2002-11-02 / Sports

Howe: "Not First Choice, But Right Choice"

Baseball Columnist
By Bryan Hoch

Baseball Columnist

If you were to believe the New York media's spin this past week, the Mets had hired the Charlie Brown of managers in Art Howe - a hapless loser whose clubs have made a habit of bowing out of the playoffs in the first round, a push-button manager with little imagination and a personality the caliber of a saltine cracker.

Just a matter of hours later, Howe sauntered into Shea Stadium's surprisingly lavish Diamond Club, cracked a few timely jokes and won over the scribes in the room.

His appearance Tuesday invoked some of New York's finest and most fickle sportswriters to draw comparisons between Howe and a pair of the most successful men to ever fill out a lineup card in the Big Apple - Gil Hodges and Joe Torre.

Is there merit to those comments? Howe certainly does give off some sort of intangible when you are in his presence - instilled with Pittsburgh-bred hard working values, he demands respect in a strong, quiet and dignified way. In case you were wondering, you certainly won't see Howe wearing a fake mustache or doing goofy impressions of drug-influenced players anytime soon.

It was exactly that understated charm that led Mets owner Fred Wilpon to pry Howe away from his final year under contract to manage the Oakland Athletics, making the decision within their first moments face to face.

"I'm telling you, he blew me away," Wilpon said. "About half an hour into our meeting, I stood up and told Art, 'This interview is over! You are a New York Met. Let's talk now as partners.' He won me over completely."

Perhaps most importantly, at this early stage in his tenure, Howe appears to have won the approval of not only Wilpon, but also GM Steve Phillips. The general dislike that Phillips had for Bobby Valentine was no great secret, but better days appear to be ahead for the relationship between Howe and Phillips.

"I'm very hopeful now, I really am," said Phillips, who will invite Howe to accompany him to baseball's winter meetings - an opportunity that was repeatedly denied to Valentine. "I don't have buyer's remorse. I think Art Howe is the right guy for this team."

The truth of the matter is that even had the Mets kept Valentine on board for 2003, they couldn't have helped but improve. Nobody could have ever predicted the disaster that encompassed this past season, with nearly every player on the roster performing below career norms.

When - not if, but when - the Mets bounce back next season, Howe will be the one receiving the laudatory praise, but much of a so-called 'resurgence' will simply be the law of averages playing out.

It's a given that the club's first choice to move into the manager's seat was Piniella, but with the Mets not willing to meet Seattle's ridiculous demands - the Mariners' opening offer was Robbie Alomar and hotshot prospect Jose Reyes for Piniella and overpaid second baseman Bret Boone - the Mets came out just fine in this scenario.

It's not every day you can hire an experienced manager with a proven track record of success equal to Howe's.

Following a scrappy 11-year playing career with the Pirates, Astros and Cardinals, Howe has compiled a 992-951 record in 12 years as a manager with Houston and the A's, including a pair of first-place finishes with Oakland.

"I'm a genuine guy, a blue-collar guy who will work hard for this organization," Howe said. "I may not have been the first choice, but I'm the right choice."

For some reason, we believe him.

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

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