Watching the American League wildcard play-“in” game last Wednesday, I could not help but find myself as a die-hard New York Mets fan yelling at the screen in defense of the hated Yankees and their manager, Aaron Boone. When pressed to talk to the ESPN booth about how poorly the Yankees’ “$324-Million-Dollar-Man-Who-Is-Not-deGrom” was pitching in their most important game of the season, Boone grimaced through his answer, then quickly removed his headset to go back to what he is paid to do: managing.
The idea of old school managing based on how the game progresses, gut instinct, etc., seems antiquated now in a system dictated by “Wannabe Manager” GMs and their sabermetric minions — all who pre-determine what the manager should do during the game before the first pitch is thrown (see: 2020 World Series, Game 7) — at the risk of getting fired.
With the New York Mets expected hiring of a POBO, General Manager, and Manager, their billionaire owner (16 times) over has presented with a golden opportunity to break the mold.
I recall how offended I was when I first encountered the in-game “booth to manager” interviews, how it was hailed as a “pioneering” effort by ESPN to give home viewers access to the manager’s strategy because of the game’s “lack of a natural break.” Really??? Do we really need to give the fan at home that oh-so-special insight into the mind of the man at the helm during the game? As if any skipper was going somehow spill the beans on his private thoughts regarding strategy.
Let’s imagine, for a moment, Luis Rojas — with all the pressure on him to win this year — being asked during the game what he was thinking when he decided to have Edwin Diaz pitch to the hot-hitting Bryan De La Cruz over the guy on deck– a .100 hitting Lewin Diaz in one of the crucial, potential turning point games late this past year. Why do we need to know right then?
Ask yourself: what will we learn from his answer that we won’t learn in his post-game press conference? Zero, that’s what.
If you disagree, and still believe the casual or even most astute genuine fan of the game really needs to know what the Mets manager is thinking at that moment, then is it worth it at the risk of having him make yet another mental error because he was not concentrating on the Xs and Os of the game? Do you really believe it will only be limited to nationally televised games in the near future? And do you think either Gary, Keith, or Ron has a sincere appetite to do it?
This inexplicable disdain for the role managers plays in baseball is creeping into all aspects of the game such that we are now reading about the idea of computerized managing (to follow the inevitable computerized umpiring). Perhaps some of us think we want everything reported in real-time because that is the pitch the networks make so we can watch their game and wait for the misstep they create by interjecting themselves in the manager’s mind to serve their purpose: ratings.
Seen that way, getting keen insight seconds after a controversial decision has nothing — absolutely nothing — to do with the game or the professed respect some members of the media claim to have for the manager. That can’t be the path of the New York Mets. And Steve Cohen is just the man to ensure it won’t.
Whoever the next manager of the Mets is, I am certain none of them are eager to talk to the broadcast booth about his decision-making any more than (ironically enough) Davey Johnson felt he needed to explain why he put up lefty-hitting Nails to pinch-hit against a lefty reliever in the top of the ninth during the 1986 Mets’ most important game of the year.
What Steve Cohen needs to tell his manager is, “No problem. You don’t want to talk to ESPN from the dugout, I got the fine covered. You manage. You win. I’ll take care of the rest.” That’s it.
I don’t know about anyone else’s team, but Mets fans want our next manager to win games and stay focused on moves five steps ahead of the other guy. Let the chess match between our guy and the other play itself out with the attention, focus, and strategy we come to expect of Bobby V.
And yes… I’m sure Steve Cohen will get plenty of pushback from the owners and league about that stance, but the fact remains that freedom to speak also contemplates the freedom not to speak, and you simply cannot force a manager to speak during the game. You can certainly fine him. You can even penalize the team. But if Steve Cohen has the chutzpah to stand up for his team and fans, then I’m sure he will gladly pay for both, go on Twitter, and explain that he’d rather win games with an attentive helmsman than lose one game with an inattentive soldier.
Then let’s see how MLB and the Lords of Baseball handle the pushback from the billionaire-backed fan base in New York on that issue. Game. Set. Match. Mets.
If we don’t pull back on these misguided in-game dugout discussions, then the Mets – as is every other major league team — are simply one dugout conversation from the manager losing a key game. And his job. As sure as the ball got by Buckner, it will indeed happen.
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When it does, Major League Baseball will need to ask itself whether its “TikTok”ing of the game we love with all its historically perfect flaws was well worth it.