The Mets could've had Zduriencik

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Zduriencik.jpgThe New York Post’s Joel Sherman writes this morning about how the Mets screwed up by passing over Seattle Mariners’ GM Jack Zduriencik back when he worked for the club. Let’s go back to the fall of 1997:

Because he was good with computers and had ties to Sandy Koufax — a real bonus in the Dodger-centric world of Koufax pal Fred Wilpon — Gary LaRocque was named the director of amateur scouting. That was the job Jack Zduriencik deserved. Instead — despite being employed significantly longer with the Mets than even Phillips — he was shuffled from farm director to special assistant to the general manager.

So at that moment Phillips, Minaya, Duquette and Zduriencik all had relatively new roles. Three would ultimately hold the title of Mets GM. One would not. That guy looks like, by far, the best of the group.

I’ll grant that, based on everything we’ve seen, having Zduriencik as your GM would be better than having Steve Phillips, Omar Minaya and Jim Duquette there, but there are limits to this sort of “we could have had that guy” complaint.

Unlike players, who you can mostly figure would do as well with one team as they would have with another, I don’t think you can simply assume that an executive’s apparent genius with one club would have manifested itself on another. Mentoring matters when it comes to the development of decision makers, as does the relative level of autonomy they’re given, their experiences and the people with whom they’re surrounded. Warren Buffett worked at a grocery store when he was a kid. You can’t say that it would be competing with Safeway now if they had only held on to him because, you know, things happened to the guy in between then and now.

While Zduriencik’s path from New York to Seattle was a lot shorter and more direct than Buffet’s, it’s certain that the things he learned as the Director of International Operations for the Dodgers and during his nine years in various roles for the Brewers made him a different man today than he would have been if he had stayed with the Mets. Maybe they would have made him the GM five years ago and maybe he wouldn’t have been ready.  Maybe — hell, probably — the most important things that led to him becoming a successful general manager happened to him while he was working in Milwaukee and never would have happened to him had he stayed in Queens.

So while I greatly appreciate this brand of rabble rousing — indeed, there’s nothing much more fun to me than helping Mets fans come to grips with their misery — I think the we-could’ve-had-Zduriencik beef is more an exercise in hindsight than it is a legitimate criticism of the team.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.