The Mets fired one of the three men to win Manager of the Year four times.
They failed to land a candidate with a reputation so strong that the Cubs were willing to provide the largest manager contract ever while accepting the criticism of making a hire while — you know — still having a manager.
Carlos Mendoza cannot compete with Buck Showalter or Craig Counsell on career accomplishment or current status.
“My biggest advice when I talked to him was just to be Carlos Mendoza because if you know him, that is going to be really good,” said Willie Randolph, who is in the unique position of being a mentor to Mendoza and also having once done the job which Mendoza took over officially with a Tuesday press conference. “I’m a huge Carlos Mendoza fan. The Mets couldn’t have picked a better person.”
David Stearns and Steve Cohen are gambling that Randolph is correct. That what they believe Mendoza possesses — a tenacious work ethic, an ability to connect with people and a baseball background in the Venn diagram with where Showalter was before he became a New York manager for the first time — will enable him to overcome what he doesn’t — major league managerial experience.
Being a first-time manager is not easy. Now add New York. Now add the Mets’ hexed history. Now add a Cohen-endorsed payroll and the expectations that will come with it. Stearns could have kept Showalter’s experience but wanted a fresh start with someone with whom he felt a bond. The Mets could have tried to overwhelm Counsell with Cohen’s cash, but although the owner’s money could buy a lot of items, but it cannot alter geography. Counsell preferred his Midwestern roots, especially once that location also came with a record contract.
Of the candidates that remained, Stearns felt synchronicity with Mendoza, calling his background “unique” for its variety rather than for lacking major league managerial time. Mendoza has a history that used to secure these jobs before it became more commonplace to go from the field or the broadcast booth to the dugout with no previous managerial experience. Mendoza was a minor league player who never made it to the majors. He managed in the minors, the Arizona Fall League, winter ball and the World Baseball Classic. The past four years he was Aaron Boone’s bench coach with the Yankees.
In baseball background and temperament, Mendoza reminds me of Phillies skipper Rob Thomson, a comparison that independently both Stearns and Randolph made without prompting. Thomson also never made it out of the minors as a player. With the Yankees, he served in a variety of managing, coaching and executive roles in the minors before becoming the Yankees bench coach.
Thomson, like Mendoza, built respect with bosses and players via loyalty, humility and an undeniable passion for the game. Both have a ferocity for detail and preparedness, which speaks to a lineage of running the three-ring circus that is spring training — Showalter taught Thomson to do it with the Yankees and Thomson taught Mendoza.
“Prepared, organized, a high baseball IQ,” said Luis Rojas, who worked on the Yankees staff with Mendoza the last two years, is a former Mets manager and was contacted by Mendoza to prep him for his Mets interview. “The players are going to know what he is thinking because he is always open. He’s energetic and accountable. And he will be authentic. He will not copycat someone else.”
To know Mendoza is to like Mendoza — another quality he shares with Thomson. With Thomson, there was a possibility of being a bridesmaid so many times when it came to managing jobs that perhaps nothing would come of it. Mendoza interviewed at least three times before this offseason and since the 2023 schedule concluded he also interviewed with the Giants, Padres and Guardians.
When Joe Girardi was fired as Yankees manager, Thomson interviewed for the job but was bypassed. But when Girardi was fired as Phillies manager during last season, Thomson was elevated from bench coach to interim and then full-time manager. And where do the Mets sign up for the comparisons to continue — Thomson has guided the Phillies to consecutive NLCS appearances and one pennant?
“First, [Mendoza] has baseball knowledge off the charts,” Thomson said last week on The Post’s podcast “The Show.” “That includes integrating the numbers with the players. He will be very honest with the players and the players will trust him. And that’s a huge part of it. He’s very respectful, he respects the game. He’s gonna run the game properly and he’s humble. He’s not gonna think that he knows it all. He is going to include other people and ask their opinion. … This guy’s just a solid guy, solid person, solid baseball man.”
The guy is not Showalter, not Counsell, not yet possessing full-time MLB managerial experience. He won the job anyway as that solid baseball man. Now the harder point — to keep on winning.