Mets Revamped Coaching Staff Key

Lost in the shuffle of the New York Mets overhaul on the field and in the manager's office during the off-season are the changes made in the Mets' coaching staff. Manager Art Howe had a free hand in selecting his lieutenants - something that Bobby Valentine did not have during his stormy tenure with Steve Phillips.

Howe's imprint on his coaching staff is reflected in the fact that he has coached, been a coach for, or been a teammate of four of the Mets' six coaches. While the success or failure of the Mets' 2003 season is still months away, one thing is for certain - the Mets manager and coaching staff will start the season on the same page.

The lone holdover from Valentine's staff is Matt Galante. While the Staten Island, NY native is the team's third base coach; his most important job will be his duties as the Mets infield coach. It will be Galante's job to make sure Ty Wigginton is not a liability at third base. Even with the signing of Jay Bell, one has to expect Wigginton has the inside track as the starter on Opening Day.

While tutoring Wigginton might be his initial responsibility, his most important task might be to Shepard in the Jose Reyes Era. If the teen phenom breaks camp with the Mets, it will be Galante (and Rey Sanchez) who will be responsible for making Reyes' transition from Double-A to Major League baseball as easy as possible.

Galante served as a coach under Howe during his tenure as skipper of the Houston Astros. Galante was so liked and respected that he was the sentimental choice to replace Howe. However, the Astros passed over Galante and hired Terry Collins.

Denny Walling might be the coach who is on the biggest hot seat given the Mets propensity for going through hitting coaches like George Steinbrenner used to go through managers and pitching coaches. The Mets went through a staggering three hitting coaches last season (Dave Engle, Tom Robson and Chris Chambliss). Given the Mets dismal offensive output, Walling has nowhere to go but up.

Walling is no stranger to the Mets and Shea Stadium considering he was part of the 1986 Astros team that battled the Mets in the National League Championship series (as was Howe for that matter). Walling's hiring as hitting instructor should come as no surprise given the fact he was Howe's Houston teammate from 1979-82 and he was Howe's hitting instructor with the Oakland A's from 1996-98. He joins the Mets after spending last season as a minor league coach in the Baltimore Orioles farm system.

If offense was the Mets' problem last season, pitching was their strong suit. However, a new manager meant a new direction with the pitching staff as Charlie Hough and Randy Niemann are out.

The Mets flirted with the idea of stealing Atlanta Braves pitching guru Leo Mazzone, but ended up signing Tommy Glavine instead. There was some talk that Howe was interested in bringing Rick Peterson, his pitching coach with the A's, but Peterson decided to remain in California's Bay Area rather than come east to Flushing Bay.

Howe then turned back to his Houston past and brought in former Philadelphia Phillies pitching coach Vern Ruhle, who was let go in favor of another pitching guru - Joe Kerrigan. In addition to his two years with the Phillies, Ruhle also served as the Astros pitching coach from 1997-2000. Ruhle and Howe were teammates with Houston from 1978-84.

Ruhle is give credit for helping develop the new wave of Phillies' pitchers that keyed the team's success last season. The 2001 Phillies pitching staff posted a 4.15 ERA - Philadelphia's best since the 1994 season.

For his part, Ruhle is looking forward to working with the Mets predominantly veteran pitching staff.

"This is probably the most ideal situation to come in because you have veteran pitchers who know what they need to get ready," Ruhle told WFAN's Suzyn Waldman (2/13/03). "They pretty much outline their Spring Training for you."

According to Ruhle, the situation is a little bit different for the prospects, suspects and long shot hopefuls.

"All the coaches have to find out what their strengths and weaknesses are and put a plan together and help them develop for the organization," he explained. "This is the time of year where anticipation is high and enthusiasm is at its peak. It's time to find out where they fit in."

One worry the Mets organization might want to monitor was the criticism Phillies GM Ed Wade and manager Larry Bowa offered when Ruhle was not retained. Wade and Bowa both stated that Ruhle was unable to get through to the younger pitchers.

"Vern, knowledge wise and in terms of mechanics, is as good as anyone,'' Bowa told Randy Muller of phillyburbs.com. {9/30/02}. But sometimes he had trouble getting his point across. Sometimes the young kids weren't receiving the message the right way. I think some of the stuff he did might have been too deep for the young kids.''

The final coach with a link to Howe's past is bench coach Don Baylor. In some ways, Baylor could be considered the most important addition to Howe's staff. Howe spent one year as Baylor's hitting coach in Colorado before taking the A's job when Tony LaRussa went to the St. Louis Cardinals.

The changing of the managerial guard from Valentine to Howe brought forth a chance in personality. Gone is the hard driving Valentine, replaced by the more even-tempered and laid-back Howe. In other words, the Mets have themselves a "player's manager". Depending on who is uttering those words, it can be a good thing or bad thing.

On a veteran team like the Mets, it might be a good thing. With that said, the Mets still need someone to play the "bad cop" to Howe's "good cop". That is where Baylor fits into the equation. As Bill Madden of the "Daily News" wrote, "Baylor knows how to deal with the New York media and what it takes to implement the attitude adjustment the Mets seem to sorely need." {10/25/02}.

