David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
WASHINGTON - The only thing Sandy Alderson seems to enjoy more than morning jogs with Buddy is poking the big, panting, media beast that follows the Mets around.
And since his beloved golden retriever isn't in D.C., Alderson chose to entertain himself on Wednesday with some pregame antics ripped from the morning headlines. As Terry Collins held his daily briefing outside the manager's office, the GM lurked at the perimeter of the reporters' scrum, a blue lineup card in hand.
A few minutes passed before Alderson finally interrupted Collins. "Terry," the GM said, extending his arm, card in hand, "here's your lineup for tomorrow."
Everyone laughed, including Collins. Say what you want about Alderson's sluggish rebuilding effort in Flushing. But his comic timing usually is spot on, and this was his way of blowing up the day's narrative suggesting the lineup card is being filled out by the front office rather than Collins.
Collins said on Wednesday that wasn't the case, as did Alderson. And despite a healthy skepticism hatched from nearly two decades of covering Mets' goofiness, we believe them on this one. "I think what happened is people were surprised by the lineup, and people don't like surprises," Alderson said. "So when there is a surprise like that, people start scrambling around for a rationale or an explanation and sometimes it gets a little crazy."
We know who wasn't surprised by an Opening Day lineup that had Curtis Granderson -- not Juan Lagares -- leading off and David Wright batting second rather than his customary No. 3 spot. Newsday's Marc Carig, who told you a day earlier that's how the card would look after talking with sources on the subject.
The Mets experimented with different lineups during spring training and this shouldn't have been a shock anyway. But the truth isn't as fun as conspiracy theories. It also doesn't get people angry enough to scream on the radio about meddlesome front-office types and the sad plight of a lame-duck manager.
As baseball becomes increasingly governed by data, the image of number-crunching execs pulling on the manager's puppet strings makes for good propaganda. But the communication between the GM's suite and the dugout can't be a one-way street. The best teams -- or clubs striving to be better -- work together at every rung of that ladder, regardless of the power structure.
And that means a sharing of opinions as well as information. What manager wouldn't want every decimal point at his disposal when making out a lineup? Or determining the right reliever for a late-inning showdown? Without a binder of some sort, today's manager would be at a competitive disadvantage, plain and simple.
That's why the front office has a staff to compile data, which is then processed along with the human, on-field component. Ultimately, the manager should get to make the call -- and the Mets insist that's the way it is with Collins, who emphatically said the lineup remains his.
"The one thing the manager has in his power is this, OK?" Collins said, holding up the card Alderson jokingly gave him earlier. "He's got one hammer, and that's who plays. And I'm certainly very, very lucky to have that hammer."
Don't mistake that, however, with Collins holding all the cards here. Alderson is the one with a three-year deal, and if the Mets stumble badly, Collins still could be gone before Memorial Day. It's the manager's job to lose, but at least he'll have the chance to author his own fate.
"I didn't have any conversations with Terry about the lineup," Alderson said. "That's his prerogative."Collins bristled at first when asked about the batting-order imbroglio, denying that anyone other than him had final say. He claimed that any sources saying differently "don't know what they're talking about." Pretty strong words from the manager. But Collins did acknowledge this Opening Day lineup was a team-effort from his staff and one member in particular.
That would be Bob Geren, the bench coach, who apparently suggested the configuration in mid-February. Given Collins' lame-duck status, we're not sure it's smart to be giving too much credit to Geren, an Alderson favorite who's probably at or near the top of the list when it comes to his possible short-term replacements.
But if this doesn't work, and Collins' decision-making is hurting the Mets, he shouldn't be worried about the perception that the front office is messing with his lineup card. He won't be the manager writing it anymore.