Maybe Mets should start by firing Manuel

Jerry Manuel watching his team lose to the Jerry Manuel watching his team lose to the Braves. Photo Credit: David Pokress/Newsday

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Ken Davidoff Newsday columnist Ken Davidoff.

Davidoff joined Newsday in 2001, covering the Yankees for the better part of four seasons, and was ...

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The meetings already have begun, Newsday's David Lennon reported yesterday. For six weeks, Mets officials have discussed how to best bury the nightmare of 2009.

So as long as the lights are on and the seats are warm, and they'll certainly have the time - good lord, didn't these last two months feel like about 20 years for the Mets? - here's suggesting one more meeting:

Really, really think about whether Jerry Manuel is the best man to lead the 2010 Mets back into contention.

Contemplate whether you're giving your team its optimal chance to win with Manuel running the clubhouse, writing out the lineup card and making in-game, on-the-fly decisions.

For based on what we've seen for the past baseball season and a half, I'm not sure how you come up with "Yes" as the answers to those questions.

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This isn't a fun column to write, because we media folk are mostly human, and Jerry Manuel comes off as an eminently likable man. His public-relations skills are masterful, his best attribute, which is a considerable part of the reason why he'll get a chance to finish out the two-year extension he signed in October 2008.

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Yet those public charms got him and his team to a sorry, fourth-place finish in Citi Field's inaugural season. And although no one would be so foolish as to blame Manuel for the team's stunning rash of injuries and appalling lack of roster depth, that doesn't mean he gets a free pass, either.

Yes, he impressed us all in 2008, yet that looks increasingly like an "Anybody but Willie Randolph" thing. When Manuel ran the team from the outset, he generated a sizable list of grievances:

1. The Mets have lost 41 of their last 59 games, a woeful .305 percentage. That can't be attributed solely to a talent disadvantage. That screams, "White flag." As do Manuel's numerous public comments and team meetings urging his players not to give up, which never seemed to take.

2. The X's and O's. Manuel told Lennon earlier this season that he looks at statistics only in passing when making in-game choices. Unless your name is Joe Torre, you can't be getting away with such a laissez-faire approach toward statistical analysis.

That goes double when your selections prove uninspiring. Why so much love for Fernando Tatis and so little love for Nick Evans, especially as the season progressed and they could've learned more about Evans? Remember when Manuel worked Bobby Parnell into exhaustion at the start of the season?

3. The apparent lack of an "edit" button in the passage from Manuel's brain to his mouth stirred up some trouble. Worst of all were his seemingly unprovoked criticisms of Ryan Church, both while Church was still a Met and after Church left for the Braves.

After David Wright suffered his concussion in August, Manuel retroactively questioned Church's toughness in dealing with his concussions. That marked a low point. It simply was inexcusable on Manuel's part.

Who could replace Manuel? That's easy, as long as the Mets can meet certain conditions: Pay Tony La Russa. Forgive Bobby Valentine. Forget Manny Acta's friendship with Tony Bernazard and prioritize his baseball smarts.

Or, don't worry about buzz or experience and try a managerial prospect such as White Sox bench coach Joey Cora (Alex's brother), or Arizona third-base coach Chip Hale, or Cardinals third-base coach Jose Oquendo (a former Met).

The Mets' loyalty to Manuel is fueled in part by decency and in part, probably, by thriftiness, as Manuel has about another $750,000 coming to him. But this is a tough business. The Mets owe Manuel nothing.

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On the other hand, they owe their fans everything. Is Manuel everything you've always wanted? If he is, then, to be blunt, your standards are too low.

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