One Line Summary: Howe could this happen?

Moneyball, the 2003 bestseller about Billy Beane’s successful Oakland A’s, painted Mets general manager Steve Phillips as a cash machine at Beane’s disposal, the antithesis of Oakland’s smart and thrifty model. Beane, a bust as a 1981 first-round draft pick of the Mets, had his frustrations, too. His 2002 team lost the Division Series for the third straight year. Author Michael Lewis recreated the Oakland GM’s thought process: “The only person in the organization whose riddance would make him happier was his manager, Art Howe,” Lewis wrote in Moneyball. “It wasn’t long before he had a novel idea: trade Art.”

After firing Bobby Valentine the day after his one bad season managing the Mets, management had wanted Lou Piniella, but the Mariners demanded compensation and their choice was Jose Reyes. The Mets wisely held firm. Piniella was traded to his hometown Tampa Bay (for outfield Randy Winn) and the Mets got Howe. They would up not even trading anybody for him. You get what you pay for.

Howe bad was Art’s first season as manager in New York? The Mets were so bad that they…

* Allowed 15 runs on Opening Day, the club’s worst showing ever on day one.

* Endured their most losses in a decade.

* Were swept four straight in the first major league games ever played in Puerto Rico against the “home” vagabond Montreal Expos. They were outscored, 22-8, including 10-0 in the inaugural game in San Juan.

* Had their lowest attendance since 1997.

* Were swept in four doubleheaders, all before July, including a two-stadium, day/night debacle against the Yankees.

* Were swept in a season series against the Yankees (0-6), a franchise first since interleague play began in 1997.

* Had a Bentley-driving shortstop, Rey Sanchez, receive a haircut in the clubhouse during a blowout loss.

* Were represented at the All-Star Game by their least popular and most disappointing player, Armando Benitez (the alleged clubhouse barber). He was traded to the Yankees the day after the Midsummer Classic.

* Saw their star catcher’s most significant moment turn out to be his one inning as a first baseman.

* Had six non-pitchers hit under .200 (over 20 or more at bats).

* Endured lousy years from not one but two Glavines; older brother Tom (.151) outhit kid brother Mike (.143), a first baseman who got his only cup of big league coffee with the lukewarm Mets. 

* Led the National League with 506 games started by rookies; three years later only one of them, Jose Reyes, would still be with the team. 

* And Reyes arrived in the majors the day before his 20th birthday in June, displaying raw but real talent—and flair—only to have his rookie season end in late August due to an ankle sprain.

Jim Duquette was elevated to general manager in midseason—his fool’s costume in Moneyball and a poor start by the club didn’t help Phillips—and the former GM’s most recent baubles quickly followed: Alomar, Burnitz, Benitez, Sanchez, and Graeme Lloyd. The Mets got nothing of lasting substance for Phillips’s veterans, but getting them gone was enough.

Bob Murphy called it quits after 42 seasons in the Mets announcing booth. David Cone came out of retirement, made the beleagured staff out of spring training, and was done for good the week of Memorial Day. Piazza was out for three months with a groin injury. And the Mets used six different first baseman following Mo Vaughn’s permanent disability. The year seemed to last forever.

By Matt Silverman
Armando Benitez, Bobby Valentine, David Cone, Graeme Lloyd, Jeromy Burnitz, Jim Duquette, Jose Reyes, Lou Piniella, Michael Lewis, Mo Vaughn, Rey Sanchez, Roberto Alomar, Steve Phillips (GM)


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