Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Mets Lose the Pennant


The devastating loss by the NY Mets in Game 5 of the recent baseball World Series illustrated a failure of management that should be a lesson for all who aspire to managerial roles whether in sports, business, politics, or even family life.

I went to bed last Sunday night after watching the completion of the top of the eight inning in game 5. NY Mets pitching ace Matt Harvey had just pitched his eighth inning of shut out ball against a very potent Kansas City Royals team. 
Although the Mets were down in the series three games to one, they were leading 2-0 in this game and seemed to be just where they wanted to be.

Harvey had done a great job, and now they could hand the ball to Jeurys Familia, their hard throwing closer, to do his job and complete the game. Before the game commentators and Mets fans had expressed lack of confidence about the middle relief pitchers on the Mets squad, and hoped that Harvey could just pitch well enough and long enough to hand the ball to Familia.

I am not a Met fan but did come to root for them this season because after a mediocre start that led the same commentators and fans to call for the ouster of the team’s General Manager Sandy Alderson, and Manager Terry Collins, the team had turned around with a couple of excellent acquisitions and the emergence of a corps of fine young pitchers including Familia.

You never know what can happen in baseball but I went to bed confident that the Mets would prevail in game five and live to fight another day in Kansas City.  Incredibly, I woke up next morning to discover that the Mets had lost the game and the Series by a score of 7-2 in the twelfth inning after blowing the two run lead in the ninth inning. What happened?

After Harvey had completed the eighth inning, the pitching coach informed him that his job was done and that Familia would pitch the ninth. This was the first managerial mistake. Manager Terry Collins should not have delegated this responsibility to an underling. Harvey had done a great job and the Manager should have complimented him but then informed him of his decision himself.

Predictably, an adamant Harvey resisted and said that there was no way that he was coming out of the game. He was “pumped” and wanted to finish what he had started. Now, in the heat of the moment the Manager had to make a decision.  He would not have time to check stats or rationally consider all the options. At this point, the Manager made his second mistake and acceded to Harvey’s demand.

I call it a mistake not because the Mets lost the game and the series but because Manager Terry Collins backed down and failed to do his job. No one can blame Harvey for wanting to complete the game. It is what you would expect from any great athlete. But in backing down Manager Collins weakened his own authority, and even let down the other players on the team who all had contributed to the team’s success.

Despite all the individual statistics, baseball is a team game and every player has his job on a successful team. The Kansas City team is a great example. They had no super stars but just excellent and combative players throughout their lineup and pitching staff. In agreeing to Harvey’s request the Mets Manager placed the interest of one individual above his own initial assessment of what he thought was best for the team.

The Mets loss reminded me of something that happened during my childhood 65 years ago. It was 1950 and my favorite team, the NY Yankees, was in the World Series against the “whiz kids” of the upstart Philadelphia Phillies. My aunt worked for a company that had seats for the Series and so my uncle and I were able to attend the fourth and, what turned out to be, the final game.

The Yankees had won the first game 1-0 in Philadelphia as Vic Raschi, one of the Yankee magnificent pitching triumvirate, pitched a masterful two hitter. The Yankees won the second game 2-1 as their fire-balling ace Allie Reynolds outpitched Phillie star Robin Roberts. Both pitched complete games, a rarity today. The Yankees won the third game 3-2 behind cagey left-hander Ed Lopat who had a wide variety of pitches none of which would match the speed of a high school player today. Still, Lopat pitched eight innings in that victory.

So, my uncle and I had the good fortune to be in box seats near the left field foul pole for game four. The Yankee pitcher was their young rookie phenom Whitey Ford, a small but crafty pitcher who had come up to the majors in mid-season and racked up nine straight wins. In his long career he would go on to become the winningest pitcher in World Series history.

Anyway, Ford was in good form that day and the Yankees jumped out to an early lead. He pitched a shutout into the ninth inning and the score was 5-0. There were two outs in the ninth when a fly ball was hit to Yankee left fielder Gene Woodling who was positioned just about fifty feet in front of us. He lost the ball in the sun and dropped it allowing two runs to score.

I think I remember all of this because of what happened next. Yankee Manager Casey Stengel immediately came out of the dugout and removed Ford, who had pitched magnificently, from the game. Up three games to none and ahead 5-2 with two outs in the ninth, Stengel was not going to take any chances. He brought in Allie Reynolds, who had pitched 10 innings just a couple of days before, to end the game. I believe that Reynolds blew away the batter on three straight fastballs, and that was that.

People thought that Casey Stengel was crazy and he certainly could say crazy things in a crazy manner but no one has ever matched his success as a manager. Any manager in any field would do well to follow his example.


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