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Dysfunctional Mets Fit for a Straitjacket

Jul 28, 2009 – 12:15 AM
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Lisa Olson

Lisa Olson %BloggerTitle%

Omar MinayaNEW YORK -- The Mets are certifiably nuts. Just when you think they've done most everything they can to invite mockery and derision, they readjust the clown nose and refill the water hose.

The team called a press conference Monday to announce the firing of Tony Bernazard, an executive whose personnel file had grown thick with reports of odd and inappropriate behavior. Most anywhere else -- even, dare we say, over at the Knicks' main office, which once housed people doing pratfalls into giant mounds of dung -- this would have been a fairly easy one-and-done. Take a few questions, tie it up in a bow, and vow to focus energy on the trading deadline, getting players healthy and making a run for a wild-card spot.

But rather than simply explain the Mets were terminating an employee who had made the organization look silly and out of control, general manager Omar Minaya sat behind the microphone and proved the organization had long passed silly and out of control and was careening wildly into a brick wall. Now Minaya's own future with the Mets hangs in the balance, because the public once again got a peek at how adept the Mets are at manufacturing their own scandals.

It was odd enough when Minaya used the presser to lob scurrilous claims at reporter Adam Rubin, the Mets' beat reporter for the New York Daily News. Rubin's meticulously reported stories about Bernazard -- including how the 52-year-old VP of player development took his shirt off in the clubhouse of the organization's Double-A team, called players obscene words and challenged them to a fight -- were only a few of the bad marks in Bernazard's HR file, which may never have come to light if it hadn't been for Rubin.

Minaya could barely bring himself to condemn any of Bernazard's actions or behavior. Instead Minaya decided to play the oldest trick in the book -- blame the messenger, who happened to be sitting a few rows away. "Adam, for the past couple of years, has lobbied for a player development position. He has lobbied myself, he has lobbied Tony," Minaya said. "So when these things came out I was kind of a little bit, I had to think about it. And I was a little bit, you know, somewhat, kind of, we gotta find out about this. We really have to do a thorough investigation of this."

Rather than ramble on, Minaya might as well have just said, "Adam, you knee-capped my guy. You better be wearing a thick vest." Guess we should all be thankful the Mets have moved on from tossing firecrackers and spraying bleach at reporters.

This might be the day Minaya officially lost his mind, possibly his job. It will take some artful contortions on Minaya's part if he is to survive this latest storm. A few hours after Minaya opened his mouth and inserted leather, he was forced to offer Rubin a kind-of apology, saying the press conference "was not a proper forum for me to raise those issues."

The controversy even flushed the owner's son out of his cubbyhole. Usually Jeff Wilpon shows his face at happy events -- the announcement of a free-agent signing, the unveiling of yummy food at concession stands in Citi Field's centerfield. But he and his father Fred have mostly kept out of the public eye during this wretched season, pushing Minaya to drive the clown car.

It is not just injuries and internal miscommunications that have blindsided the Mets, either. The Wilpons lost millions of dollars in Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Some reports put the figure around $300 million; others, like Wilpon's old friend Larry King, say the family empire suffered losses closer to $700 million. Whatever the amount, the Mets insist the scam has no bearing on how the Wilpons run the team with the highest payroll in the National League. Truth and reality don't always make the starting lineup at Citi Field, but hey, have you tasted the curly fries out at the Shake Shack? "Hmm, how to spin the story away from the truth and into dubious reality? Powder the red nose and point the water hose, that's how. The Mets do both so very well."

The Wilpons have always had Minaya's back. But they always had Bernazard's back even while most everyone in baseball knew the former big-league second baseman and players' union executive had a history of behind-the-scenes underhanded behavior. (Former manager Willie Randolph's scars are between the thoracic and lumbar curves.) Then came Rubin's bird-dogging reporting, prying open the curtains. Until a few weeks ago, Minaya and Bernazard were long-time confidants who shared a similar background. Being forced to cut ties with the guy he brought aboard five years ago must have stung Minaya, because he did everything at the press conference but scream, "I'm a man! I'm 40!"

Rubin, just off a two-week road trip that included covering the All-Star game, came straight from the airport to Citi Field even though this was meant to be his day off. The Mets had news to announce and it's the beat reporter's job to be there when news happens. When Minaya segued into a rant about Rubin -- and remember, not one Mets' employee disputes why Bernazard was fired -- Rubin took the microphone and called Minaya "despicable" for suggesting alternative motives clouded his reporting.

"I've never asked Omar directly for a job in baseball. I've spoken with Jeff in the sense of probing him like, 'how do you get a job in baseball?'" Rubin said later. "I'm absolutely floored."

Rubin called Minaya's charges, "deplorable, ludicrous, flabbergasting and startling." Jeff Wilpon followed up his general manager's surreal accusation by saying media-types have been known to ask him hypothetical questions about a franchise's operational directions or for career advice. "And I don't think there's anything wrong with that, for Adam to come to me with that" Wilpon added. Reporters sometimes do leap over to the dark side, for better pay or personal growth. David Kahn, Minnesota Timberwolves' president of basketball operations, used to be an NBA writer and columnist for the Portland Oregonian. Chris Snow, director of hockey operations for the Minnesota Wild, used to be a baseball writer for the Boston Globe.

"This was a well-reported, well-researched, exclusive story, and it's a shame that the Mets deemed fit to cast aspersions on our reporter instead of dealing with the issues at hand," Martin Dunn, editor-in-chief of the Daily News, said in a statement. "We stand by Adam 1,000 percent."

The New York press corps is an odd collection of agendas and egos. We bicker, complain, gossip and try to beat the vowels out of every competitor. Some can shut off the nonsense after deadline; others, like Adam Rubin, can't ever really quiet the noise. He's forever making the extra call, filing another story. I say this after covering thousands of baseball innings with Rubin, including hundreds of games on the road: there might not be a reporter more dedicated to his beat. Sure, we've had conversations about how to survive a profession in which raises and bonuses had been eliminated. Would a job in academia make sense? What about working for a team? If you haven't heard, the newspaper business isn't exactly printing money.

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But if Rubin was angling for Bernazard's job, shouldn't Minaya have proof in the form of a resume, a cover letter? No, better to trash the reputation of a fine reporter who just happened to write a series of scathing articles on the dysfunctional front office, including Minaya's role in the ongoing mess.

The Mets, decimated by injuries to nearly every starter, probably won't be in a position to turn September into another nail-biting adventure. The logjam on the disabled list isn't Minaya's fault, but the rashes of miscommunication between medical staff and players happened on his watch. Hmm, how to deflect that issue?

The Mets' minor-league system might not be barren, but it sure needs watering and tending. Sources within it say Bernazard alienated scouts and other executives, punching a lot of holes in the organization with his behavior. He had a confrontation on a team bus with closer Francisco Rodriguez, a profanity-laced dust up with a team official during a game at Citi Field, in front of fans. Hmm, how to change the subject?

Before Minaya went off the deep end, he said an internal investigation by the team's human resources department had shown "multiple things" that led the Mets to fire Bernazard. "There was an investigation already going on because some people had filed [reports], employees within the organization that had complaints about Tony ... in different areas, but I can't get into details," Minaya said of Bernazard. Hmm, how to spin the story away from the truth and into dubious reality?

Powder the red nose and point the water hose, that's how. The Mets do both so very well.
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