2002-10-26 / Sports

Mets’ Fruitless Pursuit Of 'Sweet Lou' Has Bitter Flavor

Baseball Columnist
By Bryan Hoch

Mets' Fruitless Pursuit Of 'Sweet Lou' Has Bitter Flavor
Baseball Columnist

Nothing ever comes easy if you're the New York Mets. It's just an unwritten law of baseball, a lot like the idea that you can't pitch to Barry Bonds with first base open - or second base, for that matter.

Let's flash back to the 2000 off season, when Alex Rodriguez wanted desperately to take over Rey Ordonez's position at shortstop and inexplicably take in the aura that is Shea Stadium, but Mets brass wasn't willing to cough up the mega-dollars that he would command.

Instead of inking Rodriguez, arguably the game's best player both then and now, the club's suits thought it would be a much finer idea to concoct a lame excuse about A-Rod being a "24-and-1" player and tossed in assorted mumblings about a private jet and a merchandise tent. The Mets went on to a pathetic showing for most of 2001 and finished dead last this year while Rodriguez put up MVP-type numbers for the offense-hungry Texas Rangers.

That same winter, the Mets had their chances to gobble up both Baltimore Orioles ace righthander Mike Mussina, a free agent with an eye toward New York, and Japanese sensation Ichiro Suzuki, who was causing a stir around baseball as being Japan's top performer. End result? The Mets came up short yet again, offering up the second-best offers in a seemingly half-hearted attempt to land each.

With the history of the Mets' recent workings intact, it should come as no great surprise to anyone that the club is struggling so mightily to land Lou Piniella, their top choice to succeed ousted manager Bobby Valentine.

Much like in the Rodriguez scenario, Piniella essentially made it clear that his preference would be to splash onto the New York tabloids wearing a Mets cap this October. Piniella, a former star with the Yankees in the late 1970's and early 1980's, asked out of his Mariners contract earlier this month, citing the excuse of distance - the fiery skipper resides in Tampa and has a hankering to get back to his East Coast roots.

And much like with A-Rod, Piniella seemed to have fallen right into the Mets' laps, an early Christmas gift for a club that could certainly use the motivational boost. The only true competition for Piniella's services lay in the grasp of the hapless and cash-strapped Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who seem more probable to lose 100 games in 2003 than to win that same amount over the span of the next two seasons.

At age 59 and hungry for his first World Series title since 1990, would Piniella have the patience and desire to coddle and caress a pathetic expansion team, the whipping boys of the American League, into mediocrity? Of course not, the thinking went, and Piniella would be a cinch to grip a podium in Shea's cellar in a matter of days.

Instead, things have taken an awful turn if you're a follower of the Mets. According to media reports, it could turn out that 'Sweet Lou' will accept a rich deal from the Devil Rays this week, signing on to spend the twilight of his managerial career sipping Florida premium orange juice in Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg's poor excuse for a stadium.

In turn, the Mets would probably wind up with some retread manager like a Terry Francona or an inexperienced skipper like a Chris Chambliss or a Willie Randolph, having never been given the opportunity to tender Piniella an offer.

Now, certainly, the way things have unfolded in the Mets' fruitless (to date) pursuit of Piniella can't be fully blamed on the Amazin's. The Mariners have every right to demand proper compensation in exchange for the right to take Piniella away from his managerial post in Seattle, and there's no law that says they must grant New York the permission to speak with their property.

But Mariners GM Pat Gillick appears to be doing nothing but mocking and toying with the Mets, granting their heartthrob permission to speak with a team he has little interest in managing (that is, up until Tampa Bay owner Vince Niamoli starts waving some Benjamins) and even making snide comments to dig further into the Mets' sides.

"Who's the Metsies' alternative? You don't think Bobby V. would come back, do you?" Gillick laughed last week, practically sticking his nose up at the Mets' feeble threats to hire a person other than Piniella if they weren't able to reach a compensation agreement.

It's the Rodney Dangerfield complex; once again, we're reminded just how little respect the Mets get, not only in New York, but also around baseball. The Mets fired Valentine because owner Fred Wilpon recognized his club needed a change in attitude, a decision that seems to be gaining in acceptance after the initial shock of the field general's dismissal set in.

But if the Mets want to come full circle and stand up in the eyes of the Big Apple and of the baseball world, to have something to bang their chests proudly about, they need to get Piniella. The Mets simply cannot continue this trend of coming up short if they hope to be a "world-class organization," as Wilpon has grown fond of saying.

After making no bones about Sweet Lou being their first choice, having anyone but Piniella move into the clubhouse office underneath the first-base seats would just be second best.

Bryan Hoch appears regularly in the Wave and on FOXSports.com. He can be contacted at bryanhoch@yahoo.com.

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