John Ricco was not at Tuesday’s extraordinary news conference at Citi Field in which Mets general manager Sandy Alderson announced he was taking a leave of absence and made it clear he doesn’t expect to return.
Ricco, the assistant general manager and generally presumed Alderson successor, had a previous commitment that required a day away from the ballpark. Alderson, when he revealed to Ricco that he was going to step aside, told his close deputy not to change his plans.
The two had worked side by side for eight years. When Alderson stepped off the stage, it would have been natural for the 50-year-old Ricco to step in, for the Mets to announce that the torch was going to be passed.
But that’s not how things go sometimes. Sometimes — especially around the Mets — it takes a while to get to the correct decision. So chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon announced a cockamamie plan for Ricco to be part of a trio of executives who will jointly make decisions.
Eventually, if the Wilpons want to get this right, they will give the GM job to Ricco. He is universally respected around baseball and has paid his dues. Heck, he’s paid his dues, my dues, your dues. He’s due.
“Honestly, Sandy has been delegating more and more to me,” Ricco said on Wednesday. “That process had started several years ago. Over the last few weeks, maybe a little bit more.”
Ricco started his baseball life in 1991 as an intern in the Yankees media relations department. He worked for the American League, then for the commissioner’s office, before joining the Mets as assistant GM in 2004 under Jim Duquette.
But it wasn’t Ricco’s first chance to be an assistant GM in New York. Brian Cashman -- who started as a Yankees intern in 1989 -- tried to hire Ricco when he took over as general manager in 1998. Ricco decided to stay where he was, but Cashman continues to this day to be impressed.
“We worked together a long time ago,” Cashman said in a telephone interview on Wednesday night. “And I thought very highly of him then and I guarantee nothing’s changed. From what I can see from afar — it’s not like we do a lot of business with the Mets — all he’s done is gotten more experience and I’ve heard nothing has changed from the person I knew then: extremely hard worker, knowledgeable, cares, selfless, committed. He checks all the boxes.”
Cashman made it clear he was not politicking for anyone and has no inside knowledge of the Mets’ situation.
Here’s the Mets situation: Ricco, former Mets general manager Omar Minaya and former Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi are running baseball operations. Minaya and Ricciardi, talent evaluators by trade, are two of three special assistants to the general manager.
(The other special assistant is Terry Collins. Apparently no one thought to ask the former manager to be part of a quartet of executives running things.)
Ricco stepped forward to meet the media on Wednesday in the dugout before the Mets’ game against Pittsburgh. Someone has to be the face of the front office. Ricco did it before when he filled in during Alderson’s initial battle with cancer in 2015.
Ricco gamely tried to explain the new management structure and talked about the Mets’ plans. What he did not do — refused to do, even though he was given every opportunity — was campaign for the job.
Ricco made his bones as a rules-and-regulations guy, as someone from a non-scouting background. So did Cashman, who said he never expected to be a GM. But when the opportunity came, Cashman seized it.
“It’s like in surfing,” Cashman said. “When the wave hits, you’ve got to ride it.”
Ricco may not be itching to ride that wave, to show he’s someone who can build a team and run an organization. Or maybe he is, in his quiet, respectful way.
“I’ve been at this job now the better part of 15 years and 25 in baseball,” Ricco said. “Watched a few games. I have a pretty good idea of what plays at this level and what you need to do to put together a winning team.”
It’s time to let him try.