It was just two years ago that Omar Minaya was a Sports Illustrated cover boy and subject of a fawning profile in which he was referred to simply as O. As in: Oh my, how things have changed.
Start with the cover, a portrait of the so-called Melting-Pot Mets, commandeered by Omar Teodoro Antonio Minaya y Sanchez. Or, O. Joining him on newsstands everywhere were Orlando Hernandez, Endy Chavez, John Maine, Oliver Perez and Willie Randolph. Three have since left the Mets, and the besuited gentleman in the middle may be next on the outbound train. "He's this close to being out of baseball," Jeff Wilpon told Newsday's Wallace Mathews today today.
After all, Tony Bernazard — the yin to Minaya's yang — was recently the instigator in a Binghamton brawl, but with his reaction, Minaya managed to make himself the villain. ("Too wide-eyed, too trusting?" Gary Smith wrote of Minaya. "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.")
Most of Smith's flattering profile of Minaya analyzes his childhood and inability to snag a G.M. job. There are times, however, when Smith delves into Minaya's psyche through the lens of miniscule anecdotes. Back in 2007, when Minaya walked around with a hat that simply read RELAX, it seemed quaint and adorable and, hey, look, the oh-so-metropolitan Mets are winning and it's all because O is as inclusive as a circle, round and smooth, like a ring of trust. In hindsight, those same details seem strange. After Monday, they're eerily foreboding.
The tide had shifted. Teams were hiring Ivy League grads to be their G.M.'s, lawyers and businessmen and statmongers who'd never hit fungoes to a flock of skinny 16-year-olds and picked out the weed that would bloom five years later. O's frustration grew. "Look, if you want paperwork, I'm not your guy," he'd tell his inquisitors. "I see the job in bigger terms. Paperwork, that's false hustle. It takes away creativity. People who are into paperwork are into covering their asses, so if things go wrong they can point to all the work they did. They're thinking more about failure than success. The more paperwork the opposition does, the better my chances are. Know what I'm sayin'?"
O awoke at four each morning, arrived at five, worked till 10 at night. Lunch? Wolf down a salad from the players' spread. Dinner? Order in sandwiches. The phones sizzled, O looking for help, help looking for O. The office buzzed like mayflies with 24 hours to live. But O trusted tomorrow. The trust spread. "He energized everyone," says his farm director, Adam Wogan. "You wanted to do it for Omar. You'd run through a wall for him."
O twitched and turned down the job. It took one more year of misery for Mets owner Fred Wilpon—his team's clubhouse divided, its credibility with fans and free agents shredded—to call back. "We've become irrelevant in New York City," Wilpon told O in September 2004. "You've got to come home."
"What's the job?" asked O, wary.
"Everything," said Wilpon. "I just want Omar to be Omar."
O's heart raced. "Let's talk as soon as the season's over," he said.
Of course, this is all just another example of that pesky SI cover jinx. No one ever said it's effective immediately.