Monday's press conference announcing the departure of Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya provided something that we haven't seen much of in New York over the years. Fred Wilpon was engaged, passionate and relentless in his discussion of what's wrong with the Mets.
He called the last four years the most "painful and disappointing" of his tenure as team owner and the look on his face made it clear that he was speaking from the heart. He also publicly addressed the Bernie Madoff scandal for the first time, discussing the betrayal he felt at being swindled by a man he thought was his friend. It was actually tough to watch at times and you'd have to be made of stone not to feel something while watching a man stand up to take a public beating like that.
Before any tears could start rolling down any cheeks, the conversation turned back toward operational matters. That meant Jeff Wilpon would be talking, it meant platitudes about changing cultures and it meant the same old feelings about the dysfunctional organizational setup came bubbling to the surface. The Wilpons know that these perceptions are out there, going so far as saying that being the general manager of the Mets is a good job, but they did very little to dissuade anyone who thinks they are meddlers by nature.
They said that the next general manager would have "autonomy," in fact they said Minaya had it, but then they turned around and said that there hasn't been one major decision for the Mets that wasn't made by the Wilpons and team president Saul Katz. That's fine in terms of setting the budget, the ticket prices and so forth, but it does reinforce the notion that everything with the Mets is done by committee. That's not quite the same as autonomy, it's giving approval and that still requires the GM to sing for his supper.
Fred Wilpon also talked about how long they have operated using the same structure and that they are comfortable with the structure. That doesn't sound like a culture that's about to change, at least it doesn't sound any more like it than when the Mets promised the same thing when they hired Minaya, Jim Duquette, Steve Phillips or anyone else who did absolutely nothing to change the culture.
Maybe things have gotten bad enough that this time is different, but it's hard to feel that way when Jeff Wilpon is still sitting next to his father on the podium. Family businesses tend to be run the same way year after year, they tend to have very set ways of doing business and they tend to be very resistant to outside ideas about different approaches.
The Mets said all the right things on Monday, but that was the easy part. The hard part is actually changing, because it is going to take more than simply putting a new name on the payroll to accomplish it.