Squared Up: Remember the Maine (…wait: don't)
On May 17, Hanley Ramirez boots a ball, loafs after it, and gets benched. He reacts by snarking on his manager, Fredi Gonzalez, for never having played in the major leagues; he also refuses to apologize to teammates, either for jaking or for creating clubhouse drama. That in turn prompts a spate of articles about Ramirez's immaturity blighting his talent — and a visit from Andre Dawson to tell Ramirez to suck it up and say he's sorry, or else.
On May 31, Sports Illustrated runs a cover-touted story on "Hanley Being Hanley" in which L. Jon Wertheim, while not trying to justify Ramirez's recent misbehavior, compares him favorably to Albert Pujols and refers to him repeatedly as a franchise player.
A few days ago, Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez gets the boot.
Not a coincidence.
Gonzalez denies that the Ramirez kerfuffle led to his firing, saying, "I don't want him to be blamed for that," and if we look at it narrowly, Ramirez isn't personally to blame for Gonzalez's firing. He's on the petulant side, but I don't think he'd pull a Dick Allen "he goes or I go" on the front office. But do I think that situation is responsible for Gonzalez's firing? I do, and I saw it coming. Not that I can prove that; I should have written it down somewhere and posed it next to a newspaper or something, but the minute the team had to get Hawk to threaten to knock Ramirez on his ass, I told Bean, "Gonzalez won't make it to the All-Star break."
He'd lost the room. I suspect that Ramirez said what others were thinking, for starters, and Ramirez is a franchise player, and when your franchise player talks shit about his boss and it takes three days to bring him to heel, that's it. One of 'em's got to go. And it ain't Ramirez.
I don't think it speaks particularly ill of Gonzalez as a manager generally; not every management style fits every team or player, and this kind of workplace friction just happens sometimes, probably more often than the clubs want us to know. I bet a version of it happened with Manny Ramirez. It would not surprise me to learn that Francona went to Theo Epstein or another member of the front-office team and said, "Look, he's a talented guy, and I've let a lot of shit go to keep the peace, but my inability to deal with Manny loses me the respect of the rest of the clubhouse, and if you want me to lead the team effectively, you've got to get rid of the problem child." It wouldn't surprise me to learn that it went vice versa, either.
And Gonzalez's firing didn't surprise me a bit. I would bet money the front office decided a month ago to wait a seemly amount of time, then let him go when they could reasonably claim it wasn't connected to the Hanley thing. The team obliged the front office by playing "inconsistently" during that period, but even had the Marlins gone 25-5 in the intervening time, I bet they'd have waited until the team hit a bad patch and then given Gonzalez the boot.
Now Bobby Valentine's name is getting bandied about as the most likely replacement — and if the issue really is that Gonzalez couldn't manage his players, and specifically Ramirez, I don't know that Valentine is the answer. I like Bobby V, don't get me wrong, but the Ramirez challenge seems to call for a steady but imposing manager who instills a modicum of fear in his players without doing a lot of yelling that might let them play victim. We'll see how it develops.
Anyone else feel like there's a media movement afoot to get us to give up on John Maine? I might not have noticed it if not for Will Leitch's recent "how to fix the Mets" piece in New York, in which he advocated admitting that certain players just would not get it done, and dumping their contracts:
The Mets have a lot of guys like this: [Jeff] Francoeur, Gary Matthews Jr., Alex Cora, Fernando Tatis, John Maine—below-average players allowed to suck up valuable roster space because they’re good in the clubhouse, have recognizable names, and can talk into a microphone.
Matthews got his release shortly after the piece appeared in the May 23 issue, which in a way makes Leitch's point, but for some reason Maine's inclusion in the list surprised me. But then he didn't do well in Buffalo, and then Jerry Manuel — having watched maybe five minutes of a Maine rehab start — pointedly told reporters that he didn't plan to move Takahashi to the bullpen upon Maine's return or use Maine himself out of the bullpen. Someone asked where Manuel did plan to pitch Maine, then. Manuel's response: "On an off day." He was "joking," but that prompted a lot of discussion in the respective Mets booths.
Then Seth Everett kicked off the Baseball Today week by talking with Jerry Crasnick about how an elbow injury is one thing as far as making a comeback, but a shoulder problem like Maine's is something entirely different, and maybe it's time to accept blah blah "not the pitcher he was" blah blah.
I don't disagree with any of that, actually, but it's a little odd that the narrative seemed to switch a few weeks ago from "What's wrong with John Maine?" to "Whatever's wrong with John Maine can't be fixed/isn't worth trying to fix." And we do know what's wrong with him now — rotator-cuff tendonitis, which is not promising — but what's really "wrong with" Maine isn't about Maine. It's about his three-plus-million-a-year salary, which he's making based on a merely-pretty-good season in 2007. His WHIP is not great. His BB/SO ratio is not great. He's never given a team 200 innings; he's only given a team 100 innings twice. And he's already 29. Again, I don't think this is or has been any big secret, but everyone seemed to put down the Kool-Aid at the same time. Well, except the Met front office.
I feel for Maine, no doubt he's frustrated, it's a shame, et cetera, and it's not just the Mets who pay for a prior season and then run a guy out there every five days, or let him live on the DL, until they get the season they paid for. You see it all the time. What you don't see is the team media and the manager all at the same time kind of holding an intervention on expectations that way. I don't see it working, but it would impress me if either Manuel or Minaya came right out and said, dude's arm is done, next case.
Tags: Albert Pujols Andre Dawson Baseball Today Bobby Valentine Dick Allen Fredi Gonzalez Hanley Ramirez Hisanori Takahashi Jerry Crasnick Jerry Manuel John Maine L. Jon Wertheim Manny Ramirez Omar Minaya Seth Everett Squared Up Terry Francona Theo Epstein Will Leitch