Be sure never to consult the Mets’ book on public relations.
On Monday afternoon, Mets general manager Omar Minaya held a press conference to announce that the director of player development, Tony Bernazard, was being let go. This came days after Daily News Mets beat reporter Adam Rubin broke a story that Mr. Bernazard had taken his shirt off in front of a bunch of minor leaguers and told them to take a swing at him. When they didn’t, he called them a bunch of pussies.
At the press conference, Mr. Minaya spoke about the firing, and then, oddly, brought up Mr. Rubin.
At first, Mr. Rubin thought he was getting an awkward compliment for bringing the Bernazard fight story to the light of day, he told a reporter at SNY. Instead, most bizarrely, Mr. Minaya announced that Mr. Rubin was lobbying for a job in the Mets player-development department.
When a shaken Mr. Rubin grabbed a microphone to say he found the allegation “despicable,” he asked whether Mr. Minaya was implying that he’d written the shirt-lifting story because he wanted to take Mr. Bernazard’s job.
Mr. Minaya said no, but didn’t explain why he brought it up at all.
When the press conference ended, Mr. Rubin admitted that he had spoken with Mets owner Jeff Wilpon about getting a job in baseball—but not specifically with the Mets. The Mets did not produce incriminating emails.
Enough said. Mr. Rubin was pronounced innocent. And Mr. Minaya’s obituary was being prepared.
“How many more days are there until Omar Minaya is asked to step down as general manager of the Mets?” wrote Jay Schreiber on The Times’ baseball blog, Bats, Tuesday afternoon.
“On the subject of losing jobs, Minaya clearly is in the crosshairs now,” wrote the Post’s Joel Sherman.
“He will not survive this,” declared Buster Olney, the ESPN.com writer who used to cover the Mets for The Times.
Mr. Minaya might learn this lesson too late, but here it is anyway: Don’t blame the press. And, in New York, never, ever mess with sports reporters in front of other sports reporters.
“Sports reporting has a very unique atmosphere—it follows byzantine rules and standards,” said veteran PR man Ken Sunshine. “There is a lot of clannishness. They compete mightily, but there’s a different clannishness as opposed to entertainment reporters or political reporters. … A lot of these guy travel together—they’re together for a long time. There’s a special bond there.”
“I think you saw it—everyone stuck up for [Adam],” said Bob Klapisch, a columnist for the Record of Bergen County who back in the 1990s was threatened by Mets outfielder Bobby Bonilla in the clubhouse, in a moment that seemed to forever symbolize the lowly Mets of the early ’90s.
“There’s a better time and place for that,” said Harvey Araton, the veteran sports columnist for The Times who, next week, will start writing culture features. “You can talk to the reporter’s editor. You can sit the reporter down and talk to him about it. But to go public like that? It just seems like they were lashing back at the messenger, and to me that makes them look small.”
Instead of Day 2 stories on the Mets recent winning streak, everyone piled on Mr. Minaya. And those pesky sports reporters, meanwhile, wondered how they could ever trust him again.
“How do you talk to Omar now without thinking that something is gonna be on, off or whatever the record?” said Ron Darling, the Mets broadcaster on SNY, hours after the press conference. (Mr. Darling graced the cover of the Observer a few weeks back.)
“The Mets message is now this,” said Mr. Klapisch. “If you write the truth, we’re going to hurt you in the way that you hurt us. We’ll find a way to embarrass you. Everything you thought that was discussed privately, we’ll air it out and hurt you.”
But if that was the goal, the only thing they achieved was alienating New York sports reporters. The Daily News, however, is sanguine about the whole thing.
“Adam Rubin’s personal conversations about his career, while perhaps naïve, were not an ethical breach and have certainly never compromised his coverage of the Mets,” wrote News editor Martin Dunn to The Observer. “The bottom line is Adam uncovered a blockbuster sports story, which was very damaging to the Mets, and every other media organization in the city and beyond had to follow his exclusives. Adam will continue covering the Mets and we fully expect him to get the same co-operation and access he has always received from the team.”