- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The Mets signed free agent Bonilla after the 1991 season. They invested $29 million in him to be their cornerstone player when baseball insiders knew he was nothing more than a good, complementary player given to self-absorption. Once, while with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bonilla was batting in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game when the winning run scored on a wild pitch. Despite the victory Bonilla was angry that he had lost a chance to pad his RBI total. "Why does it always happen to me?" he said.
New York has exposed the worst in him. He has threatened a reporter, worn earplugs at home games, called the press box with his team down 7-0 to complain about the scoreboard display of an error call against him, and whined so much that the New York Daily News ran a cartoon of Baby Bo in diapers on its back page. On top of all that, he has batted .257—26 points lower than his lifetime average before going to New York. Last season his agent, Dennis Gilbert, wondered aloud to Harazin if maybe both the Mets and Bonilla might be better off if they traded him. Bonilla was not the leader or impact player the Mets had paid for.
"I think there are very few people in the game you can ask to do that," Harazin says. "Against the backdrop of success the Mets had for so many years, asking him to come in and do that was probably asking too much."
So sensitive was his rightfielder that former manager Jeff Torborg feared Bonilla would only be a worse wreck if he dared criticize him. "I tried to protect him as much as I could," Torborg says, "to the point where I got myself in trouble." Both Bonilla and Torborg were caught in lies trying to cover up the 1992 press box phone call.
It was Harazin who negotiated the free-agent contracts of Bonilla, Coleman and Murray, prompting former Met pitcher Frank Viola to say in retrospect, "Money doesn't make a winning team. Al knows money, but he doesn't know baseball."
In three seasons Coleman missed more than half the team's games, cursed out a coach, was suspended for shoving his manager, caused Gooden to miss a start when he accidentally whacked him with a golf club, was a target of a rape investigation (no charges were brought), prepared for games by throwing dice in the clubhouse and, on July 24 this year, threw an M-100 firecracker out of a car window as he was leaving Dodger Stadium with some other players. The explosion injured three people, including a two-year-old girl who suffered corneal damage. Coleman originally was charged with a felony; in November his attorney negotiated a plea bargain in which Coleman pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of possession of an explosive device.
"Vince Coleman was a total mistake by this organization," says Wilpon.
Murray produced admirable statistics for the Mets, but his hatred for the media poisoned the clubhouse. Although he was on his way to batting .285 with 27 home runs and 100 RBIs last season, and though the Mets would gladly and easily have parted with him, his venomous attitude had become so notorious that not a single team called to express interest in acquiring his bat down the stretch.
"Guys like Vince and Eddie copped this attitude that reporters were there only to screw up the team," says Magadan, who now plays for the Florida Marlins. "I don't think there's any question that their attitudes affected the clubhouse. I mean, I realize reporters have a job to do, but believe me, you notice when you're talking to reporters and Eddie Murray walks by and says, 'Why are you talking to them?' Some guys would say, "I don't want Eddie getting on me,' and they'd change their opinions about the press."
Saberhagen, with no previous evidence of such behavior, became a boor. On July 7 he tossed a lighted firecracker near reporters, and later he brashly admitted doing it, saying, "What are they going to do? Fine me?" Just three days after Coleman exploded his M-100 in Los Angeles, Saberhagen squirted bleach at reporters.