By Mike Steffanos
After a day off yesterday, the Mets kick it back into gear tonight with a game against the Orioles. Another good start by Mike Pelfrey will really put him in the driver seat for the fifth starter's job. I have to admit that I was hoping for Chan Ho Park to win the job out of camp and for Pelfrey to come up a month or two into the season. I really do think it takes a lot of pressure off a rookie when he breaks in with a club during the season rather than right out of camp. Still, it's hard to make a case for Park or any of the lesser candidates for the rotation with less than 2 weeks to go before the games start counting.
Yesterday I talked about a couple of articles that didn't impress me very much. Here are some recent ones that I really enjoyed:
In Sunday's New York Post, Kevin Kernan offers up a terrific profile of John Ricco, Tony Bernazard and Sandy Johnson, the guys behind the scenes who have contributed greatly to the successful makeover of a moribund Mets franchise. I like Omar a lot, and respect what he has accomplished here, but it's important to acknowledge that no one can do a huge job by himself. It's a credit to Minaya that he isn't afraid to surround himself with talented people:
Yes, Minaya's Men are a unique group. While so many teams have gone to the young guns' approach to leadership, the Mets have one of the most diverse leadership groups in the game. That is their strength and a big reason why they have gone from a team that was lost on the field to one of the more highly regarded franchises in the game.
Whenever the Mets make a move - big or small - it is discussed at length between Minaya, Bernazard, Ricco and Johnson. Four different backgrounds, four different opinions.
Ricco, 38, is the assistant GM. He came over from the Commissioner's Office, where he was the director of the contract salary administration. He looks quiet and studious, but can be sarcastic. He is the joker of the group. Think Eddie Haskell from "Leave It To Beaver."
Bernazard, 50, is VP of development, a former second baseman who spent 10 years in the majors. He was a special assistant with the Players Association, often sitting across the table from Ricco. Bernazard brings passion, knowledge and history.
Johnson, 68, is VP of scouting, the baseball lifer who first hired Minaya as a scout with the Rangers in 1985. He has seen it all and is not shy with his opinions. No one knows the 48-year-old Minaya better than Johnson. "You could see right away he was a people person," Johnson says of when he first hired Minaya.
Minaya the people person is not afraid to surround himself with talented people.
"We all came from different backgrounds and that's a credit to Omar," Ricco says. "He does that in all walks of life, he brings people together. You got the former big-league player in Tony, you got the grouchy, old scout in Sandy and you got the bookworm in me, and somehow we not only co-exist, but work well together. We are constantly coming at things with different views and that's what gives us strength."
... When Omar and his front-office team first came together in November of 2004, they knew where the franchise stood.
"The Mets were an irrelevant organization," Bernazard says of that time. "Players did not want to come here. That's one of the first things I told Omar, I heard it all the time. I was in tune with the players. We had to change that."
They did just that, signing Pedro Martinez. Since the Red Sox lost Pedro, they have been swept away in the first round of the 2005 playoffs and finished in third place in 2006 while the Mets have been moving forward. "We have to keep pushing," Bernazard says.
"You voice your opinion," Johnson says of the meetings. "Hey, don't ask me if you don't want answers. It's pretty informal and we just shoot from the hip. That's the way I've always done it. I'm not changing now, for cripes sake. I'm on the back nine."
"We argue over everything," Ricco says.
"I allow them to express their opinions," Minaya says with a chuckle. "I cherish experience and track record and I also value statistical information, bringing in young guys. I think it's important to think outside the box. I always tell them, 'Don't be afraid to disagree with the general manager.'"
Contrast the above with the way the franchise had been run for over a decade before Minaya was hired. The changes to this organization go much deeper than good trades and marquee free agent signings. Not only is it fun to be a Mets fan now, but I feel fairly secure for the first time since the 1980s that it's likely to still be fun 2 or 3 years down the road.
In a similar vein, MinorLeagueBaseball.com's Kevin T. Czerwinski discusses the keys to the Mets' successful efforts in scouting and developing Latin American ballplayers, while John Delcos of the The Journal News highlights the team's efforts to teach Mets minor leaguers more than baseball skills.
Regular readers of this blog know that Lisa and I are in the process of buying a house. It dragged on for a while, thanks mostly to negotiations over removal of some asbestos that turned up, but finally the closing is set for Friday.
Pete Hadrinos, who wrote the terrific book The Best New York Sports Arguments, will be appearing at the Barnes & Noble bookstore at 86th street and 2nd Avenue tonight at 7 PM.
It features analysis and commentary on the current San Diego Padres, as well as some historical information and lessons the organization can learn from other successful "small market" teams around MLB. The book runs 193 pages and includes a foreword by Padres CEO Sandy Alderson.
Good luck, Geoff.