10th inning, at home, trailing the Boston Red Sox 5-3 in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. They were three outs away from losing the Series. Hold on, this isn’t the story you’re thinking it is.
Wally Backman led off the inning slicing a line drive into the glove of Dave Henderson. One out. Keith Hernandez then hit a hard line drive to centerfield for the second out. The Mets were, as Len Dykstra would later tell Peter Golenbeck in Amazin’, “one out away from wasting the whole f—ing season.”
As Hernandez circled back to the dugout, the Mets first baseman — always intense, always encouraging his teammates to keep their heads in the game — never stopped. He went down the steps, into the dugout, down a second set of steps into the tunnel underneath Shea Stadium and straight to the team’s locker room. Game over, he thought. Depressed, disgusted, disappointed, Hernandez later confessed he just couldn’t bare to see the Boston’s celebration unfold on his field, in front of his fans.
“I went into Davey’s [Johnson’s] office and took a beer out of his fridge,” he told then Washington Post reporter (and Mets fan) John Feinstein and author of One on One: Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game.
Hernandez said he was dehydrated and downed a Budweiser in seconds. He proceeded to crack open a second beer, paying little attention to the television nearby. Hernandez sat down in his manager’s office, lit a cigarette and drank another beer.
His counterpart, Bill Buckner, was standing off the line at first base, anticipating what the spray of the champagne would feel like; seeing a beaming smile on Mrs. Yawkey’s face, and witnessing the bedlam that would ensue in Boston’s clubhouse. The entire Sox dugout was like a mass of small children ready to rush the tree and begin tearing open presents on Christmas morning.Buckner was 36 years old; his body was 75. The decade leading up to this moment were successful, yet painful, for Buckner. His body took a beating. Through the years Buckner tried acupuncture, herbs (DMSO) and holy water — yes, holy water (1978, Chicago, look it up). In 1986, he was given nine cortisone shots as he literally limped through the season.
Boston Globe reporter and Baseball Hall fo Famer Peter Gammons wrote, “it wasn’t unusual to see him before games with ice taped to his ankle, Achilles tendon, lower back, elbow and shoulder … he often looked as if he were running in galoshes.”
Now, Buckner stood alone, limping around first base, pushing dirt in his signature black high top spikes that supported his fragile ankle, hoping for one more out.
The two first baseman — Hernandez and Buckner — couldn’t have been further apart in mind, body or spirit.
“I opened a third one,” said Hernandez.
Ray Knight is reduced to a single strike separating Boston and their first World Series title since 1918, before lifting a single to centerfield, scoring Carter and advancing Mitchell to third base. Hernandez never moved an inch, his eyes locked on the television while he anxiously pulled on his cigarette, beer in hand.
Meanwhile, Buckner and the Red Sox stiffened. The crowd roared, stomping their feet, literally rocking Shea Stadium and leaving Hernandez wondering whether the ballpark would hold up under the circumstances. Sox manager called on relief pitcher Bob Stanley to finish the job.
As Stanley warmed up in the cold late October night in New York, Buckner could only stand by, watching each smoky breathe he took vaporize into the breeze. Back in the Mets clubhouse, Hernandez nervously chain-smoked from his manager’s chair.
Like Calvin Schiraldi did earlier, Stanley reduced Mookie Wilson to a single strike. Twice Boston pitcher’s were one strike away from finishing the Mets. Stanley fired a 2-2 wild pitch, scoring the tying run.
Shea Stadium went ballistic.
“I’m still not thinking that clearly, so I finish the third one,” Hernandez told Feinstein. “That’s when it hit me: the score’s tied and I just drank three beers. I’m buzzed. I was sitting there frozen, trying to figure out how I’d go out and play first base when Mookie hit the ball.”
After Wilson’s ground ball skipped through Buckner’s legs, for a moment he stood with an expression of disbelief near first base, then slowly limped back to the Boston clubhouse.
“How lucky did I just get?” Hernandez asked Feinstein. “Thank God Buckner booted that ball.”
Buckner — not so lucky.
Time has not healed, as it so often does. History skips, like an old 45 record, replaying the moment over and over. And Hernandez and Buckner? The space between them is now eternal.
According to a story in the New York Post, Wally Backman always thought he was the next Mets manager in waiting. He managed the Las Vegas 51’s (Mets Triple A affiliate) from 2012-16, believing he’d be the heir apparent to Terry Collins.
Wally Backman is coming back to New York. The Long Island Ducks announced that Backman would be their next manager. Backman, who spent 2010-2016 managing and coaching in the franchise’s minor-league system, was a popular choice among fans.