Al Leiter insists he still loves New York, and the Mets too, but clearly he feels he was wrongly portrayed as the bad guy in his last couple of years at Shea, and believes he was pushed out the door at least partly as a result.
“I still don’t know how it happened,” Leiter was saying yesterday. “But for most of my seven years there, I was considered a good guy to have around, good with young guys, good in the community, and then all of a sudden I was this meddling guy who gets people fired and wields all this power and influence with ownership.
“It seemed like overnight I went from being an exemplary guy to a meddling clubhouse lawyer. I know things happen when you lose, but I didn’t see myself as a reason we didn’t play better.”
After all, Leiter admits that he wanted to finish his career with the Mets, and believes he is gone because new GM Omar Minaya never wanted him, but suspects that was because of the battering his image took the last couple of years, when he and John Franco, in particular, were perceived publicly as influencing personnel decisions that Fred and Jeff Wilpon made.
Leiter doesn’t deny that the Wilpons asked for input from him and other players, but wonders why that’s a crime.
“Every single team I’ve been on, (owners or GMs) talk to the players about different things,” Leiter said. “It’s not a bad thing. It’s smart. It’s only (with the Mets) where you’re a meddling (jerk) who is trying to get people fired, as opposed to just being an asset to the organization who maybe, just maybe, folks, might actually have a brain and have some good ideas.
“It bothers me because everything I did came from wanting to do what’s best for myself and the team. Nobody cared more about that team more than Johnny and I did. We used to say that maybe we cared too much.”
Leiter was always considered press-friendly in New York, but feels the media, particularly Russo and Francesa, are largely responsible for tarnishing his image as a Met.
“They influence not only fans but organizations,” said Leiter, who is paid to do a weekly spot on Michael Kay’s ESPN radio show. “Teams in New York listen to those guys. Why I don’t know. One guy’s a know-it-all, and his opinions are better than anybody else’s, and the other guy is a clown who throws a ball 47 miles-an-hour and plays tennis.
“They called me every name in the book, and questioned my integrity. Chris said I was done in 2003, and then when I had a strong second half, he said, ‘I guess I was wrong.’ Like a 10-second retraction was enough after he ripped me up and down in every way as if I’d done something to his wife and kids.”
It is fascinating how these things can spiral out of control. Much the way recent Yankees history was altered by Aaron Boone’s questionable decision to play a game of pickup basketball last winter, can you imagine how different this year’s New York Mets might look had pitching prospect Scott Kazmir not replaced the Bruce Springsteen CD in Al Leiter’s boombox with Solger’s “Raping Dead Nuns”?
Al, you and Franco hitched your wagon to Steve Phillips and you three guys did all you could to undermine Bobby Valentine to the point where he did not want to fight a war three against one anymore and he was relived of his duties. Then you guys pushed for a dead man walking for a manager so you could put your hands in his back and make him do and say what you wanted. You think you™re a leader and your not and with this article today and the way you acted during the Delgado negotiations, you come off as a has been diva. As I™ve stated on numerous occasions, you did some very good things here in New York but you and Franco got to big for your britches and it was bringing down the whole organization. Your 39 years old with a partially torn labrum in your left shoulder on a team that was not only losing but was in danger of becoming a non-entity on the NY sports scene. Omar Minaya took over this mess and he knew that the stink of losing was embedded in that clubhouse so in order to freshen the air and eradicate the culture of losing; you and Franco had to go. The truth hurts I know but its time you got on with your life and the Mets got on with theirs.)