Managing Rickey Henderson, Circa 1999: A Possible Model for Handling Bobby Abreu, 2014

RickeyJimmy:

Okay, up front: I’m not mistaking Terry Collins for Bobby Valentine. That would be like mistaking a Tom Collins mixer for a mason jar of Kentucky bourbon. But after watching Bobby Abreu perform capably (so far!) for the 2014 Mets, I’m reminded of Rickey Henderson’s terrific (and unexpected) season for the 1999 Mets. At the time, I thought it was one of the best managing jobs of a single player I’d ever seen. I was convinced that Bobby Valentine squeezed the absolute best out of 40-year-old Rickey Henderson.

Mike:

It was an unexpected success. And Rickey was squeezed dry in 1999. He hung around baseball until 2003 but it was his last successful season.

Jimmy:

I decided to take a look back at the season, through the Rickey Lens. Rickey was, of course, one of the greatest to ever play the game. If you’re not convinced, just ask him. But he was 40 years old in the year he came to the Mets, coming off a 1998 season with the rickey-henderson-hot-tub-05718717Athletics where he played 152 games with 670 PAs. The slash line was .236/.376/.347. Even so, amazingly, he stole 66 bases and walked 118 times, leading the AL in both categories. Rickey was a man on a mission at that time, but not a team-oriented one. He needed 232 runs to pass Ty Cobb on the all-time list. He was third in walks behind Ted Williams and Babe Ruth. Rickey wanted to be on top in both those categories, and the only way to do it was to play, a lot. Admitted Rickey, “That’s why I keep going, I want to go out and challenge Ty’s and Babe Ruth’s record. It makes you want to keep playing.” Rickey signed with the Mets for 1 year at $2.3 million, with an option for 2000. At the news conference, the Mets even wheeled out a birthday cake with 40 candles. By all reports, Rickey blew ‘em out easily. The previous season, Mets leadoff hitters had a OBP of .321 with only 15 SBs. The signing of Henderson was a direct attempt by GM Steve Phillips to address that area of weakness. In fact, it had been a busy offseason overall:

The Mets have been one of the majors’ busiest teams in the off-season, spending $163.9 million to keep Mike Piazza, Al Leiter and Dennis Cook, and sign Henderson and Robin Ventura. They have also made two big trades, getting Bobby Bonilla and Armando Benitez and dealing away Todd Hundley and Mel Rojas

Rickey perceived himself as an everyday player. Bobby Valentine had other ideas. The Mets manager understood that the season was more important than the game – something that to date has been lost on Terry Collins.

Mike:

That team had a dynamite infield and a great hitting catcher, but the outfield was something of bobby-bonillaa mess. Brian McRae, Roger Cedeno, Benny Agbayani, Bobby Bonilla, Daryl Hamilton and the 40-year-old Rickey. One thing is that other than Henderson, who had a gigantic ego, the rest of those guys didn’t have the resume or promise to demand any playing time. Valentine, who loved to tinker anyway, was a great fit for that team. He certainly got the most out of the group, and Henderson had the best season of any of them.

Jimmy:

BV had the fortitude to stand up to Rickey, who wanted to play everyday. Or, perhaps, BV had the salesmanship to get Rickey to understand that, with regular rest, he’d perform at a higher level. Rickey concluded the season with .315/.423/.466 in rate stats. He played quite a bit, too, 121 games overall, or 3 out of every 4 games.

By the way, I have to add our very own beloved Met, Bobby Abreu, put up a pretty awesome season back in the way back of 1999. At age 25, Bobby hit 20 HRs and stole 27 bases. Abreu’s astonishing slash line: .335/.446/.549. Pretty darn good.

But in order to get the most out of Old Man Abreu, Terry needs to rest him before he gets exhausted. And in order to get Abreu into semi-regular games, he’s going to have to sit Chris Young much more often, a player whom I shall now refer to as Mr. Fifth Wheel. (Or not.)

I repeat: Chris Young must sit much more often.

