It’s only been eight games. But Jerry Manuel has made it clear that he has a very different plan to manage the Mets than his predecessor, Willie Randolph. These changes range from the tactical to the philosophical, with some tone changes thrown in for good measure.
The most famous of these changes so far has been Manuel’s freewheeling press conferences with reporters, including jokingly threatening to “cut” Jose Reyes (and not as in releasing him) over an on-field tantrum, and referring to the vocally negative feedback from some Mets fans as potentially helpful “fertilizer” at Shea Stadium.
Manuel’s tactical adjustments—the things that actually relate to baseball—have gotten much less notice.
Manuel wasted little time in announcing specific roles for his bullpen pitchers. This was a decision that Willie Randolph declined to make during his tenure, as Randolph believed his relievers should be prepared for any situation. But the pitchers rebelled in word, and perhaps deed—Billy Wagner criticized Randolph for this decision in an interview with New York magazine last September, and overall the pitchers in the bullpen under Randolph performed as less than the sum of their parts, often because they were sent into situations where they were likely to fail.
Manuel’s pecking order has Wagner closing and Duaner Sanchez as his setup man, with Joe Smith as righty specialist and Pedro Feliciano as lefty specialist. It is noteworthy that Sanchez, rather than Aaron Heilman, received the eighth-inning role—that Heilman was not named by Manuel as having a bullpen role seems to indicate that his June success has not yet convinced Manuel of his reliability.
And Manuel’s failure to include Scott Schoeneweis in the discussion, too, is telling. Schoeneweis has pitched just three times in Manuel’s eight games as manager—twice in games the Mets trailed by five and ten runs—not exactly a vote of confidence for a lefty specialist Randolph seemed to use as if he were his most reliable, well-rounded pitcher.
Manuel’s approach also differs from Randolph’s in substitution patterns, particular relative to how players succeed or fail. For instance, Damion Easley, substituting for Luis Castillo on June 18, hit a game-winning home run in New York’s 5-4 victory over the Angels.
Though it might seem obvious to play him in the next game, as Manuel did, those players who succeeded often sat under Randolph, while other players who failed seemed to have a limitless amount of rope with the former manager.
This even extends to Manuel’s biggest-name players. After a subpar performance on Monday night, Manuel sat David Wright, who had played every game in 2008, saying Wright looked “fatigued.” Wright responded after Tuesday’s off day by hitting two home runs in Wednesday’s 8-2 victory, and said his bat felt lighter after the day off. Randolph refused to rest Wright unless Wright came to him—an unlikely scenario from the player who had to be told to take less home batting practice while in the minors, since it was wearing him down.
This approach will be a fascinating one as it relates to two of the Mets’ more embattled players this season, Oliver Perez and Carlos Delgado. Manuel has all but said that Perez, who has compiled a 5.65 ERA this year, is pitching for his spot in the rotation Sunday. Delgado, meanwhile, has slumped of late, with just one hit in his last 18 at-bats. And with the Mets acquiring Andy Phillips, a first-baseman who hits right-handed, Manuel’s demand for results could get the former Yankee some of Delgado’s future playing time.
And while it has not been proven that managerial ejections fire up a team, Randolph seemed eager to show at all times that in a dispute between his players and the umps, he could keep a calm head. Earlier this season, when Carlos Delgado was robbed of a home run by a mistaken umpire’s call during a May 18 game against the Yankees, it was Manuel, then the bench coach, who got ejected. Randolph, as usual, remained quiet.
“I don’t believe in trying to appease the fans over something silly like that,” Randolph told the Daily News after the game. “If you’ve got a reason to protect your players and go out and do that, you do it. What’s that going to do? Get thrown out of the game—they’re happy about that—and what happens? I’m the leader of this club and I don’t believe in moaning about calls. It was obvious that they blew the call. So what are you going to do? You keep your composure and you play the game.”
“There were no ‘magic’ words from me,” Manuel said. “Just a couple of points of the finger. I led the league in being tossed out in 2003 (as White Sox manager) and never cursed anybody.”
And on Tuesday, when umpire Paul Runge seemed to bait Carlos Beltran during an at-bat, Manuel raced onto the field to argue on behalf of his player. Both Manuel and Beltran were ejected.
Mets fans cheered both, and for Beltran, who is often portrayed as indifferent (despite playing much of the past two seasons at MVP levels on two severely injured knees), the ejection was his first as a Met. Beltran said after the game that the incident was “the first time that I’ve been so angry in my career.”
Whether it will improve the play of Beltran or the rest of the Mets is another thing entirely. But it is already clear that, for better or worse, Jerry Manuel is no Willie Randolph.