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Jerry Manuel – Brainy, But Is He Fiery Enough?

Mets general manager Omar Minaya hired Willie Randolph as manager prior to the 2005 season and fired him last month with the team’s record stuck at a mediocre 34-35.

 

Many Mets fans blamed Randolph for losing the last game of the 2006 playoffs against St. Louis and being eliminated from the World Series. The blame game gained momentum late in September last season as the Mets collapsed down the stretch.

 

Under Randolph, the Mets in three and a half seasons won 302 games and lost 253, a .544 winning percentage. Pretty good numbers, but not good enough for New York. Don’t feel too sorry for the 54-year-old Randolph, though: the Mets have to pay him the $3.4 million remaining on his contract.

 

I don’t understand Minaya’s choice of Jerry Manuel (Randolph’s bench coach) as the Mets’ new manager. Not that Manuel can’t manage — he skippered the Chicago White Sox for six seasons (1998-2003) finishing first once, second four times and third only once.

 

Manuel is probably the most intellectual manager in the big leagues today. An avid reader of books and a collector of knowledge, Manuel (like Randolph an African American) has a quiet demeanor but will argue with umpires more often and longer than Randolph.

 

As much as I like and respect Manuel, I would have hired Dodgers coach Larry Bowa, who followed Joe Torre over from the Yankees. Bowa is as fiery as you can get without being locked up. He might well be the only person able to light a fire under some of the Mets’ Latin Club (members include the first baseman, shortstop and center fielder).

 

It’s not that I think Bowa is a great manager. In fact, I’d rather start a season with Manuel and I’d rather have dinner and a conversation with Manuel. But for a try at a quick fix, I’d take Bowa.

 

By the way, Manuel was the first player I ever interviewed.

 

It was 33years ago and Manuel was a 21-year-old backup rookie infielder with a terrible Tigers team. I was writing baseball for the weekly All-Sports TV Log, of blessed memory, at $15 per story.

 

The publication contained television listings and advertising spun around a couple of sports stories and was distributed free in the Detroit area. The front man for the publication was none other than Denny McLain. The loquacious former Tigers pitcher, who won an amazing 31 games in 1968, was also hosting a radio and television talk show at the time.

 

I was paid for several baseball stories, but am still owed $75. The checks signed by McLain would have been worth more uncashed. Anyway, I was quite impressed with Manuel back then. He was a polished speaker for his age and had many interests.

 

At the time, I never thought he would have the opportunity to become a big league manager. But times change. Look who’s running for president for the Democrats. Come to think of it, back then Manuel looked quite a bit like Barack Obama.

 

I’d rather vote for Manuel, though.

 

* * * * * *

 

Shawn Green’s retirement this year caught many by surprise. Green, who hit .291 with 10 homers for the Mets last season, had a very impressive September, with a .407 batting average in 59 at bats.

 

All told, his 446 at-bats in 2007 included 37 bases on balls, giving Green a .352 on-base percentage. The numbers were good enough for Green to ponder several offers outside New York. None, however, were from teams close enough to where the Greens (wife and two daughters) were building their new home in Irvine, California.

 

So Green, who turned 36 last January, opted to retire with 328 career home runs, three shy of the legendary Hank Greenberg’s total. Green’s career batting average (.283) is 30 points behind Greenberg’s, but Green had a game no other player — Jewish or not –ever had.

 

While playing for the Dodgers on May 23, 2002, in Milwaukee, Green wowed the baseball world by hitting four home runs, a double and a single for a major league record 19 total bases.

 

Over a five-year span from 1998 through 2002, the left-handed batting Green averaged 38 home runs and 112 RBIs — Hank Greenberg-type numbers. But Greenberg, who played 13 seasons compared with Green’s 15, remains the greatest Jewish slugger of all time.

 

* * * * *  *

 

            The Adam Greenberg story may have a happy baseball ending after all. The likable outfielder from Connecticut made his major league debut at age 24 with the Cubs on July 9, 2005, but was hit in the head by the very first pitch thrown to him.

 

After spending the rest of the season on the disabled list, and dealing with health problems brought on by the beaning, Adam tried to work his way back through the minor leagues.

 

With Wichita in the Texas League (Kansas City Royals organization) last year, Greenberg batted .266 with eight home runs and 43 RBIs, but was released.

 

With no offers from any major league organization this year, Greenberg, now 27, latched on with the Bridgeport Blue Fish of the Independent League. The brand of baseball there is considered lower than at any minor league level, but slightly higher than college ball.

 

After 13 games with the Bluefish, Greenberg was batting .289 with two doubles, two triples and two stolen bases. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (what a ridiculous name) signed Greenberg and assigned him to their Double-A club (Arkansas Travelers) in the Texas League.

 

Let’s hope Greenberg gets another shot at the majors as a player. If not, he should consider a minor league coaching job and working back up that way. Greenberg is smart and well thought of, and could rise rapidly.

 

Either way, he’ll have thousands of rooters.

 

* * * * * *

 

Much has been said and written about Tim Russert, who died suddenly last month at 58. Best known as the moderator of Sunday morning’s “Meet the Press,” Russert was also NBC News Washington bureau chief. As great as he was in many roles, Russert loved and knew as much about baseball as he did current events and politics.

 

Russert grew up in Buffalo in the 1950′s and early 60′s and motored south to see big league baseball in Cleveland. A great fan of the Yankees, he eventually adopted the Washington Nationals and had season tickets.

 

Russert would have been as good covering baseball for ESPN as he was covering the political scene for NBC. His passing is a great loss for those of us who like excellence and fairness in the media instead of just another pretty face.

 

Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. His “Baseball Insider” column appears the second week of each month in The Jewish Press. Cohen, who is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at  irdav@sbcglobal.net.

About the Author: The author of 10 books, Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years and interviewed the legendary Hank Greenberg. He went on to work for a major league team and became the first Orthodox Jew to earn a World Series ring. He can be reached in his Detroit area dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.


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