Baylor developed a reputation as a no-nonsense type of player who led by example - both on and off the field. He was the epitome of a team leader. Given the Mets lack of a vocal leader on the field, the Mets will need Baylor to provide that from the bench.

"I had my first summer off since 1967 and I missed it," David Reich-Hale wrote in "Mets Inside Pitch" - quoting an article that appeared on the Mets official web site (mets.com). "I was looking for the right opportunity when Art called and I didn't have to think a whole lot. I'm coming back to New York, a place I love to be."

"I was offered the job as hitting coach somewhere else and I didn't want to do that. With Art's proposal I didn't have to think too much," Baylor continued.

While many criticized his managerial moves, Baylor does bring eight plus years as a major league manager to the table - posting a 627-685 record. Baylor was named Manager of the Year in 1995 when he led the expansion Colorado Rockies to the wild card spot with a 77-67 record. Baylor's Rockies won the most games by any expansion team in their first four years of existence by going 280-305.

Baylor played in three World Series, sandwiching a 1987 championship with the Minnesota Twins with losses to the New York Mets (as a member of the Boston Red Sox) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (with the Oakland A's).

One of the two new coaches has no ties with Howe, but does have ties to the Mets organization. Bullpen coach Rick Waits served as the pitching coach for the Mets Triple-A affiliate Norfolk Tides for the last four seasons. Waits spent 1998 as the pitching coach of the Double-A Binghamton Mets and 1997 as the pitching coach of the Single-A St. Lucie Mets.

As it turns out, Waits and Niemann switched positions because Niemann will be Bobby Floyd's pitching coach in Norfolk this season.

The southpaw played for three major league teams (Texas, Cleveland and Milwaukee) over 12 seasons and is best know for beating the New York Yankees on October 1, 1978. That win, combined with the Boston Red Sox victory over the Toronto Blue Jays, forced the one game playoff to determine the 1978 American East champions.

As far as his Mets career goes, Waits is best known for turning around the seasons of Bobby Jones and Steve Trachsel. Both veterans were struggling at the time they were sent down to Norfolk. Jones returned and helped lead the Mets to the World Series in 2000 and Trachsel helped the Mets in their late playoff charge in 2001.

Perhaps the most important coach donning a Mets uniform is Gary Pettis, who has the unenviable job of replacing the legendary Mookie Wilson as the team's base running and outfield coach. As much as Mookie was a fan favorite, the time had come for a change. The Mets outfield defense was bad, but their inability to steal bases was even worse in 2002.

A case in point is Jay Payton. The former Met was probably one of the fastest, if not the fastest, Mets. However, not only was Payton unable to steal bases, his base running ability left much to be desired.

Pettis averaged over 30 stolen bases in his 11 seasons in the majors - including four seasons where he stole 40 or more bases. His career high is 56 with the 1985 California Angels. For good measure, he swiped 50 the next year with the Angels.

While base running and base stealing will be part of Pettis' charge, his most important duty is to turn Roger Cedeno into a centerfielder instead of being a candidate for conversion to being a designated hitter. In this regard, Pettis brings an outstanding resume. He is a five-time Gold Glove winner (1985-86 and 1988-90).

"We're going to go over balls over our head, in front of us, right, left," Pettis told Adam Rubin of the "Daily News". "We're going to get well-educated in outfield play. All I want them to do is be a good outfield - catch the ball, hit the cutoff man, throw it to the right base. I don't want them to try to make it any tougher than that." {2/10/03}.

The task of reclaiming Cedeno is so great that the Mets hired former Mets/Dodgers centerfielder Brett Butler as a minor league instructor. It will be up to Pettis and Butler to get Cedeno to play at least passable centerfielder and return to his 66 stolen base plateau that he achieved in 1999 - ironically enough under the watchful eye of Mookie Wilson.

Assistant GM Jim Duquette had this comment for Rubin on the addition of Butler, "Nobody ran the bases better, was more adept in the outfield or was a better base-hit bunter." {2/10/03}.

While the Mets announced they would not talk about a new contract for free agent to be Roberto Alomar, the team did attempt to address one of his major concerns.

Last season Alomar was an outspoken critic of the Mets not having a full-time Spanish speaking coach. Juan Lopez was with the Mets last season but, more often than not, was not allowed in the dugout during games because Major League baseball permits only five coaches in the dugout. Lopez could only sit in the dugout if the opposing manager consented.

Lopez, a long time Mets minor coach, will return for 2003 as a "coaching assistant". Only time will tell if he will join the team in the dugout or only serve as a "coach" during batting practice.

A second Spanish speaking coach was hired this season. While Nelson Silverio's hiring is connected to a Mets middle infielder, it isn't the one you are thinking about.

Silverio spent the winter serving as the general manager of the same Dominican Republic team that featured Jose Reyes. While Silverio was hired as a bullpen catcher, it is pretty obvious that he was hired to help Reyes with adjustment to Major League Baseball. David Lennon of "Newsday" referred to Silverio as a "father figure" to Reyes.


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