Technically, it was possible for Carlos Beltran to remain as manager of the Mets. If they wanted, the Wilpons, along with general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, could have rallied around their former All-Star, staged a mea culpa news conference and plowed through the PR jungle ahead of them.
Unlike the others, Beltran hadn’t been suspended by the commissioner, so he was free to go about his business. The new Mets manager already was in Port St. Lucie preparing for spring training. Surely, Beltran knew the media storm that awaited, but he felt equipped to weather it after playing 20 years — including 6 1⁄2 turbulent seasons in Flushing.
For the Mets, however, the breakup was non-negotiable. From the moment Rob Manfred’s incriminating report surfaced Monday afternoon — singling out Beltran as the only player named — he essentially was a dead manager walking in the eyes of the front office. Two days of conversations in Port St. Lucie wasn’t going to change that, and Beltran eventually softened his desire to stay, bending it into what the Mets finally described as a “mutual parting” by Thursday at 1:29 p.m.
Beltran’s tenure, intro to end, lasted a total of 77 days. The Mets already had penciled in Feb. 11 as his opening news conference at the newly named Clover Park, but now that gig will go to someone else.
The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced this had become a no-win situation for the Mets, and they took the path with less potential for headaches — or worse.
In what will go down as one of the most Mets-ian episodes ever, for a franchise fraught with sitcom-level absurdity, this team wound up firing its manager for crimes that won two other clubs World Series rings.
The Mets, as much as we harpoon them, are not on trial like the Astros and Red Sox. Their only misdemeanor was negligence in not questioning Beltran about his Houston role over the two months of the commissioner’s investigation.
At this point, it no longer matters who knew what and when. Van Wagenen & Co. had no appetite for any more carnival tents that could be avoided (Yo vs. the Boar was only two weeks ago). And if Beltran had to be thrown overboard, so be it.
“As we look to our club, we have to think about distractions,” Van Wagenen said during Thursday’s conference call. “We have to think more importantly about focus and we have to think about how we put ourselves in the best position to win going forward. With camp three weeks away, we will start today on trying to put a plan together in place to have a new manager ready to go, and then we’ll charge forward.”
Van Wagenen talked about how this was a “difficult conclusion” regarding Beltran, just as the Red Sox expressed heartfelt pain over Tuesday’s firing of — er, mutual parting with — Alex Cora. But the Mets’ action was easier to stomach in some respects. Beltran had yet to even manage a game for them. Cora already had won a World Series (albeit now tainted) in his two-year stint. The Astros canned both GM Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch, the architects of the franchise’s only championship (also stained).
What was the upside to keeping Beltran as manager? Well, Van Wagenen raved about his lengthy skill set during that Nov. 1 intro at Citi Field, and if the GM was to be believed, Beltran might have turned into the next Gil Hodges. But that dream wasn’t enough to make the short-term hassles — or the idea of a documented cheater taking over as the new face of the Mets’ franchise — more palatable.
Beltran, in leaving, copped to those mistakes. Even if you try to minimize his role in the Astros’ sign-stealing crimes, saying that Beltran was one of many players involved and was unfairly thrown under the bus by the commissioner, the damning, ugly evidence is there. The Mets understandably just didn’t want him to wear it while in their uniform.
“I am a man of faith and integrity and what took place did not demonstrate those characteristics that are so very important to me and my family,” Beltran said in his statement. “I’m very sorry. It’s not who I am as a father, a husband, a teammate and an educator. I hope that at some point in time, I’ll have the opportunity to return to this game that I love so much.”
At the top of Thursday’s conference call, Van Wagenen opened by saying how the Mets “strongly believe in fair competition and its importance in professional sports.” A throwaway line, perhaps, but Beltran, in his current radioactive state, doesn’t line up with that.
Even after owner Jim Crane’s housecleaning, the Astros are going to be haunted by this scandal forever. Same with the Red Sox, as their ’18 title run is now under investigation by Manfred while Cora was crushed underfoot. Who knows what else will come out of all this?
But the Mets were able to sever their attachment. They could walk away from the quicksand, clean off their shoes and be done with it.
For once, the Mets had an exit strategy, as clumsy as it may have been. Unfortunately for Beltran, they really had no choice but to take it.