Dallas Green's answering machine was choked with 2 messages yesterday, everyone seeking an audience with the Mets manager-in-waiting. Out of respect to Jeff Torborg, Green didn't return a single call, and as the burlesque show unfolded at Shea, it was Green who ultimately showed Torborg more courtesy than the Mets' front office.
He made enough mistakes in his 13-month reign, but Jeff Torborg deserved better than having to walk through a final day without help from Al Harazin.
The GM surely knew the clubhouse would be a small asylum yesterday: Torborg's firing had been in the air for days, and when a radio station announced Green was on his way, Harazin should have called a news conference, named an interim manager for the day, and then let Torborg decide if he wanted to answer questions about his .422 winning percentage since 1992.
Instead, Torborg stood on a soggy infield at 5 p.m., sadly admitting he hadn't heard from Harazin, wasn't sure if and when he would be fired, and wasn't even certain if protocol dictated that he call the front office first.
Torborg will be remembered as the manager who was powerless to stop the Mets' collapse, an unraveling that's been going on since the 1988 playoffs. Some of that is Torborg's fault, much of it is not. Harazin is guilty of as many miscalculations as his manager, but at least Torborg accepted his fall with grace.
He closed his clubhouse until 4:30 p.m., addressing players and coaches, telling them about the rumors on the radio and that the end was near. When the doors opened, the room had a surreal feel to it, all the Mets talking about a manager who had been fired but was still around, being forced to work another game.
Players searched for a polite way to discuss Torborg, all of them failing until Dwight Gooden said, finally, "It'd be good for the team if we knew what was going on." Gooden searched the faces of the dozen reporters at his locker and asked, "You guys know what's up?"
There were hints of a philosophical war waged in the front office, which explained the delay in Torborg's firing. Hiring Green meant the Mets still considered the season salvageable, and that the current formula of older, higher-priced free agents sprinkled with younger players would be pursued beyond 1993.
Green's presence also would create tension with Harazin, since the two inevitably would compete for the role of long-term architect. How would Harazin, the lawyer, fare against Green, the tough guy? Apparently, owner Fred Wilpon was ready to find out.
One NL executive who is familiar with the club's system says it would be a mistake not to choose an overhaul. "It's time for the Mets to admit it hasn't worked out," the executive said. "There's a lot of work to do, and it's going to take time."
Which leads to the obvious question: What can Green possibly do with a team that's so poorly constructed?
If nothing else, Green can rid the clubhouse of Torborg's obsession with criticism. The final indictment came this weekend when the Mets discovered that newspapers had been banned from the clubhouse.
All the little signs told you Torborg was overwhelmed by New York, and would have been better suited managing a younger team, maybe even a college squad.
Yet you couldn't help but forget those flaws for a moment yesterday, with the planes from LaGuardia flying overhead and Torborg struggling to finish his sentences over the noise. He swallowed his anger while the front office made itself invisible. Jeff Torborg deserved a better ending.