Taking the Field

Howard Megdal’s quest to become general manager of the New York Mets.

Taking the Field

Mr. Met has had good reason to cry in recent years, hence 'Megdal for GM.'

The position of general manager of the New York Mets isn’t an elected office, but that didn’t stop lifelong Mets fan Howard Megdal from publicly campaigning for the job during the latter half of 2010. It was Megdal’s response to two decades of frustration with the management of the organization—frustration made increasingly acute by late-season collapses in 2007 and 2008, as well as a 2009 season undermined by a teamwide injury bug that caused some observers to question the competence of the club’s training staff.

Predictably, Megdal’s campaign for GM came to an end without so much as an interview with the Mets, but the man ownership ultimately hired as GM—Sandy Alderson, who replaced Omar Minaya—does possess all of the qualities that Megdal championed during his campaign. Whether Megdal’s bid had any effect on the organization’s thinking we’ll probably never know (“I was able to confirm they were listening at the highest levels,” he says, a reference to inside source Deep Swoboda). Irregardless, he’s happy the Mets appear to finally have the right man for the job.

Though the Mets ignored his overtures, Megdal did land an interview with Failure, in which we discussed his recently-released book “Taking the Field” (Bloomsbury), which not only chronicles his campaign, but serves as an invaluable history of the (frequently bad) baseball decisions of the Mets. And though the mere mention of names like Steve Phillips and Willie Randolph no doubt brought back unpleasant memories, Megdal gutted out the interview, wrapping with what he considers to be the worst mistake in franchise history.

What prompted you to “run” for GM?
I had the idea for the longest time and kept thinking about it in the abstract. I’m a huge fan of international soccer, where the president, who makes the moves, is popularly elected by the fans. With the resources that a New York team has, all you really need is basic competence in order to succeed. I believed I could provide that, and if not get elected, I could at least bring issues to the forefront that would change the way the team would be run moving forward.

Did your campaign go better or worse than you expected?
Better. The reason I say that is the man they ended up hiring as GM is someone who lives by and has operated the team under the same basic precepts that I would. My campaign watchwords were logic, transparency and passion. And to hear him employ all three within his first two weeks on the job, and to employ them—more importantly—in the way he put together the team subsequent to that was remarkable.

Why did you choose Logic, Transparency and Passion as the three pillars of your campaign?
Those are the basics—all that it takes to make New York a winning team. Logic comes down to making sure that for every player there is a place, and an evaluation of competing short- and long-term interests.

Transparency is useful from the perspective of letting your fans know what is going on. When you have transparency, it allows ideas to see the light of day so that instead of some backroom conference producing [a trade like] Scott Kazmir for Zictor Zambrano, there can be an airing that determines: We’re about to trade our best pitching prospect for a guy whose arm is shot!

Passion is vital because if the fans don’t feel as if the front office is invested in winning, the fans aren’t going to show up. That’s the reality whether you have a new stadium or old stadium, Citi Field prices or Shea Stadium prices. If you show that passion and you get more fans in the seats there is a rebounding effect, because the team can make more money and has more money to invest in a variety of ways.

“Taking the Field” doesn’t address the financial condition of the Mets—in particular the Bernie Madoff issue. How do you see that affecting the organization going forward?
It took the Mets twenty years to finally get someone competent in charge of baseball operations, and now there are real questions as to whether they will have the financial resources to give him. It’s fortunate, in a way, that they have a GM who is potentially able to do less with more, but what is so frustrating is that the Mets could, in short order, be the Boston Red Sox and go from being a joke—the way the Red Sox were at the start of the twenty-first century—to what they are now, which is arguably more successful than the New York Yankees. Until the Mets have ownership that is capitalized—be it the Wilpons or somebody else—I don’t see how that happens.

What comes to mind when you hear the following names?
Omar Minaya.

A very nice man. I went to great lengths to make the point that I was not running against Minaya, but trying to prepare an alternative vision for the Mets. I think he clearly was overmatched by the job.

Steve Phillips.
Phillips was arguably the worst thing that ever happened to the Mets from a GM perspective. He seemed to have very little concept of value and the effect was to empty the farm system.

Willie Randolph.
Randolph was one of the worst in-game tacticians the Mets have ever employed as manager, to the point of not knowing or understanding how to use righties and lefties. He combined that with an inability to communicate with his players. That’s a bad combination.

Speaking of bad decisions, how long will it be before Bobby Bonilla is off the Mets’ payroll?
It will be 2035. There’s an argument to be made that it wasn’t the worst thing to have deferred some of his money. [The Mets will be paying the long-since retired Bonilla approximately $1.19 million a year until 2035, when he’s more than 70 years old].* That said, the money [$5.9 million] that they kept was then invested with Madoff, and that money is gone. If it had been in a relatively safe investment the Mets might have come out ahead. The problem is that it’s yet another example of how the Mets [ownership] apparently co-mingled team finances with their Madoff finances. 

Why do you regard the failure to sign Alex Rodriguez as the greatest blunder in Mets history?
You can make the argument that A-Rod was the most valuable free agent—regardless of age—to ever hit the market.  He was a shortstop hitting .300 and 40 to 50 home runs a year, and playing Gold Glove-caliber defense. And he was that at 24, so you’d be getting a whole bunch of peak years, even if you signed him to a ten-year deal. Add to that, they had the opportunity to sign him because he wanted to play for the Mets. And the behemoth across town wasn’t going to compete for him because they had Derek Jeter. I would be remiss if I didn’t add that [uber defensive shortstop] Rey Ordonez was the incumbent, so they would have been upgrading from Ordonez to Rodriguez. The Mets blew a chance for the best free-agent of all-time, about to enter his prime, at below market value, at a position they desperately needed to fill.

* The Mets have a similar arrangement with former pitcher Bret Saberhagen, who they must pay $250,000 a year until 2029.