I haven’t listened to all of the podcasts in their entirety, so maybe this is an issue that you’ve talked about already, but what’s up with all of this Tejada hate out there about his show up date? My understanding is that it’s been affected to some degree by a visa issue, but I had to stop after reading about 5 comments on Metsblog on the post about his projected arrival today. People are already branding him as acting entitled to the SS position and questioning his devotion and drive, simply because he will show up to spring training on time or perhaps a day late due in some part to a work visa issue.
– Evan, via electronic mail
We did briefly address this topic — Ruben Tejada’s on-time arrival to Mets camp — on the Mostly Mets podcast. Ted Berg addressed it last week as well, so I’d recommend that post.
But I do want to address the principal players, Ruben Tejada and Terry Collins, with regards to their roles in this non-story story a little bit further.
First, Ruben Tejada. The worst thing he did here was being unfamiliar with U.S. holidays; I see him at no, or at very little, fault here. Tejada is 22-years-old. He has a job that sticks him in another country for eight months a year, a challenge I can only imagine. He’s also the only young, foreign-born position player in the Mets’ major league camp, meaning that particular challenge belongs only to him. Plus, he’s not late for camp; he’s just not early (and Tejada may have been early, if he had been aware that the embassy in Panama would be closed on Presidents Day). And we should mention that had Tejada arrived early, his expenses – plane ticket, hotel, car — would come out of his own pocket.
So it’s not like a cash-strapped team is going to hire a chartered helicopter to drop off Tejada on a practice field in the middle of the day. Tejada’s paying for this himself.
Those are plenty of reasons to show up when Tejada did. I, for one, would be less than willing to pay my own way to arrive weeks early for an eight-month job in a foreign country. I am also not a major league baseball player, and my unwillingness to do such things may have something to do with it. (Other contributing factors are nearsightedness, righthandedness, and a fear of playing the infield after getting hit in the throat with a ground ball at Little League practice at age 11.) But I’m not going to criticize Tejada for arriving on time when I’d do the same — although I’m unlikely to criticize Tejada for anything. If the Mets want all their players at camp earlier in February . . . make the deadline earlier.
Or the aforementioned chartered chopper thing. And preferably make all the players dress like Mr. Moneybags from Monopoly when they’re dropped off on the field, in case the helicopters landing on the practice fields in the middle of the day aren’t subtle enough.
Anyway, Ruben Tejada showed up on time, so this shouldn’t have been an issue.
Or it shouldn’t have been a public issue. And that’s the part of this story that interests me: Why did Terry Collins call out Ruben Tejada in the press? This non-story is a story because Terry Collins made it a story. So why did the manager do it? Why call out your young shortstop to the media at the beginning of spring training?
I see two reasons for Terry Collins calling out Tejada.
Possible Answer 1: Terry Collins says, “Don’t get mad. I’m only being real.”
That is, Terry Collins just says stuff, and sometimes the media runs with it. Collins made Tejada’s arrival into a story unintentionally.
This seems like the most likely answer, if only because Terry Collins doesn’t come off as the most manipulative person in the world. Which is why — IMO — he works so well with the New York media. Intellectually threatening managers (e.g., Bobby Valentine, Joe Girardi) seem to receive less than celebratory coverage as managers in New York. Meanwhile, Terry Collins favorite word is “heck,” he answers questions honestly without throwing his players under the bus (unless the offending party is a middle infielder arriving not-early to camp, apparently), and his jokes are uncle-like in their endearing lameness. He doesn’t try to seem smarter than anyone else. It’s like covering a well-meaning Elmer Fudd. He’s the perfect manager for a young team in New York.
So it seems unlikely that Tejada-week was Collins’ attempt to set the media hounds on Tejada when Tejada arrived at camp. He may have just accidentally set the media hounds upon his young shortstop, maybe a misstep from the Mets’ manager. Unless . . .
Possible Answer 2: Media Manipulation
Unless, of course, Terry Collins was deliberately releasing the story-starved hounds on Tejada as some kind of weird character-building exercise.
Allow me to give legs to this theory via a brief interpolation: At some point last season, Ruben Tejada made a key error in a sloppy Mets loss. I don’t remember the game in particular, but I do remember that it was late in the season, I was in attendance, and Bobby Parnell possibly pitched. And Ruben Tejada made a key mistake playing shortstop.