As we’ve seen all season so far, outfielders go down to injuries, get assigned to the DL. There’s always opportunities for guys to play. I just hope that Terry takes a page out of BV’s book and seeks to maximize Abreu impact across a full season through regular rest and judicious matchups.

Mike:

The fact is that so far the signing of Abreu has worked out well for the Mets. Whether he can hold up over time, no matter how he is utilized, remains to be seen. But Abreu has always been a very talented player, and maybe, just maybe, we can squeeze out a nice surprise year from Bobby in 2014. As you pointed out, it has happened before. Abreu home runRickey home run

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13 comments

  1. If my mother taught me anything, after all those years of watching Mets games together, it was about “the bad feeling.”

    You know the games. We watched one last night. The team jumps out to a slim lead and then . . . nothing. Poof. They sit back on their heels and wait.

    As a fan, you begin to get that bad feeling. In fact, I texted to Mike last night at 10:06: “One of those games you feel they are going to lose.”

    And so they did. But Wheeler, wow. And den Dekker, nice.

    Oh, one more complaint: The other day TC goes on and on about how tired everybody is, how hard it is to play baseball, and so on. He concludes, “We are going to see if we can try to get some of these guys some rest.”

    It’s the “try to” get guys some rest part that slays me. Doesn’t he realize that he makes out the lineup? Don’t say anything. Just rest your players to keep them fresh, to keep them strong. Don’t look up and say, “Oh, David’s exhausted, he’s been dragging his ass around the field for three weeks, that’s why he’s in a slump.”

    Be proactive. Be smart. Manage the team.

    • Eraff says:

      Abreu can Still Hit!…and that’s a very good reason to trad him NOW—before he pulls a muscle.

      • Maybe you are kidding. I think Abreu has been a sweet stroke of luck, and not a guy you could trade for value.

        The funny thing about pulls, seems like they happen more often to the hyper-fitness guys, the tight bodies, rather than old players, per say.

        He’s a professional hitter. Unlike, say, Chris Young.

        • Eraff says:

          Yeah—it would need to be late in the Cycle to a desperate team to get any value at all. Byb then, he’d have fallen victim to that Hamstring Pull… or Cataracts,

    • Scott McMan says:

      Here’s the thing, Abreu is not Rickey Henderson and when Ricky was on the team, there was plenty of offense around him. So, if he was only say 70% of what he was, I’d still be OK with it. In Abreu’s case, he’s just taking up space that is better served to be utilizing guys like Campbell.

      I’m not even going to touch on how inept I believe Terry Collins is (since the day he put on blue and orange), but I will touch on the CY situation. CY needs to ride the pine and not so Abreu can play, but in favor of Campbell and other young players who are growing old waiting for a chance.

      The Mets do have some talent that is ML ready in Campbell, Flores and IMO Dykstra. They have a few others that are a year or two away, but Collins seems to hate the young and promising. Abreu is 40 and not Ricky Henderson 40. Dinks and dunks are not what this team needs.

      Bottom line: The best thing this franchise could do is fire Collins and install a manager who’s not going to handicap the team. Are you really telling me that the Mets are going to be better with Abreu in the lineup over a young guy who can reach the outfield wall with the bat? I’ve seen little evidence that shows Abreu as a catalyst. Henderson on the other hand was an obvious catalyst.

      Get the young players on the field and see what they can do, rather than waiting another year to finally play them. Many of these guys are 25-27 years old. If they aren’t the answer, lets at least give them time to prove it. What happens next season if one of these 27 year olds is found to be a great MLB player? By then, they are 28 and heading into the second half of their prime. 2 more years and they are 30. We aren’t in the steroid era, so most of these guys will begin to decline and be done by 35. That’s a career? That’s going to give the team stability at a certain position for 10 years? We can lose just as easily with young players as we can with old vets. Touching on the thought process of Branch Ricky: We can lose just as easily without Abreu. Unfotunately, we’re not finding out if we can win with those who should be given their shot.

