By Mike Steffanos
A number of years ago I decided to go on a short solo back-packing trip in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I got a ride up there from Jeanne, my girlfriend at the time, and her dad Martin. He was good guy -- a great big bear of a man, a stonemason by trade, very smart and funny -- and we got along well.
We made it up to Greenfield, Massachusetts, and decided to stop for something to eat. We found a restaurant that was serving lunch. It looked like a nice place and the parking lot was fairly full, always a good sign. It wasn't until we were inside, seated and brought our menus that we realized the awful truth -- this was a vegetarian joint.
Now I'm a carnivore from way back, and I wasn't happy, but Martin looked like he was actually going to cry when he saw that menu. Like I said, he was a big guy, he was starving, and I think we all knew the food in this place just wasn't going to cut it. We were too polite to get up and leave, so we ordered some god-awful concoction of watercress and tofu -- maybe I'm exaggerating just a little, but you get the picture. To top it off, when the waitress brought our food out there was about 3 ounces of artfully presented fare per plate. While aesthetically pleasing and actually quite tasty, when we finished we found ourselves less than fully satisfied.
I was reminded of this experience after reading Adam Rubin's Pedro, Carlos, and Omar: The Story of a Season in the Big Apple and the Pursuit of Baseball's Top Latino Stars. Not that I equate Rubin's book with any sort of froo-froo vegetarian fare. There are meat and potatoes on this plate. It was a solid, enjoyable read for a Met fan, but when I was finished, I had that same feeling of wanting just a little more.
What Rubin did well in his book is present a solid history of the 2005 Mets season. He is one of the better Mets beat writers, and he knows how to describe the action both on an off the field, interjecting doses of personalities and color all the way through. I guess the problem for me was, although I got to meet a lot of the characters through this book, I didn't really get to know any of them. Often I found myself wishing that Rubin would go a little deeper, and really give me a good look at Omar, Willie, Cliff Floyd, David Wright, or any of the other characters.
Towards the very end of the book, Rubin provides details of an oddly combative Willie Randolph being petulant with the beat writers because they wanted his take on moving Mike Piazza down in the batting order:
Randolph could be feisty with the media, with no better example than before a July 19 game against the Padres. The manager dropped Piazza, a future Hall of Famer, to sixth in the lineup, where he had not batted since early in his rookie season in 1993 with the Dodgers. Wright jumped ahead of Piazza to fifth, an undeniable changing of the guard in which the Mets' future star was superceding the club's fading one. Randolph hoped to minimize the story. In doing so, he insisted there was none, which led to a testy exchange with reporters.
It was one thing to ensure his players didn't get too high or low by maintaining an even keel. But Randolph could not stop New York tabloids from creating a stir through simply downplaying the move. Not even Karl Rove, President Bush's brilliant and controversial strategist, would have succeeded.
"We're at the halfway point. I've learned a lot from watching my team up to this point. And after a while you make adjustments, or you do what you feel is best," Randolph said, when explaining about dropping Piazza. "I still don't understand why this is a big deal, but I'll answer the questions. I'll sit here and just play along."
"It's not a big deal," Marty Noble from MLB.com said. "We just need your words."
"No. No. It's more than that, Marty," Randolph said. "C'mon, you need my words? . . . Whatever."
"What do you think it is?" Peter Abraham from the Journal News of Westchester asked. "It's not personal."
"No, it's not personal. I'm not taking it as personal," Randolph said. "But what's the big deal? It's from fifth to sixth. It's putting together the team."
"We have stories to do," Abraham said. "Tell me what we should write."
"Oh, so you want to make a story then?" Randolph asked.
"I don't want to," Abraham said. "I have to."
"Oh, you have to?" Randolph said.
"I have to," Abraham said. "I have to write a notebook before the game."
"Tell your editor this is not a big deal," Randolph said. "It's not a big deal right now."
"Well, it was big enough that you talked to Mike about it, right?" Don Burke from the Newark Star-Ledger asked, noting how Piazza had been summoned into the manager's office for a meeting earlier that afternoon.
"Well, that's because I'd rather tell my player before I tell you guys," Randolph said. "If I don't, then you're going to jump him or whatever and make a bigger story. So I always make a practice of telling my player."
"Every day, no matter what happens, we have to write a story before the game," Abraham said. "Every single day. We can't tell our editors, 'You know--"'
"I understand that," Randolph said, jumping in. "But is this really a story? Is this the story, though?"
"Well, then you tell me what the story is," Abraham said. "What else is the story? It's a sunny day? I mean, we have to write about the lineup."
"Is this a story?" Randolph said. "Is this a story, is what I'm saying to you."
"It's part of the notebook," Abraham said. "That's all it is. It's not the end of the world."
"Okay. All right," Randolph said. "And it's not. That's why I don't understand. I mean, he's on my team. He's in the lineup. He's playing. Instead of hitting fifth, he's hitting sixth."
"But no one gives a shit what we think," Abraham said. "We've got to get what you think. People care what you think."
"I just think I'm putting together the best lineup for me," Randolph said. "I've said that from day one. Even right now, we don't need to be talking about this, because all you're going to do is make a big deal about this. All I'm saying to you is that I've moved my lineup around all year long. I've done it all year long, okay? To me, this is a waste of time to be talking about something as simple as moving a guy from fifth to sixth. That's all.
"Or from seventh to first," Randolph continued, making reference to the weeks-old, brief demotion of Reyes from the leadoff spot. "That's all. It's a story because you have a job to do and I understand that. But for me, it's like . . . it's part of my team."
In his last meeting of the 2005 season with the beat writers, Randolph professed with a straight face that he enjoyed his dealings with the media. "Even though some of you are assholes," he added in a playful manner.
It was one of the better passages in the book to my taste, I just wished I could have seen more like that.
Please don't misunderstand me here, I'm still recommending this book to Mets fans. This is a solid historical look at a pivotal season in Mets history. It's entertaining and well-written. I enjoyed reading it, and I have a feeling I will personally come to value this book more a few years down the road when the details of this season are less fresh in my memory.
My one quibble? Part of what I hoped for in reading Adam Rubin's book was an opportunity to really get to know the characters that encompassed the 2005 Mets. Just like after that lunch all those years ago in Greenfield, Massachusetts, at the end I found myself still just a little bit hungry.
Pedro, Carlos, and Omar: The Story of a Season in the Big Apple and the Pursuit of Baseball's Top Latino Stars
Author: Adam Rubin
Hardcover, 240 pages, The Lyons Press
Buy Pedro, Carlos, and Omar on Amazon.com