the sports section

The Mets, and Omar Minaya, Have Lost Their Way, But at Least They’ve Found a Scapegoat

The Mets lost again last night, to the worst team in baseball, dropping them to a season-high five games under .500 and a whopping ten games behind first-place Philadelphia. Baseball Prospectus gives them a 4 percent chance of making the playoffs, and that seems optimistic. The season is over, and someone will have to pay. General manager Omar Minaya? Manager Jerry Manuel? Neither, it seems: The team has apparently found its official scapegoat. You may not know who he is, but you will. And he probably even deserves it.

Tony Bernazard, the Mets’ vice president for development, has long been considered a mysterious and nefarious influence in the Mets organization. He’s believed to be the primary reason for the Mets’ bumbling, tone-deaf Midnight Massacre firing of Willie Randolph last year; he’s renowned among beat reporters for undermining players, coaches, and staff to curry favor with Minaya; and was pilloried last year by Newsday’s Ken Davidoff, who wrote that Bernazard was “giddy as a schoolgirl with a new dress” after Randolph was fired.

But even though Bernazard has little player-development experience and has been tagged as obsessing over, as Gotham Baseball Magazine put it, “consolidating his power,” he has always survived because he had the ear of Minaya who, not very long ago, was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and considered one of the next great baseball minds. Now the Mets are terrible, and Minaya is under fire. The greatest service Bernazard can do his boss now is take the hit for him. Whether he knows it or not.

Hence the story, leaked to the Daily News this morning, that Bernazard ripped off his shirt and challenged virtually the entire Binghamton Mets roster to a fight. The tirade, supposedly inspired by underage drinking on the team, did not end in a brawl. But it certainly makes Bernazard look like a buffoon. There’s actually a poll on the News’ site asking if Bernazard should be fired, the results of which should be quite scientific, considering most people didn’t know who Bernazard was yesterday.

It is no coincidence that this story appeared just two days after the same Daily News reporter, Adam Rubin, quoted sources saying that Minaya’s job was not nearly as safe as his current contract would imply. The Mets have long been a dysfunctional family, hoping victories would hide the strife and backstabbing going on behind closed doors. But now that this season, the first in the brand-new ballpark, looks like a lost cause, the knives are coming out. Minaya and Manuel are fighting for their jobs, and Bernazard seems to be losing at his own game. The Mets are uglier in the front office than they are on the field. That’s terrifying.

The Mets, and Omar Minaya, Have Lost Their Way, But at Least They’ve Found a Scapegoat