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Up front, it is worth pointing out that Luis Rojas has not accomplished anything yet. His baseball baptism might have come by fire after the Carlos Beltran disaster, but he still should have found a way to lead the 2020 Mets to the playoffs.
Everyone, it seemed, qualified for the pandemic postseason. Everyone except the Mets.
His 18-13 start this year does not delete the disappointment of last year’s 26-34, nor does it even make Rojas a .500 manager in the early hours of his career. But this much is already clear about the 39-year-old man who is leading the first-place team in the NL East, and who is riding a seven-game winning streak into a weekend series with the Rays:
He has the temperament to survive long term in New York.
It’s no surprise, as the son of Felipe Alou — the grand patriarch of Dominican baseball and a dignified manager who once won 100 games with the 2003 Giants, and who might have won the 1994 title with the Montreal Expos had a labor war not wiped out that World Series. Alou played for the Yankees but never managed them. His personality was never put to the test in the big city. Alou’s old friend, teammate, and roommate, Joe Torre, would be the one to face and ace that test.
“Joe Torre had the ability to be calm in a New York storm,” former Mets GM Omar Minaya said. “Luis has that same ability.”
Minaya was the one who hired Rojas and who started developing him in the Dominican leagues. He watched carefully as Rojas navigated the storm created last week by Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil, whose unseen conflict sent teammates flying down the dugout tunnel as if they had seen something a lot more alarming than a rat or a raccoon. Rojas did not compromise his credibility by notarizing his players’ concocted story, nor did he imperil his relationship with them by delivering a forceful public rebuke.
He merely lowered the temperature on the situation as much as he could, then quietly went back to work.
“It was the first real test for him,” Minaya said. “And I thought he passed that test with flying colors.”
His own players predicted this when he was promoted from quality control coach to post-Beltran crisis manager. Marcus Stroman tweeted, “Super laid back and brings nothing but great vibes each and every day. Beyond even keel.” The Mets who rose up through the system with Rojas were unanimous in their appraisal of his disposition.
“The dude never loses his cool,” Pete Alonso said. “He never hits the panic button. He’s always so prepared. He doesn’t just use his knowledge of the game, he uses his instincts very, very well. He’s paid his dues managing in the minor leagues, he’s paid his dues managing in the Dominican [Republic].”
In 2013, Rojas won a championship in the South Atlantic League with the Savannah Sand Gnats. Two-and-a-half years later, he won a championship in the Dominican Winter League with the Leones del Escogido — becoming, at 34, the youngest manager to win it all in a league known as the ultimate pressure-cooker.
Though his father did not want any of his sons to face the stressful burdens of big league managing, Rojas is not afraid of the job, or the market, or the franchise that employs him. The Mets often lead the league in unforced public-relations errors, meaning a Citi Field manager with a steady hand is probably worth twice his salary.
To win the NL East, Rojas will have to outmaneuver opponents who have plenty more experience than he does. the Phillies’ Joe Girardi and Nationals’ Dave Martinez have won World Series titles. Girardi has managed in 52 postseason games. The Marlins’ Don Mattingly, 60, is in his 11th year as a manager, and the Braves’ Brian Snitker, 65, has been a member of the Braves organization since 1977, or four years before the current Mets manager was born.
Rojas turns 40 in September, when the Mets are fully expected to play … (throat clearing sound) … meaningful games. Of course, there is no guarantee that an even-keeled manager makes for a winning manager, or that another leader with, say, Bobby Valentine’s approach couldn’t take the Mets to the World Series like Valentine did in 2000.
But Luis Rojas seems to be the right guy with the right touch at the right time. In the middle of a pandemic, with so much uncertainty usually attached to the most uncertain franchise in the most volatile market, it’s good to have a manager who keeps his head — even while people around him are losing theirs.
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