Now he's ready,
open for business. He enters the Mets' clubhouse wearing a ball cap on which is
stitched one word--relax--and begins touching and tapping coaches and players
and attendants, patting their bellies and their backs or putting both hands on
their shoulders, looking each in the eye and asking, "How you doin'? How
you feelin'? Anything I can do to make things better?" Asking that of Ray
Ramirez, the only MLB trainer raised in Latin America, even before he inquires
about the star player's injury. And really meaning it when he asks, unlike most
people, says first baseman Carlos Delgado.
"A lot of
players fear playing in New York, but he makes it human," says closer Billy
"I can look in
his eyes," says centerfielder Carlos Beltran, "and tell that he's not
A ma�tre d' more
than a G.M., one who knows that feeling and atmosphere are everything. Checking
on everyone's kids and wife so he can call or e-mail the sick or pregnant ones
after their husbands leave on the next road trip. Engaging his players in long
conversations about their former teammates, so he'll know who has the sort of
character he might want to add to this room--or who might be lacking only this
room to blossom. "We create environment," says O, "then bring a
player here and let the environment work on him." Getting his hair shaved
to the scalp, right along with his team, to help young star David Wright bust
his slump. Asking players out to dinner, keeping all 10 fingers on the pulse.
"In a clubhouse people know and see everything but usually keep it to
themselves. They'll tell you what they know if they trust." Making
everyone, even the clubhouse kid banging dirt from the superstars' cleats, feel
that this whole production couldn't happen without him.
Making sure that
the team's Dominican mom-and-daughter cooking tandem have all the ingredients
they need to serve the team arepas today because it's Venezuelan Day, and mang�
tomorrow because it's Puerto Rican Day, and barbecued pork the day after
because it's Southerner Day.
Making sure that
his white-haired instructors and coaches, such as Ozzie Virgil and Sandy
Alomar, and even his pinch-hitting Methuselah, Julio Franco--who besides O
signs a 47-year-old to a two-year contract?--are mingling with the young guys.
"Why," asks O, "did our culture stop looking to old people for
wisdom, the way other ones do?"
Huddling with his
African-American manager, Willie Randolph, hired by O after 12 failed
interviews with other teams, along with his four Anglo and three Latino
coaches. "Constantly talking to us about the person, not the player,"
says Alomar, whose son Roberto felt so isolated playing for the Mets five years
ago that he asked the front office to hire a liaison for Hispanic players.
"Always bringing up the player's family and personal background, reminding
us how to find the right way to say things to that player. Other teams were
afraid to bring in this many Latinos . They were afraid of the fans'
reaction and clubhouse chemistry. He's showing you can collect people from all
over the world and make them click."
traditional language barriers between Latin American and U.S. players crumble,
as the Virginian third baseman, Wright, and the Dominican shortstop, Jose
Reyes, bear-hug and tussle like puppies. "It's just different here,"
says pitcher Tom Glavine. "Most teams, you have a couple of guys laughing
and joking. Here's it's all 25 guys, from all countries, goofing around with
each other all the time. Sure, talent prevails in the short term over
personality and chemistry, but long term they play a much bigger part than
Mingling with the
media on the field before the game, O making the writers and broadcasters, just
like his players, feel good about themselves: "That's a verrry good
question.... That's a verrry good observation...." High-fiving opposing
players who flock to him during batting practice. Touching fingers with fans
through the mesh behind home plate. Heading upstairs, asking the security
guards and janitor what they think of the Mets' latest personnel move, then
conferring with his front-office guys on their next one.
Here, around this
conference table, is the dynamic that all the moguls who wouldn't hire O hadn't
understood. Here's the yin unthreatened by the yang. Too wide-eyed, too
trusting? Well, here's his narrow eyes, Tony Bernazard, the vice president of
player development from Puerto Rico who squinted down O two years ago when he
wanted to bring Sosa to the Mets. Who besides O in baseball management would
hire union chief Donald Fehr's special assistant?