You see the look, and you know the condition.
Countless baseball people over the years — players, managers, executives and the rest — have agreed to work for the New York Mets. They enter wide-eyed and excited, ready to do great things for a jewel franchise with a large, passionate fan base.
They depart — be it months, years or decades later — dazed and confused, the headlights permanently imprinted on the deer.
Monday at Citi Field, the Mets will introduce Carlos Beltran as the 22nd manager in their history, and I would’ve been less shocked a month ago if you told me that Nancy Pelosi would be the Republican presidential nominee in 2020 than by this development, such was the ugliness with which Beltran and the Mets parted ways in 2011.
With that past venom, however, comes a potential future antidote: For all of Beltran’s winning qualities — his intelligence, his people skills, his generosity, his Hall of Fame playing career and many more — the attribute that might give him the best chance to succeed is his knowledge of the Mets’ uniquely eccentric ecosystem. His inability, you would think, to be shocked by what transpires.
“He feels he’s ready to take this on,” a friend of Beltran’s said on Saturday, and the most important word there would be “this.” This, meaning “The Mets,” who consistently seem to get the least out of the most, to pace the industry in unforced errors, to raise eyebrows and generate guffaws.
Beltran knows that because he has lived it. He saw Jeff Wilpon’s bad temper unfurled. He sat on the plane that carried Ryan Church, who had just suffered his second concussion in less than three months, from Atlanta to Denver.
Most notably, in Beltran’s final two years as a Mets player, he endured as the Mets attacked his integrity (the dispute over whether he needed right-knee surgery), his character (when he missed a team visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center due to a meeting with his foundation) and his performance (when Fred Wilpon told The New Yorker he was a “schmuck” for giving Beltran the actually wise, seven-year, $119 million contract). Call it the Triple Crown of smearing.
All of that theoretically toughens Beltran now, inoculates him, as he opens a new, high-stakes chapter.
Now, just because Beltran, who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, can’t be surprised, that doesn’t prevent him from being disgusted. It doesn’t prevent him from emulating Cheryl in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” who, just as she agrees to reconcile with Larry David, storms off permanently after Larry questions her respect for wood.
Moreover, this unexpected second chapter of “Carlos and the Mets” brings with it a new leading character in Brodie Van Wagenen, the second-year general manager who has staked much of his legacy on the neophyte skipper Beltran guiding this win-now team to win now. The former agent Van Wagenen, who has considerably weakened the Mets’ farm system and made a number of investments that backfired in 2019, so far has appeared to be more a symptom of this team’s dysfunction than a cure to it.
On the bright side, a pair of Van Wagenen’s deputies, Allard Baird and Omar Minaya, hold strong, longstanding relationships with Beltran and can help smooth over the inevitable rough spots.
Given the lack of bona fides held by Van Wagenen and his bosses, the Mets desperately needed a manager who would raise the collective organizational IQ. Hiring Joe Girardi represented the most conventional path to that goal. Yet who’s to say that Girardi, who grew tired of even the Yankees’ front office despite its obvious competence, wouldn’t have wound up as punch-drunk and exasperated as so many other accomplished baseball people who took the Mets challenge?
In choosing Beltran, the Mets go with a man who knows where at least some of their bodies are buried, who has seen their worst and still wants back in. Could it actually work? For sure, the Mets have executed worse ideas.
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