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Where are our team leaders?

An Upper Deck Bum, that’s what I am.  Your everyday, over worked/under paid average Joe.  But I make just enough to enjoy my greatest luxury in life – 20 dollar plastic red seats in the crescent’s upper deck.  Of course the fifteen or so games I go to each season cost more than the seats.  Any New York sports fan lucky enough to make it to even one game in any arena has felt the “enlightening” affect of the thick wallet they walked in with thinned after just one trip to the concession stand.  But I keep going back for more because like so many of us upper deck bums I bleed orange and blue.  The negatives are harsh and many and I fear that they will only increase with the retirement of the crescent and the unveiling of the appropriately named Jackie Robinson Field, oh... correction, the inappropriately named Corporate Field...  No that’s not right either.  Anyway, the fears and alienation of the everyday Amazin’s fan is something I’ll touch on in the weeks to come but in this inaugural column I’ll take the positive route and although it may not’ve seemed like it these past two seasons, there are indeed many positives to bleeding orange and blue.  But I ask… where’s the leadership? 

What was the greatest year in Mets history?  That’s right!  Now look at the projected ‘09 roster as compared with ‘86.  Could they be more different?  The ‘86 Amazin’s had flare, cockiness and a wealth of talent.  Today’s team does have talent.  The range and skill of our two starting outfielders, Beltran and Church are comparable to none.  Reyes is the best short stop in the game – period.  Wright covers his corner like a certain booth analyst did on the opposite end of the infield in his day. Then there’s the big man, The Chief as I call him, Mr. Delgado.  True, he’s not definition of a great first baseman but he brings not only his bat but his ability to center a pitcher and junior players.  Finally, we’ve got our Doc like Ace in Johan and two of the most promising starters in the game in Big-Pelf and J K-aine.  I do believe K-Rod and Putz will be sure money in seasons to come but whereas the team of yesteryear featured greatness at every position, today we have one of the biggest splits in the league.  The left field platoon will be a duet of Murphy and Tatis, both of whom’s best position is at the plate.  We have a pitch caller who catches what feels like an average of 50% of the balls sent his way and don’t even get me started on our second base situation.  Don’t mistake me, I love the bulk of our talented roster, but they have no flare and certainly no cockiness.  Where’s the “Nails” of today?  Where’s the blame to lie for keeping this team just on the cusp of greatness?  I only have theories and I’ll start at the top, the Wilpon’s.

Some might say, “The Wilpon’s?” yeah, the Wilpon’s.  Look at the Manny situation.  Omar loves Manny and we have the payroll and the need.  I myself am of mixed feelings on the matter but regardless a two season contracted Manny would be the perfect Reyes, Beltran, Wright, Ramirez, Delgado, Church line-up.  So why not?  Rumor has it the Wilpon’s don’t want the headache.  True, Manny gave up on his team and that’s bull.  There’s no excuse for such selfishness.  However it’s doubtful that he’d repeat such antics in a two year deal and the other “problems” that come with the left fielder are what?   He doesn’t talk to the press?  Like we don’t already have that problem.  In the eyes of many, Manny would solve more problems than he’d create.  He’d be the perfect cushion in the batting order, he’d sell seats in a new park that’s currently experiencing less than stellar pre-season sales.  Finally, he’s a champion that would bring credibility to a team that desperately needs it.  Again, it’s only rumor, but the general consensus is that the nix is a direct order from the owners and that’s a terrible shame.  The Manny thing is just one example.  Their seaming unwillingness to eat Castillo’s contract and bring in the hard playing Orlando Hudson has the fan base scratching their heads. 

I bring up the Wilpon’s because it seems as if these days the Wilpon’s shy away from vocal players.  Gone are the outspoken/hard playing Mets.  Paul LoDuca spoke from his heart, even if you didn’t agree with what he said his honesty was refreshing and respectable.   Now where is he?  I’m not suggesting that LoDuca’s mouth is the sole reason for his trade but I do believe it was apart of it.  Now few things bother die-hard fans more than the PC answers we get every night after a game – win or lose.  The “leaders” on this team never congratulate themselves and are all too gracious to the opposing team.  Now, I don’t want asinine remarks like those of the cheap champions 89 miles to the south but is what we hear and see from our boys really their personalities or perhaps the influence of those in command?  Regardless the answer, leadership may not always be defined by their comments in the press but by how their strong words inspire a clubhouse.  Again, this is only speculation, I have no idea what transpires behind the scenes but the feeling is that the courteous and squeaky-clean approach we see, read and hear our team make carries over into the stadium basement.

