For most teams, firing a well-known and well-liked hitting coach in the middle of the night would provide more than enough fodder for a single news cycle. Only the Mets could turn such a splash into a secondary story within 18 hours.
The nostalgic for all the wrong reasons dismissals late Monday of Chili Davis and Tom Slater were overshadowed Tuesday afternoon, first by Pete Alonso’s reaction to the firings and then by the Mets announcing Jacob deGrom wouldn’t make his scheduled start due to a sore right side.
Of course, with all due respect to Davis, Slater, their replacements — Hugh Quattlebaum and Kevin Howard — and Alonso’s lineup-mates, the fate of the Mets’ season doesn’t rest nearly as much with a turnover of hitting coaches as it does with whatever was found during the MRI deGrom underwent late Tuesday afternoon in St. Louis.
Shortly before the scheduled first pitch against the Cardinals, the Mets said the MRI revealed inflammation in his right lat and that he will not throw for the next few days. While that sounds like good news, the Mets refraining from placing their Hall of Fame-track ace on the injured list as a precaution — he’s already been inactive for five days — conjures up memories of the organization being famously reluctant to use the IL during the Wilpon era.
Those days were supposed to be gone, as were the days when the Mets fired employees in ham-handed fashion far away from home and despite a recent uptick in overall performance. Canning Davis and Slater following a Monday night series opener in St. Louis and after a three-game sequence in which the Mets scored 18 runs (their most over a three-game span this season) wasn’t nearly as bad as firing Willie Randolph following a Monday night series opener in Anaheim and a third win in four games back in June 2008. But it sure wasn’t a marked improvement, either.
Despite firing Davis and Slater 23 games into the season, acting general manager Zack Scott said it was “…too early to be overreacting to small samples of results” and the changes were an opportunity to add “different skill sets” (a popular phrase a generation ago) to the hitting program. So even accounting for the unexpected tumult within the Mets’ front office over the winter — Jared Porter spent 36 days as general manager before being fired it was revealed he sent lewd texts to a female reporter during the 2016 season — why not make those changes during the off-season, especially given that Scott worked with Davis with the Red Sox from 2015 through 2017?
“I didn’t want to come in here as a new guy and just take a blowtorch to all the staff and player development,” Scott said. “I’m never going to say the person that I saw five years ago is necessarily going to be the same person now.”
The New York Post reported Tuesday Scott and team president Sandy Alderson agreed to make the moves following last Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to the Red Sox, which capped a two-game series in which the Mets were swept despite giving up just three runs.
But the dominoes topple slower in the midst of a pandemic, which created the awkwardness of firing Davis and Slater after the Mets not only surged but did so with the “help” of imaginary hitting coach “Donnie Stevenson,” whom Alonso and Michael Conforto credited following a 5-4 win over the Phillies Saturday.
After a 17-hit outburst in Sunday’s 8-7 win, “Donnie Stevenson” seemed to have a pretty good chance at becoming the Mojo Rising of 2021. That’s decidedly less likely now, given the timing of the Davis and Slater dismissals and how the firings seemed to impact Alonso, whose perpetual optimism and unfiltered candidness both appeared imperiled for much of his Zoom call Tuesday afternoon.
Alonso said he cried upon hearing the news and spoke twice with Scott, once late Monday and again during a team meeting Tuesday. The first baseman didn’t want to divulge the details of the conversations but repeatedly expressed bemusement at the decision.
“I’m hoping that three, four months from now that we do have the answer, or that the answer makes it clear — that the answer is there and is easy to see,” Alonso said.
As for the Davis being fired days after the Mets credited a fictitious hitting coach and whether or not that could have been misunderstood?
“I’m not going to talk about that,” Alonso said.
The old forthrightness returned, though, when Alonso noted the Mets’ fondness for Davis and Slater can’t impact their relationships with Quattlebaum and Howard.
“This is what I don’t want to get twisted — the new guys coming in, it wouldn’t be fair to them if we were to act some type of way towards them, because they have to do their job,” Alonso said. “Listen, it wasn’t their decision. The people coming in this — they’re just as much a byproduct of this as we are. All of this are in this together by being thrown into this situation. This entire situation is out of the coaches’ control and out of the players’ control.”
The oldest page in the general manager’s playbook, of course, is firing coaches to serve as a warning to the manager his own job is endangered if the team doesn’t perform better. It worked with the 1999 Mets, when Steve Phillips fired hitting coach Tom Robson, pitching coach Bob Apodaca and bullpen coach Randy Niemann, who were three of Bobby Valentine’s right-hand men. Hitting coach Dave Hudgens was fired on Memorial Day 2014 and Terry Collins stuck around long enough to lead the Mets to the World Series and the wild card game in back-to-back seasons. Brodie Van Wagenen firing Dave Eiland in 2019 was never going to be enough to spare Mickey Callaway.
Scott told Jon Heyman Tuesday he doesn’t want to make additional moves. But Rojas is in the final year of a two-year deal and was inherited by Scott and Alderson. Scott doesn’t have to say what everyone understands, nor do Alonso and his teammates need any additional motivation to pull out of a slump that’s already yielded plenty of collateral damage.
“I haven’t even thought about that,” Alonso said when asked if he thought Rojas’ job security might be dwindling. “We can’t really worry about these changes. It’s tough not to think about. It’s tough not to focus on those. But we’ve got to win a (expletive) ballgame today. I’m sorry for the cursing, but we’ve got to win today.”
It rained and the Mets didn’t play. Maybe the news cycle could only handle so much.