09/20/2010 3:41 PM ET
Do managers make a difference?
Mets' 2011 skipper should not be team's top priority
By Howard Megdal / SNY.tv
Jerry Manuel has made some head-scratching decisions, but is he to blame for the 2010 season? (AP)

I care about everything that has to do with the New York Mets. I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about Jenrry Mejia's innings, Ruben Tejada's at-bats, fan giveaways, even the lack of a second Shake Shack in right field at Citi Field. The addition would be a financial and fan-friendly no-brainer.

So why, you might ask, don't I care much about who the next manager of the Mets will be?

It isn't because I think Jerry Manuel's been an effective manager -- I certainly don't believe that. His penchant for bunting in ludicrous situations, either overusing or banishing relievers, and -- his apparent going-away present -- his refusal to make lineups that will best help the team get ready for 2011 are all infuriating.

But let's face it: This Mets team wasn't going to the playoffs, regardless of the manager. And without a comprehensive change in player evaluation -- something accomplished above the manager's pay grade -- that will be true in 2011 and seasons to come.

Let's examine the role of Joe Torre, for instance. Torre won four World Series championships with the New York Yankees and led the team to a dozen playoff appearances. So the rumors that Torre could be heading to Flushing should be cause for celebration, right?

Well, not for me. Torre's inability to manage a bullpen was strange from afar, and my Yankees fan friends assure me, it was infuriating to experience up close. Think Willie Randolph-style bullpen management, without the paranoia toward the press or seeming need to claim he was "a winner" repeatedly.

As a writer, the idea of Torre in the manager's chair is an appealing one -- Torre never snubs a member of the media, and is one of the true gentlemen in baseball. Still, a huge fear, in light of the Jeff Francoeur debacle, is that precisely those qualities in Torre could keep the beat reporters from mentioning Torre's faults.

Moreover, I see the Yankees teams Torre led to the postseason were actually led by talent up and down the roster. I also notice that, during the 1995 season, a Joe Torre-led Cardinals team fired Torre after a 20-27 start. Despite whatever skills he brought to the dugout in New York, he didn't win in St. Louis with an infield of John Mabry, Jose Oquendo, Tripp Cromer and Scott Cooper. No, seriously. That was the infield. Maybe 20-27 does represent a managerial miracle!

I know Bobby Valentine is also a popular choice. I actually enjoy Valentine's in-game managing. I remember that when Valentine had talent, he looked intelligent. When he managed the 2002 Mets, far less so. That team finished 75-86, thanks in large part to a 6-21 August.

I don't believe Valentine forgot how to motivate his players in 2002. Without the talent, he simply couldn't make the Mets into champions.

Probably the best example of this is Casey Stengel, universally understood as one of the finest baseball minds in the game's history. That mind didn't help him lift either the Brooklyn Dodgers or the Boston Braves to better than a fifth-place finish in nine seasons at the helm of the two teams. With the Yankees, it was a different story. He won 10 pennants and seven world championships. Then, just as quickly, he managed to forget all his wisdom in four seasons with the Mets, all of them 100-loss campaigns.

Am I to believe that Stengel managed to make the Mets overachieve? That 40-120 in 1962 was better than anyone had reason to expect? Or that sometime between 1960 and 1962, that Stengel forgot how to effectively manage a baseball team?

Obviously, the differences are measured between Whitey Ford and Roger Craig, Moose Skowron and Marv Throneberry, Yogi Berra and Choo Choo Coleman. If Stengel could have written the former trio into the latter lineup, only then would records have changed.

The other manager being discussed (I'll assume for now that Lee Mazzilli was a Bill Madden fever dream) is Wally Backman. Interestingly, Backman has mostly succeeded as a skipper in the Minor Lagues. His 2002 Southern League campaign with the Birmingham Barons, when he went 79-61, i so often cited.

Notice, however, that he managed Winston-Salem the year before, and the team recorded a 54-86 finish. Did Backman learn how to manage that year? Perhaps. Or perhaps, it was the lack of future Major League talent on Winston-Salem? Five players went on to the Major Leagues, and none of them played full-time roles. On Birmingham, Aaron Miles, Miguel Olivo, and a total of 11 players made the Major Leagues.

Time will tell if Brooklyn was similarly stacked this year. Cory Vaughn's season for the ages certainly helped Wally Backman look more intelligent, that's for sure.

So who will the next Mets manager be? None of these choices thrills me, with the possible exception of Stengel. But tell me who the general manager will be, and how the team will be run, and I'll be happy to predict how the manager will do, no matter who he is.

Howard Megdal is a contributor to SNY.tv, MLBTradeRumors.com and the editor of The Perpetual Post. His book, The Baseball Talmud, is available now. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/HowardMegdal.
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