By Mike Steffanos
I've been a Mets fan since 1969. There have been some good times and a whole lot more lean times. Steve Phillips' tenure as Mets General Manager offered a sampling of both.
When Steve replaced Joe McIlvaine in 1997 he was taking over a club that had fallen hard since their late 1980s heyday, but was in the process of bouncing back in Bobby Valentine's first year at the helm. That's important to take note of, because I've seen Phillips receive unwarranted credit for bringing the club back to respectability that more properly belongs to Valentine.
Steve Phillips loved to make deals, and it seemed that players were always coming and going under his watch. He gets some credit for building the club that made the playoffs in both 1999 and 2000, but he also has to take some blame for the rapid decline of the club in 2001 and 2002. He managed to outlast Valentine in New York by a few months before being replaced by Jim Duquette in June of 2003. I thought it was a telling reminder of Phillips' time in control that when the Mets decided to tear it all down that June there were very few worthwhile players in system that were ready to be brought up. 20-year-old Jose Reyes was the best of them.
After GM by committee failed in 2004, Omar Minaya was hired and brought with him both a flair for immediately upgrading the team and a vision for the future -- which is something that's been lacking here for a long time. Meanwhile, Bobby Valentine, a true baseball man, went to Japan and had success as a manager there. Steve Phillips, on the other hand, was hired by ESPN, which occasionally allows him to pretend to be the savvy baseball executive that he truly never was. Sometimes he even gets to criticize real baseball men like Omar Minaya. You have to appreciate the irony.
Some Mets fans are angry with Phillips for confidently asserting the Mets starting pitching will fail them en route to a third-place finish in the NL East. As for me, I can only be grateful that he is in Bristol, CT rather than Flushing, NY. How does that old saying go? Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. Those who can't even teach get jobs on television. Hasta la vista, Steve.