Listening to the Mets gush about Art Howe at yesterday's
news conference, it was as if the struggling franchise had just hired
baseball's version of Abraham Lincoln, only with a shinier scalp.
"When I met him," Mets owner Fred Wilpon said, "I'm telling you, he blew me
away. He reminded me so much of some great leaders - quiet leaders, dignified
leaders - guys that are in and out of baseball."
Say this much for Howe: Without even managing a single game for the Mets,
he had members of the front office behaving like smitten teenagers at an *NSYNC
concert during yesterday's introduction at Shea Stadium.
In their eyes, Howe apparently can do no wrong. They say no one is better
suited to repair the fractured clubhouse, to lift the players out of the
malaise that engulfed the team in the second half of the season. Or at least no
one is better suited among those available at the precise moment last week
that he was offered the job.
"I truly believe that he is exactly the type of person and personality to
lead this organization right now," general manager Steve Phillips said.
Or as Howe put it: "I may not have been the first choice, but I'm the right
Howe delivered a low-key, straightforward address that opened with a nice
crack directed at the assembled media. After it was learned last week that he
had been hired, Howe was vilified both on the back pages and talk-show air
waves, so he couldn't resist taking a good-natured swipe at his critics.
"I wanted to thank you all for the nice articles about me," Howe said,
barely containing a smile. When everyone in the room burst out laughing, Howe
showed nice comic timing by waiting for the chuckling to subside before
continuing. "I guess this means I'll never get a roast. But seriously, I'm just
ecstatic about being here."
It was a conversation between Phillips and Athletics general manager Billy
Beane that first put Howe on the Mets' radar, and Phillips responded quickly by
flying down to Houston to interview Howe on Oct. 12.
Phillips was impressed by the meeting, but two days later, the Mets jumped
into the Lou Piniella sweepstakes. Then, when the Mets couldn't get permission
from the Mariners to talk to Piniella, Phillips went back to Howe and set up a
summit at a Manhattan hotel last Wednesday with Fred and Jeff Wilpon. Fred
Wilpon already had heard Phillips' glowing reports, and it didn't take very
long to make up his mind.
"A half-hour into this, it struck me," Wilpon said. "There was no question.
This was the guy I want. I said, 'Art, this interview is over. You are not
being interviewed anymore. You're a New York Met. Now, let's talk as partners.'"
Later, the group was joined by Howe's agent, Alan Nero, and the Mets agreed
to the four-year, $9.4-million deal. Just like that, Howe had more money and
more security than he had ever been offered in Oakland.
From the outside, it was a risky move, investing so much in a manager who
was allowed to leave Oakland despite three straight years in the postseason and
back-to-back 100-win seasons.
"I think that it shows how strongly we felt about what we thought Art Howe
could do for us," Phillips said. "He was that compelling to me and to Fred and
to Jeff. They bought into the fact that he's the right guy."
And Howe, unlike the ousted Bobby Valentine, seems to be Phillips' new best
friend. Phillips said yesterday that choosing the coaching staff will be a
joint decision, and if Howe's schedule allows it, he wants his manager to join
him at the December winter meetings, something Valentine was not allowed to do
the previous three years.
"We hit it off immediately," Howe said of Phillips. "It was just a sense
that this was going to be a good fit. I knew it was going to be a good working
Reading between the lines, Howe seems very much the anti-Valentine,
highlighting the Mets' desire to go in a completely different direction.
Instead of the strained relationship that existed between him and Valentine,
Phillips has aligned himself fully with Howe, realizing how crucial the
manager's success is to his survival as he enters the final year of his
"I think he has a maturity and a stability to him that I think is a big
part of what we need right now," Phillips said. "I know everybody keeps saying
that we need somebody to confront players; to go after them, to attack them. I
think my sense is, with our veteran players, we're better served for them to be
treated with the kind of maturity and respect that Art Howe can give."