Watching these Mets' young players start to blossom, I thought about Tony Bernazard, the team's former vice-president of player development.
What was Bernazard doing? Did he feel vindicated by the early success of the young Mets? What were his emotions nine months after his dismissal?
The Mets fired Bernazard last July 27 after a series of damaging reports about his personal conduct and team investigation. The reports said that he had a heated argument with closer Francisco Rodriguez, berated a team employee over a seating mixup and challenged players at Double A Binghamton to a fight.
Bernazard had not spoken to the media about his dismissal until I reached him on his cell phone Tuesday afternoon.
Q: What happened in Binghamton?
A: Those things were blown out of proportion. I didn't challenge any players (to a fight). I challenged players to do better. All that stuff that I challenged the players, no. We were developing players. We only challenged players to get better.
Q: So, why did you get fired?
A: That's a good question.
Q: Obviously, the Mets determined that they had good reasons.
A: Not necessarily. They can fire you for whatever they want. You can get fired, but (reporters) making things up, that's a different story. I'm telling you, I didn't do anything wrong.
( ESPN.com's Adam Rubin, then with the New York Daily News, had written a series of stories detailing problems in the Mets' minor-league system, including one about Bernazard taking off his shirt and challenging players to a fight in a postgame meeting. Bernazard says the meeting in question actually took place before a game ).
I got on the team. Yes, I did. I reprimanded the team for violating rules. But what is the Mets' history when things don't go right? They pick somebody, sometimes one person, sometimes other people. I was it.
Q: But nobody defended you.
A: Players and managers said that (incident) didn't happen. It wasn't reported. It's not what people wanted to report. It was, 'Let's get on this guy and that's it.' Everyone else jumped on the bandwagon of that one paper.
Because nobody defended you, that doesn't mean all of the things were right. I'm telling you that I did get on the team. I got on their case for violating rules. People can interpret that any way you want.
Q: And taking off your shirt?
A: I had a long-sleeve shirt on. I'm a bike rider. I had taken a long bike ride before I went to the meeting, a 55-mile bike ride.
What happens when you exercise like that? Your body starts relieving that heat. I took the shirt off because I was hot. As simple as that. Maybe I took it off in the middle of the meeting. You're upset, you get hot. All that s---, what is that? What a crime! I took my shirt off. By the way, I always wear a t-shirt.
Q: What about the incident with K-Rod?
A: That's with a player. I always protect (conversations) with players. That's from being a (former) player (Bernazard was a major-league infielder from 1979 to '87 and also in '91).
It was no argument, nothing to talk about.
Q: The incident with the team employee?
A: That was nothing. That was messing around. It was misinterpreted. It was no big deal.
Q: Do you think it will be difficult for you to find another job in baseball?
Q: Are you close to anything right now?
A: I haven't been looking for a job. (After his firing), I went to Europe for a month and a half, just relaxed.
I've always been a hard worker, very dedicated. But I'm taking it easy right now. If I would have been offered something that I thought was worthwhile, I probably would have done it. But I don't want to force things.
I can help people. I can help an organization. I'm available. Let's put it that way.
Q: There was a report that you were going to work for agent Scott Boras.
A: There was a lot of bad information out there about me last year.
Q: Do you fear being black-balled?
A: Black-balled, I don't believe in that. No, no, no, no. I haven't been looking for a job. And I had some calls. Some people approached me at the end of last year, in December.
Q: So, do you feel vindicated by the success of some of the Mets' young players?
A: Not vindicated. This is the thing: I was blamed for everything that happened to the Mets last year.
Q: Not everything . . .
A: Just about everything. But one of the issues is, why do people choose to be so naïve, that one person was responsible for everything that happened to the Mets?
The Mets knew we had players. They knew Mejia and Ike Davis. They were there. Those two guys were in a group of players who were placed in an accelerated development program.
Ike Davis, this is his second year of full-season baseball. Jenrry Mejia, this is his second year of full-season baseball. Both players were in Brooklyn (the Mets' short-season Single A affiliate) two years ago.
Because of their talent, because of what they showed, the type of maturity, the way they handled challenges when you kept pushing them -- not every player can go through that, only a special guy.
Good players are going to make it, no matter what, if they stay healthy. It doesn't matter if they struggle at first -- whatever experiences they have, they're going to make it. When you have that mental capacity -- if you take two guys of equal talent, the one who is stronger mentally will do much better.
These two guys were part of the group in that accelerated process, and you see what they're doing now.
Q: Who else was part of that group?
Sometimes it takes a little longer for some players. But the players were developing. That's the issue.
If you're going to give in to the outside pressure of the media and find it easy to sacrifice some people . . . if that's the way you do business, that's the way you do business. If you were so naïve to believe the stuff that you hear, that's up to them.
All I know is, some of the players were developing. What happened to the organization . . . you have to create some kind of scapegoat, whatever term you want to use.
Nobody's perfect. But let me tell you, there is a lot of knowledge of baseball in this industry and it's in a small percentage of people. It's not as great a percentage as people think. But everyone is an expert.
Q: And you think you are in that small percentage?
A: (Chuckles) It takes experience, instincts and knowledge to be able to evaluate, to be able to dissect the way players react to different situations at any level, from the minor leagues to the big leagues. A lot of people think they know, think it's easy. That's what I was referring to.
Yes, I do have a lot of knowledge of baseball. People like writing controversial things, pushing controversial things, hitting people's buttons.
Is that necessary? You tell me.
Q: Again, the Mets didn't back you.
A: Let's go to that point. When people are covering their asses, they don't do things that are right . . . Did anyone in the Mets' organization say I did all these things? Did they question my baseball knowledge?
I haven't said anything about the Mets. It (his situation) can't change. Some people think I did the wrong thing by not saying anything. Some people said it was the right thing to do.
I know what happened. The kids on the team in Binghamton know what happened. If there are people who misinterpreted what happened there, maybe they didn't have the job they wanted, weren't promoted when they thought they should have been promoted.
I'm very dedicated and passionate about what I do. I was punished for trying to be great. I can't regret that.