So after the game in the clubhouse, the media descended around Angel Pagan. And Bobby Parnell. And David Wright. And whichever pitcher started the game.
But no one asked Ruben Tejada a question about the game, even though Tejada was clearly a goat, if not the goat of the night. His misplay, if my memory serves me, was a turning point in the game. And no one asked him about it, or about anything else.
There’s a reason. Tejada is a relatively unknown player, he was never a big prospect, and – this is the big one — he still doesn’t really speak English. He’s rarely been the story for the Mets, and because of the language barrier, he’s not going to give great quotes anyway. So it’s understandable that Tejada got away with little-to-no media scrutiny his first two seasons, even when he’s booting key ground balls.
But that’s going to change this year. Tejada is both Jose Reyes’ replacement and potentially an important player for the Mets going forward. He’s going to face at least a few media scrums this season, with television cameras spotlighting him, recording devices in his face, and a tight circle of curiously-dressed men mumbling questions in a foreign language for him to answer. He has to learn how to deal with that part of being a major league player, because that’s a big part of the job. It’s not like a chartered helicopter is going to land in the outfield, in the middle of the afternoon, and whisk Tejada away from the media.
(I’m done, I promise.)
Back to Terry Collins and how he plays into this. Collins’ job, as manager of these present Mets, can be split into two objectives, one short-term and one long-term:
1. His short-term objective is to win games with the Mets.
2. His long-term objective is to take young players and turn them into major league regulars.
For Collins, that long-term objective is the reason Sandy Alderson hired him to be the manager of the Mets. Since Collins joined the organization as the minor league field coordinator in 2010, Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada, Josh Thole, Lucas Duda, Jon Niese, and Dillon Gee have transitioned from the minor league players to major league regulars. Kirk Niewenhuis, Jordanny Valdespin, Jeurys Familia, and Matt Harvey may make that jump this season. The Mets are biding their time and developing their young players. The manager is part of that plan, so his main job is Objective #2, take these young players out of Triple-A and turn them into major league dudes. This, for the most part, trumps Objective #1 for the Mets right now. Which is why Lucas Duda will be getting big league at-bats in right field, and Willie Harris – great teammate and veteran example for young players – was never released last season. (At least I think that’s the reason. Nothing else makes sense.)
That’s the goal though: Take young guys, make them major league players.
So if I’m Terry Collins and I’m ticked off that Ruben Tejada isn’t at camp early, I can either . . .
A. Keep it to myself, keep it within the team, then have a long talk with Tejada when he gets to camp about his new responsibilities as a starting player on this team. Problem gets solved, and nobody writes the “Tejada is a slacker” stories when Tejada inevitably goes into a slump later this season. I assume this is how 90% of problems in a clubhouse are solved.
OR . . .
B. Complain constantly about Tejada’s absence to the media. Do it everyday until Tejada makes it to camp. Let media detain, interrogate and waterboard Tejada when he arrives. Then have a long talk with Tejada about his new responsibilities as a starting player on this team. Problem solved, plus Tejada gets his first taste of the spotlight. Learning experiences and hugs all around.
Scenario B is what actually happened, so perhaps Terry Collins is a benevolent media manipulator. Which seems out of step with Collins’ “aw, heck,” what-you-see-is-what-you-get demeanor. We’re talking about the guy who teared up during the final press conference of 2011. Using the media to mentally prepare your young shortstop for the attention he might receive during the season seems like grandmaster planning that would be unexpected from Collins . . . but isn’t that exactly what a master media manipulator would want you to think?
Yeah, it’s a weak theory, I know. It’s probably just Terry Collins saying stuff, because I assume most of life is people just saying stuff without complicated reasons behind most of it. So it seems like a small misstep from Collins – however unfair it may be, as Evan pointed out in his email, Tejada has now been branded a slacker by some fans. If Tejada struggles this season — and he will — his dedication will be questioned in the media because that narrative has already been established. That’s how that stuff works. First impressions are hard to shake. If Collins is trying to protect his players, this may not have been the ideal way to go about it.
But maybe this non-story is good for Ruben Tejada. This past week may have proved a valuable learning experience. He’s going to have to deal with the media — and the repercussions of what one does and says in front of the media – if he’s going to be successful in major league baseball.