      • Thanks for commenting, Scott. My point wasn’t that Abreu = Henderson, but more about maximizing the production of an aging veteran. As for playing time, Sandy Alderson hired Terry Collins; Alderson signs the players, creates the roster, and is author of “the plan.” Any issues you have with Collins should, IMO, be directed at Terry’s boss. But, yes, I agree: He’s awful. But I don’t think Sandy is going to hire a maverick manager. If you were GM, would you?

        In AAA, Wally Backman has described the job as having freedom with the daily decisions, but there are clear goals and objectives for each player (target number of PA’s, for example) that he’s called on to reach. He has limited freedom within a strict framework. I think that’s Terry’s role, too. He can’t overrule his boss on playing time for CY or anyone else. At least, that’s how I understand it. Maybe he can lobby, but the final decisions are not Terry’s.

        • Scott McMan says:

          James, I understand where you are coming from IE: Abreu and yes, I do go off on my own little rambling messages. It’s a habit I have.

          Addressing Sandy’s role, he doesn’t make out the lineup card each day and he doesn’t decide to walk the #8 hitter to get to the pitcher when his pitcher is clearly in control of the game. I don’t need to explain how this throws the entire dynamic of a game off. Of course there are daily things in games that Collins decides which handicap the team. Sandy is not on the field and that’s where the day to day choices are most often made. Sandy does create the roster, that is true, but it’s up to Collins to effectively utilize that roster, IE: V getting the most out of what he had.

          Yes, I do agree that CY is probably playing because of the money he makes, but if Terry stood up to Sandy, I’m sure they could come to an agreement. If Sandy is pushing Terry around to the point of telling him who to play day to day, then Terry isn’t much of a manager anyway. I’d probably quit in such a situation. Maybe you have more of an inside track than I do, but I have always been under the impression that the manager decided the lineup (for the most part).

          If Terry is just a puppet on the field, then I’d lose a lot of respect for Sandy. I was on board with his plan all the way to this season. Then he went out and signed CY and it blew my mind. I wasn’t thrilled with the Granderson signing either. Hudgens recent comments really hit home where this is concerned. He clearly referenced the idea that Sandy’s spending was being limited by ownership. However, you know as well as I that in the off season, Sandy said he had no limitations on spending. Someone is lying here. Is Sandy trying to be diplomatic? Why in the world would Hundgens lie? He didn’t seem disgruntled over the firing. Did Sandy have to settle on CY because of the financials involved?

          I have been a Met fan since 1972. However, I can only see what I see from the outside and from years of experience following this team. Of course, half of everything we read in the media can be thrown right out the window and the other half is suspect at best. It’s difficult to tell who the bad guy is. In that case, I have to go with what I see on the field and at the very least Terry is not an effective tactician.

          Last night blew me away as it seemed he threw every prospect on the field he could. Was that orders from Sandy? As I’m sure you will agree, we need a blend of (effective) vets and young up and comers. Not all vets or all prospects! It’s hard to see any consistency in any of it.

          OK, as you can see, I tend to ramble. So, best I stop here before I write a book.

          • Michael Geus says:

            Sandy is on record that the manager is not that important, and he tends to prefer people he can control. The first manager he hired was Art Howe. However, I agree, Collins has the title and there is nothing stopping him from quitting.

            As to Abreu blocking anyone right now I don’t see it. Lagares is on the DL and players like Campbell and Brown are just new versions of Mike Baxter and Josh Satin, fringe guys at best. I have no problem with Abreu playing over those guys.

      • Michael Geus says:

        To add on to my thoughts below, I do believe we should not be blocking any real prospects we have. Signing Young with Lagares around was plain stupid, and signing Colon with all the pitching prospects we have was dopey too.

  2. Eric says:

    One of my favorite Rickey stories: Talking to Olerud when he got to the Mets, Rickey says, “I used to play with a guy that wore a batting helmet in the field.” John looks at him for a few moments, and says “Yeah, that was me.”

  3. That Rangers game last night reminded me of Game One of the 2000 WS. A win there shifts everything. It got away. Not over, but the road just got a lot tougher.

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