By Brad Kallet
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This is one of the most likeable Mets teams in recent memory, and not just because the club is loaded with talent and headed to its first World Series in 15 years.
There is a wonderful mix of young players and old, of rising stars and wily veterans. You have the dominant, flashy pitchers in Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Jeurys Familia. And then you have the old-school ballplayers, the Juan Uribes, Bartolo Colons and Daniel Murphys of the world.
Curtis Granderson is an all-world human being. Yoenis Cespedes has the flair of Bo Jackson. Michael Conforto is the modest, next big thing. Lucas Duda is the strong, silent type. And then there are Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada, who became cult heroes overnight due to fantastically strange circumstances.
But of everyone in this organization that I’m happy for, that I feel deserves a special amount of praise, there are three men who stick out among the rest.
Sandy Alderson, Terry Collins and the captain, David Wright.
Let’s start with Alderson, the general manager who was hired by the Wilpons after the 2010 season. The longtime baseball executive was tasked with rebuilding the organization’s farm system and making the on-field product watchable with limited financial resources at his disposal. Throughout his early tenure he didn’t make many moves. He sat tight, didn’t spend much money and put fans through four agonizing losing seasons.
Pundits and fans alike begged him to make moves and live up to his reputation as a front office genius. He continued to be patient, to the dismay of pretty much everybody. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, but by 2013 I repeatedly panned him for not taking risks and wasting all of this brilliant pitching. By that time the farm system was one of the best in baseball, but without quality major league talent it felt like an opportunity had been missed.
Then came 2015. The pitching was brilliant, but the offense was one of the worst — if not the worst — in baseball. With any kind of offense, this team would have a chance. I repeatedly called for Sandy to go out and get some hitters, and even wrote that he deserved to be fired if he didn’t get bats at the trade deadline. I didn’t expect him to make a big splash, and if you proclaim that you saw what was coming, I’d have to call you on that one.
Mid-July rolled around and Alderson shocked us all. Each and every one of us. He didn’t just improve the offense, but rather made it formidable. Sandy acquired Uribe, Kelly Johnson and the game-changer — Cespedes — before solidifying the bullpen with Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed. And the offense was further boosted by the returns of Wright and Travis d’Arnaud, and the recall of Conforto.
Alderson didn’t budge. He didn’t stray from his plan. He remained patient, kept all of his prized arms and didn’t make a panic move despite intense pressure from the media and the fan base. He played this situation perfectly, stuck to his guns and expertly built a team that is just four victories from a title.
That brings us to Collins, who, like Alderson, was hired after the 2010 campaign. A now-66-year-old baseball lifer, TC replaced Jerry Manuel. Collins has been in the game forever. He got his first managerial job in 1981, and made his major league coaching debut with the Pirates in 1992. He had controversial, disappointing managerial stints with the Astros and Angels later in the decade. Collins coached the Rays in 2001 and managed the Orix Buffaloes in Japan in 2007 and 2008 before landing a job as the Mets’ minor league field coordinator in 2010.
He got another shot at managing a year later, and was constantly criticized for not being a winner and for making head-scratching in-game decisions. His first four campaigns were losing ones, and fans continually called for him to be replaced by Wally Backman.
Terry remained a good soldier, never lost his cool and continued to give off an aura of confidence. In 2015, he kept a mediocre club afloat in the NL East until the All-Star break. Then, when Alderson gave him the talent he so desperately needed during his first four-and-a-half years on the job, Collins took his team to the next level.
After a brilliant final two months — the last two weeks notwithstanding — Collins, the oldest manager in the league, got to the postseason as a skipper for the first time in his career. He has been brilliant in October, pushing all the right buttons in getting his club past the Dodgers and Cubs. He’s finally on the grandest stage, and he’s showing the world that he’s up to the challenge.
It’s been a long time coming for Collins. A lifetime, in fact. Good for him.
And then there’s the captain. The face of the franchise. One of the most beloved players in club history. He’s the Virginia native who used to affectionately be known as “Hollywood” by his teammates for his leading-man good looks and leadership.
David Wright’s story is a fascinating one. He grew up a Mets fan, was drafted by them in 2001 and made his big league debut in 2004. He became an instant hit in the Big Apple, and just three years into his career was on a team that should have won the World Series. But the Mets lost the 2006 NLCS in heartbreaking fashion, and the organization went backwards. The Amazins were in turmoil, and Wright — who had become a superstar quickly — began to go through some rough times.
He went through two collapses and missed the postseason eight years in a row, despite early prognostications that he’d have his team contending for a championship year after year. The seven-time All-Star struggled to hit in the ridiculously spacious Citi Field, and his power numbers fell dramatically. The new ballpark may or may not have negatively altered his approach and messed with his swing, but something was certainly off. Wright was still an above average player, but he was no longer the superstar he once was.
Then he started to get hurt, over and over and over again. The third baseman, who was an iron man in his early days, just couldn’t stay on the field.
In 2012, despite his burning desire to finally win that elusive title, he pledged his allegiance to the orange and blue and signed a long-term deal with the Mets, essentially assuring that he would end his career in New York. It didn’t look like the Mets were going to play meaningful fall baseball any time soon. The pact was certainly a gamble for a player who lives and dies with winning.
When spring training rolled around this year, Wright looked fresh. The two-time Gold Glove Award winner appeared to be in great shape and was swinging a hot bat in Port St. Lucie, Florida. A year of redemption, perhaps?
Not quite. He got hurt just eight games into the season, and during his rehab process was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. There was a belief that his career might be over, let alone his season. But Wright worked tirelessly to return and, amazingly, was in the lineup on Aug. 24. He played 30 games the rest of the season and has played in all nine postseason games leading up to the World Series.
Now 32 and the longest-tenured player in baseball with one team, Wright has a chance to finally win a World Series, and do it with the only organization he’s ever known. It almost seems unfathomable.
There’s plenty to love about these Miracle Mets.
But there’s something extra special about what Sandy, Terry and David have done to get here.
Brad Kallet is an editor and columnist for CBSNewYork.com. He has written for TENNIS.com, MLB.com and SMASH Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet.