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March 28, 2005
  
Interview: Bob Klapisch

Bob Klapisch has had a career most of us dream of: covering baseball, as well as the Mets organization, for the New York Post, the New York Daily News and currently the Bergen Record. During his time in New York he has managed to become one of the most recognized sportswriters in the industry, as well as being a frequent contributor to both ESPN.com, and the MSG Network. He has authored and co-authored two Mets-related books, “High and Tight: The Rise and Fall of Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry” and “The Worst Team Money Could Buy: The Collapse Of The New York Mets”. He’s also the co-writer of one of my personal favorites, Doc Gooden’s biography “Heat: My Life On and Off the Diamond”. These can all be found at your local bookstore or at Amazon.com.

Today, on MetsGeek.com’s premiere, we have the pleasure of sitting down with Bob Klapisch to talk about the Mets past, present and future.


MetsGeek.com: Jim Duquette was the General Manager last season, but on the surface it appeared as if he had very little authoritative control over Mets’ baseball decisions. Did you perceive any general lack of confidence in his experience or in his ability to handle big decisions on his own?

Bob Klapisch: Well, I never thought the Wilpons were one hundred percent behind him, and that certainly turned out to be the case when they went and got Omar Minaya, eleven months after they named Jim the GM. I just never felt that he had the full authority or the confidence of the higher-ups, which is too bad. I thought he would have made a good GM had he been given the time and the breathing room to execute his plan. He inherited a bad team from Steve Phillips, with a lot of bad decisions that were made by the administration prior to him, and he was systematically going about the process of cleaning up the team and opening up the payroll, and working under the constraints of having to go from a one hundred and twenty million dollar payroll down to eighty million. And all that in less than a year. I just don’t think it was fair of the Wilpons to evaluate him on such a small sample, and then to move against him, really, without having given him a chance to show what he could do. So, ultimately, I feel badly for him because professionally I think he’s a good baseball man, and he would have been a great asset to the Mets.

MetsGeek.com: You sound like he’s already gone, do you think he will eventually go somewhere else, and his future isn’t with the New York Mets?

Bob Klapisch: Oh, there’s no doubt in my mind. I think he would take the first job that was offered to him. I guess one of the redeeming results of his demotion was that the Mets at least had the courtesy to give him a raise and make him financially comfortable, which he deserves. It’s not like he can walk away, because he wouldn’t be able to match his salary anywhere. As an assistant GM, he’s making well above the market average. But I do think he needs to go and move on, as he was basically fired at his position after less than a year, and it’s a lot like not making a partner in a law firm. Once you reach a certain status and you don’t go any higher, it’s your calling to go and get another job and work at another place. So I think the first chance that Jim gets at a GM job, he’ll take it, and I think his reputation in the industry is still very good, especially if the Mets have a good year this year. He still is an integral part of their day-to-day operations, and he was responsible for a lot of behind the scenes decisions that were made. So, if it reflects well in the Win/Loss record this year, I think it will only help his stature in the industry.

MetsGeek.com: Most Met fans are going to associate Duquette’s one year stint as GM with the Scott Kazmir deal. Do you think the Mets’ front office was blindsided by the reaction to the Kazmir trade? Or were they aware there was going to be considerable backlash?

Bob Klapisch: Oh, I don’t think they had any idea. Well, I don’t think they had any idea that Victor Zambrano was injured, or would have become seriously injured after three starts, I mean that just blew up in their faces. But I think they realized they were giving up a hot commodity in Kazmir. They knew that there would be some fallout for that, but they really had this belief that between Zambrano and Benson there’d be this exciting pennant race at Shea, and everyone would kind of forget how hard Kazmir threw and replace that memory with the significant games that would be being played in September. It never turned out that way, so all the focus was on how Kazmir did after he left the Mets, and on how bad of a decision it was to bring in an injured pitcher, and that comparison is still ongoing. I mean, every time now in Spring Training that Kazmir throws you hear about Zambrano, and every time Zambrano throws you hear about Kazmir. It will probably continue on until both player’s careers are over. And, right now, it’s obviously too soon to write a history of this trade, but it certainly looks like one of the worst deals the Mets have ever made.

MetsGeek.com: While on the topic, a lot of Met fans blame Rick Peterson in large part for the Kazmir trade, especially after his comments on both Scott Kazmir and Victor Zambrano. How much pull did Peterson have in the front office decision to make the Kazmir trade?

Bob Klapisch: Well, I think he told them what they wanted to hear. I mean, they had the idea of trading for Zambrano before confirming it with Peterson. It wasn’t Peterson who hatched the idea, and he wasn’t the one who pushed for it, obviously. He’s just a pitching coach, he’s not a general manager or an executive. But when they came to him and said, “Look, we’re thinking of making this trade, here’s some film of this guy, tell us what you think. Can he help us? If he’s not pitching effectively now, could you make him a better pitcher?” And Peterson said “Yeah, I see some things in his delivery that I could fix, some easy things that I can identify right away.” So, in that sense, he told the Wilpon family what they wanted to hear, go ahead and make this deal, and I’ll fix the guy you’re about to get. I mean, that’s a pretty ambitious thing to say, that he could fix the guy in ten minutes. Zambrano has some serious flaws in his delivery, which he may never be able to fix. There’s a reason why he hasn’t been able to throw strikes his whole career. He’s got a great live arm and he’s a very competitive guy, and those are pluses, but he may not be blessed with the ability to have control within the strike zone, or have control throwing strikes, period. It remains to be seen, and it remains to be seen how he’s ever going to respond from the elbow surgery he had over the winter. So, I don’t blame Peterson for saying what he said, I think he believed that he could fix Zambrano, but I do blame Met ownership for making this deal, and somehow allowing Peterson to take the heat for it. That was wrong.

MetsGeek.com: Do you still feel he has the ability to help Zambrano’s career?

Bob Klapisch: I think Peterson is a good pitching coach. I think he knows his stuff, he has a very developed technical knowledge of pitching, so how much of that translates? I don’t know. He really wasn’t able to do much with Jae Seo last year, and that was clearly a disappointment to the organization. Aaron Heilman has never really developed, though I don’t know if that’s Rick Peterson’s fault. I think Heilman is what he is and he just doesn’t have that much of an upside, he just may have been improperly scouted. Zambrano is really going to be his test case, it will ultimately be Peterson’s neck on the line, if it’s not this year then maybe one more year. He has got to make him a Kevin Brown-type pitcher. Brown throws harder, had better stuff, but it’s the same sort of genre: a heavy, two-seamer sinking fastball, get a lot of groundballs and make hitters uncomfortable all the time. When Brown was a little younger and had his best stuff nobody wanted to get in the batter’s box against him. That’s the mold that Zambrano has been cast in, and now we’ll see if Peterson can maximize the talent Zambrano’s been blessed with, so far the answer is no.

MetsGeek.com: So, after the removal of Jim Duquette in comes Omar Minaya. There were a lot of questions from the Mets fan base because of the way he ran the team in Montreal, for example: his poor trading record, and also his trading off the Expos top prospects for immediate help. Do you feel that this is indicative of Omar’s abilities as a GM? Or should he be judged in a vacuum because of the constraints he had while running the team?

Bob Klapisch: I don’t think what he did in Montreal should count for much, because like you said he had to answer to Bud Selig, he had no money to work with, and he was never really given any kind of mission statement by Major League Baseball. He wasn’t told whether or not he was keeping the franchise warm for the next buyer, was he actually making a run for the pennant, was he developing talent for other teams to raid through? I don’t know if Omar really knew what he was supposed to do there, and he certainly didn’t have a lot of money to work with, either. I just don’t think that’s fair. So, while I agree that there are some bad trades on his resume, I think it’d be more fair to look at his track record as the Mets’ GM.

MetsGeek.com: When he came in, one of his first actions was to overhaul the medical staff. Was this a direct response to Jose Reyes’ injuries the last two years or had this been building for a while?

Bob Klapisch: Definitely, the fact that they couldn’t fix Reyes factored in, and then they found out he was playing with a broken leg, and I think one thing just led to another. It wasn’t just Omar who fired the medical staff, it was an organizational decision, they just had had enough. And again, there was a general disgust over the way the Zambrano trade had turned out, as we discussed. He was injured and perhaps the Mets didn’t research or investigate his condition thoroughly enough. Perhaps if they had they would have not made this trade. Although the Devil Rays say the Mets were aware of the injury, I’m not sure the Mets were quite aware of how seriously damaged his elbow was. So, I think all factors considered, the change did not come just from Omar, but top to bottom organizational-wise.

MetsGeek.com: Omar’s next move was to attack the free agent market, going after arguably the three best players available — Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado — while at the same time trying to build around talented young players like David Wright and Jose Reyes. Do you foresee the Mets using this strategy in the future, signing big name talent and combining them with players brought up through the farm system, or was this more a one time deal?

Bob Klapisch: That all really depends on how much money the Mets make available to Omar. It is remarkable, and this goes back to the Duquette discussion, that under Jim Duquette’s administration the Mets were only given an eighty million dollar payroll. Duquette basically had to trim forty million dollars, get rid of bad contracts, and be competitive all at once — which is a nearly impossible task. Now, under Omar, the Mets’ payroll is suddenly over one hundred million dollars again. Where the Mets got that extra twenty to twenty-five million dollars is a mystery to me. It’s possible that the Wilpons had it and they just decided to let Omar spend it after withholding it from Duquette, or some people theorize that the money is coming from Time Warner and Comcast, to help the run up to the new network next year and to put a competitive and watchable product on the field. Either way, there is money on the table right now, and if you’re willing to spend one hundred million dollars every year, you’ll be able to chase some big name free agents, as well as develop talent. If that’s what the Wilpons are willing to do, then Met fans can look forward to a pretty good team year after year after year. That’s assuming that they make some smart decisions with that money, but first and foremost if there’s money to spend. So, I don’t know if this winter was an aberration or not, I don’t know if it was a one-year spike just to coincide with next year’s network. But if this is a barometer, then there are good things coming down the road for the Mets and Mets fans.

MetsGeek.com: Now, most Mets fans have heard and/or believe that the Mets have built their teams with an eye towards making the back pages, making the splashy signing, competing with the Yankees, etc. How much, if any, impact do you think the New York media has on the Mets’ decision-makers?

Bob Klapisch: Unfortunately, I think it has a lot (laughs). I say unfortunately because I think the Met ownership listens to WFAN a lot, and I do believe that had something to do with Jim Duquette’s dismissal last year, because the criticism over the Kazmir trade was unrelenting. As I said to you before I think they really believed that having Zambrano and Benson would create this pennant race and divert the attention away from Kazmir, and when it didn’t happen, Mike and the Mad Dog just spent the next month killing the Mets, killing Wilpon, killing Rick Peterson, killing Art Howe. Everybody was thrown under the bus, and I do believe that kind of pressure, public pressure, media pressure was more than the Wilpon family could take. Somebody had to take the fall for that. Art Howe was one and Jim Duquette was the other. I’m sorry to say it, but in this case, the Wilpons should have just not listened to the radio. But yes, they do make their decisions based on what they hear, and based on what they think people are thinking.

MetsGeek.com: Following in the same vein of the original question, have you yourself ever been asked how the Mets fan base might react to certain moves prior to them happening by people associated with the Mets front office?

Bob Klapisch: No, they’ve never polled me. They’re not quite as open about it as that, but I know that they read every single word that’s written, not to say that other teams don’t. But the Yankees, by comparison, are aware of who criticizes them and who’s on their side but they certainly don’t criticize writers the next day or go after writers asking “How could you write that?” and I can’t say there are any real grudges there, with the exception of Mike Lupica. The Yankees hierarchy hates Mike Lupica because he’s so anti-Yankee, but I’d say that’s a singular case. But Met ownership seems to be very aware the next day when you’ve written something critical of them, you just get the sense that they know exactly what’s been in the newspapers and what hasn’t been. But I would not go as far to say as they ask for writer’s opinions before they make a move, I wouldn’t say that. But they are very hypersensitive to how those moves play the next day.

MetsGeek.com: Now we’re into Spring Training, and we find Steve Trachsel’s down with a potentially serious back injury. Within the next week the Mets go out and they trade for Kazuhisa Ishii. It would seem the Mets have little faith in their younger arms. How down are the Mets on Aaron Heilman?

Bob Klapisch: Well, I think Heilman’s development, or lack of development, is a definite disappointment. It’s funny how I used Kevin Brown as a previous example for Zambrano, because Heilman should have had the same kind of stuff: great moving fastball, a funky delivery that hid the ball from hitters, and just unpredictable enough to make hitters uncomfortable. None of that has seemed to happen for him though, none of those assets have manifested themselves into real success in the big leagues. Part of it is he just doesn’t throw hard enough, he needs to be throwing about three or four miles an hour harder, to gain the upper hand on hitters, and instead he’s throwing about eighty-eight instead of ninety-one or ninety-two, and it’s made him very hittable. I don’t know if he’s ever going to acquire that extra velocity or not. My projection for him is not as optimistic as it once was, I felt two years ago this guy was “can’t-miss”, but I no longer feel that way.

MetsGeek.com: Rick Peterson and Jae Seo apparently have clashed numerous times over the past two years. What exactly is Peterson’s problem with Jae Seo?

Bob Klapisch: I don’t know (laughs). I really don’t. To be honest, I haven’t spent enough time talking to Rick about Jae in particular. This spring I spent most of my time investigating Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez. Jae Seo, just in my own observation, needs to throw harder as well. He has a really great looking changeup, but the problem is there isn’t enough differential in the velocity of his fastball and that change in speeds, and very often that doesn’t create the illusion that you need for a changeup to be effective.

MetsGeek.com: Speaking now on the Mets as a whole, who’s the best interview on the Mets?

Bob Klapisch: The best interview on the Mets right now, when he feels like it: Mike Piazza. He’s a very thoughtful, opinionated guy. He’s intelligent, and well-read, he’s well-spoken and can fill up your notebook on subjects besides baseball, but you need to catch Mike on a good day and that’s not very often. Usually he’s not even at his locker, he just doesn’t want to go through the whole interview process so he’ll just hide out in the player’s lounge or the trainer’s room and will make a point of avoiding reporters. Even the days when he is at his locker it’s hit or miss as to whether or not he feels like talking. The most consistent, polite and thoughtful guy is probably Tom Glavine. David Wright is such a nice guy that it’s unbelievable. I mean, I hope he never changes. He’s the type of guy that you’d want to be friends with, that’s how open and honest and accommodating he is, you always feel like you’re welcome at his locker.

MetsGeek.com: Best interview in baseball?

Bob Klapisch: Overall, the best interview in baseball, in my career, is David Cone. I’d say the New York Met David Cone, by the time he got to the Yankees he had changed a little bit and he had gotten caught up in that Yankee corporate thing, where you need to be careful what you say. That philosophy tends to pervade everywhere, top to bottom in the organization, and it acts as a filter to how they answer even the most mundane question. So even David was influenced by that by the time he was at Yankee Stadium, but as a Met you couldn’t find a more honest guy to tell you exactly what he was thinking all the time, regardless of how controversial, and I will miss him.

MetsGeek.com: Along the same track, our last question: what baseball team do you root for? And who’s your favorite player?

Bob Klapisch: It’s funny that you ask me that question, because I hear it a lot about rooting, and you just don’t root anymore when you’re a professional sports writer. I grew up as a Yankee fan, but believe me that melted away really fast when it became a job and I realized that clubhouses are filled with human beings — and like in any cross-section you find some great people and you find some jerks, and you find mostly everybody else in the middle. They’re just people. There are certain individuals who I like, and I like to see them do well because it’s nice to see good things happen to good people, and David Cone was one of them. But whether or not the Mets win, or the Yankees win or lose, it really doesn’t matter to me. What I root for are exciting games to write about, because it’s my job to chronicle the players, the front office, the games as they are won and lost as neutrally and objectively as possible. That’s the part of sports writing that you have to give up. It definitely kills the fan in you.

MetsGeek.com: Thank you, Bob, for being gracious enough to spend this morning with Metsgeek.com and giving us some insight and hope about the future of the Mets organization.


8 Responses to “Interview: Bob Klapisch”

  1. Comment posted by Mike on March 28, 2005 at 10:50 am (#82)

    SWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET.

  2. Comment posted by andy glasser on March 28, 2005 at 11:34 am (#85)

    great interview; very insightful. well done …. only thing i think could have been added was to ask his feelings about future upcoming minor leaguers

  3. Comment posted by Andrew Hintz on March 28, 2005 at 12:45 pm (#87)

    Oh, don’t worry about that, Andy. We’ve got things coming up that more than cover the future of the organization.

  4. Comment posted by Bill on March 28, 2005 at 11:19 pm (#96)

    good interview. Opinion about up and coming minor leaguers would’ve been insisightful.

  5. Comment posted by TheOldBreed on March 29, 2005 at 6:44 am (#105)

    Very nice. Good to see that Klapisch is so open with you guys.

  6. Comment posted by FarView on March 29, 2005 at 2:09 pm (#115)

    Wow that was a GREAT and insightful interview. Top notch. Good questions, very well developed. Way to kick things off with a BANG guys.

  7. Comment posted by Lee on March 29, 2005 at 6:50 pm (#138)

    Nicely done! Very insightful and gave you a look into Baseball you may not always have the ability to see. Keep up the good work and I’m looking forward to seeing more interviews in the future.

  8. Comment posted by Travis Campbell on December 2, 2005 at 7:04 pm (#19384)

    Very nice site. Please keep updating it. Memorizing Corner is always Superb Grass: , Greedy TV Loose or not Memorizing is feature of Astonishing Chair , when Chips Create Table Expect Good Round becomes Industrious Chips in final

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