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Wrong Place and Time for Wallace

June 15, 2003|AROUND THE HORN

Timing being everything, it was only one day after former Dodger executive Dave Wallace moved into his new position as the Boston Red Sox pitching coach and front office advisor that the New York Mets fired general manager Steve Phillips, creating a vacancy that Wallace might have been in line for if he hadn't accepted the multiyear deal with Boston.

Wallace, a former Met coach and executive, would have certainly been considered for an immediate advisory position with the Mets, interim General Manager Jim Duquette said at the news conference where the long-anticipated firing of Phillips was announced and where owner Fred Wilpon said that no matter who becomes the general manager there will be a need to surround him with "pure baseball people" -- which is what Wallace is.

That is also what the respected Duquette is, and it would not be a surprise if he is elevated to the permanent role, although there is an immediate and long list of possibilities, including former Met assistant Omar Minaya, the general manager of the Montreal Expos; Jerry Hunsicker, another former Met executive who is GM of the Houston Astros; Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics' GM; Brian Sabean, the San Francisco Giants' GM (the Giants were quick to announce that Sabean has a multi-year commitment with them), and Gene Michael, a longtime scout and executive with the New York Yankees.

New York is New York, and there is obvious glamour to a position that will pay well, but pulling the Mets out of a last-place morass with an aging roster (baseball's oldest) and $120-million payroll (second only to the Yankees) translates to the hottest of hot seats and the longest of patience.

Wilpon acknowledged there is no "quick fix" but that the Mets have to get younger and more athletic (a process they began by promoting touted shortstop Jose Reyes), but also said a "total rebuild" isn't needed, meaning he still believes a galaxy of overpaid, under-performing stars can contend.

Duquette is likely to trade -- or, at least, try to -- some of that galaxy before the end of the season. There isn't a large market, however, for Roberto Alomar or Jeromy Burnitz or Roger Cedeno given their salaries and performance.

There were other factors, but when those acquisitions, along with that of Mo Vaughn in the same winter after the 2001 season, backfired, Phillips was destined to fall. Of course, no general manager operates in a vacuum. If ownership had followed through in pursuit of Alex Rodriguez after the 2000 season, as expensive as it was, they wouldn't have wasted what they did a year later, and the results might have been far different.

Home Games

Matt Williams, 37, rejected overtures from Colorado and the Chicago Cubs in deciding to retire so he could spend more time with his children -- ages 13, 12 and 10.

The decision -- "I'm a father first," Williams said -- did not surprise Arizona teammate Mark Grace, who told reporters, "You can almost count on one hand how many men have full custody of their children in divorce cases. It's a rare opportunity for him to be with his kids, and I wouldn't have expected anything less. I hope my own son grows up to be like Matt Williams."

Chuck Finley, in a visit to Edison Field on Wednesday, said he was wrestling with a similar decision. At 40, he said, he feels he is throwing as well as any time in the last three years and that he would like an opportunity to continue pitching, but the logistics would have to fit into custodial responsibilities as the father of two daughters, 10 and 5.

"When the oldest says, 'Daddy, you've been pitching for 17 years and maybe you should stay home now,' " said Finley, "well, it definitely gives you pause for thought. If something doesn't happen in the next couple weeks, I'll take the key out of the ignition with no regrets."

Park's Place

The question of fortitude that haunted Chan Ho Park's final season with the Dodgers has become a major topic of clubhouse conversation and consternation with the Texas Rangers, isolating Park. The right-hander came off the disabled list for a sore back last weekend, lasted only two innings in a start against the Montreal Expos on Sunday, claimed he had a sore rib cage that no one had been aware of, and went back on the disabled list for the third time in two years with the Rangers. His record in that span is 10-11 with a 6.52 earned-run average, and he has turned into a $65-million bust. Owner Tom Hicks reflected on the series of physical setbacks and seemed to bite his tongue in telling Texas reporters, "I've never seen anything like it."

Pay Daze

Based on his $13-million salary, Sammy Sosa will receive about $500,000 during his seven-day wrist slap for using a corked bat. Sosa's contract with the Cubs says he would not be paid if suspended by the club, but it is superceded by the new bargaining agreement, stipulating players must be paid when suspended by the commissioner's office for an on-field infraction. Another indication of the inmates running the asylum?

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