Maybe it’s time those who wish to sell a certain image stop worrying about trying to emulate those cross-town bullies, who themselves aren’t the “respectable” team they insist they are (ie: Steroid mustache night) and start allowing our boys to speak truth, with respect but without the muffle they seem to have strapped to their jaws.  My message to the Wilpon’s: go after finding greatness at every position, fix left field, catcher and especially second base and good god, please, let our boys be themselves!  Let Jose and David hug after a run, let Jose and Delgado invent new celebratory shakes after the Chief creams the ball, all of which without apology.  No other team apologizes for their antics; they celebrated it then turn around and attack the orange and blue!  That’s another story and thus the topic of next week’s column.  But right now I propose another possible cause for a lack of leadership, a problem that has already been fixed but whose outcome has not yet been fully realized.  Yes, number 12, Mr. Randolph. 

Willie was groomed and trained in the Spankee “sensibility” and under a manager I’ll never root for but do respect, Joe Torre.  The grooming code was just one example of how I felt Willie concentrated on the wrong things.  These are the Mets!  We’re the working class hero’s team.  You can be dignified while being gritty as dirt but all too often we had neither!  It was always, “Well, tomorrow” after a loss.  It was asking Guru Peterson and Mr. Manuel “What are they doing out there?” rather than getting dirty with your boys and making the command decisions necessary to fix a problem.  Willie wasn’t to blame for everything it’s true.  But did he baffled us when he didn’t take Mr. 300 out after 3 or 4 runs in the first inning of the final game of ’07?  Little bit.  Was he was unable to handle even the simplest press questions?  Mhm.  Did he insist on playing guys unable to produce merely because they had big contracts?  You know it.  But regardless #12 did bring a number of positives to the table, unfortunately after ‘06 it just wasn’t what this team needed but that’s the past and Mr. Manuel is the present and so I propose this to all who, like me, will walk into the ‘09 season with a chip on their shoulder... give it a chance. 

Our Mets appeared so brow beaten to behave a certain way, they seem to’ve lost not gained focus.  If you’re not pumped up before the game, or called out then pumped up after a loss, or not truly allowed to enjoy a victory, that can negatively affect anyone and that has bled onto the field.  At least it did.  However after Mr. Manuel, a man unafraid to speak his mind or to make the hard decisions took over you could see the almost instant change in the team’s approach.  You hear it in between the lines whenever our boys are asked who they prefer playing for, #12 or #53 (and I agree with not throwing any former teammate under the bus, so the PC answer is acceptable in these instances).  Now despite the positive influence Mr. Manuel had on the team, it was for only half a season and the residue of the past was ever apparent.  But 2009 is a new year and it brings a fresh start.

I believe under Mr. Manuel’s leadership from day one of spring training combined with the fire of the Ace bookends of Johan and K-Rod that the players in the limbo point of young to veteran aka Wright/Reyes will find that Hernandez/Carter-esk differing yet complimentary leadership.  Those two are the present and the future and if they can find a way to remain focused they have the chance to become the premier clubhouse leaders in the majors.  Our guys on the left side of the infield have more potential than almost any Met duo since #17 & #8 graced the green in the crescent.   Like when those legends of yesteryear first arrived in the big apple, DW & JR don’t have help at every position.   They do have and are made stronger with the two Carlos’s.  Beltran may be a quiet player but there’s no mistaking his hard as “nails” style and range on the green.  And I don’t care what anyone says, Delgado should never be overlooked as The Chief.  Again, he’s not the premier first baseman of all time, but we all know what he can do with a healthy bat and he’s saved many a innings when a young pitcher got in trouble, lost focus and then #21 strolls over to the mound and calms him down.  The Chief was our MVP last year.  With those four and the new pitching staff young blood like Murphy and others will develop through example.  Again, it starts at the top.  I will hand it to the Wilpon’s and Omar, they let Mr. Manuel do his thing last season and it resurrected a team most considered dead by mid June.  Sure, in the end we came up one game short but that won’t be the case this year.  I theorize that under Mr. Manuel we have the best shot we’ve had since the glory days of Davey Johnson.  So 2009 here we come!  New leadership, new home, new bullpen and hopefully our roster will take charge and will find a new glory, not imitating Davey’s unique band of champions but forging their own path with inspiration from the legendary leaders of Mets past.

But then again, what do I know?  I have no firm solutions, just ideas from someone who like most of us has spent exactly zero hours in an MLB clubhouse.  But I hope I echo some of your feelings and that you’ll return next Tuesday and every Tuesday to read me rant and bitch and try to make sense out of a game that maybe shouldn’t be made sense of.  And hell, if ya don’t agree with me, come back anyway, comment on what a fool I am and let’s debate baby!  All I know for certain is that in a little over 100 days I’ll take my first trip to Jackie Robinson Field and although the cheap, well not cheap but cheaper seats’ll be on the new and fancable promenade level, as with many of us I will forever remain an Upper Deck Bum.

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