Mendoza hire earns high praise from peers, soon-to-be rivals

November 14th, 2023

NEW YORK -- After hearing that Carlos Mendoza was officially named manager of the Mets on Monday afternoon, the sound of Ozzie Guillen’s voice said it all: He was overjoyed.

For Guillen, a former Major League player and manager, the hiring of Mendoza has historical significance, because Mendoza is the second person from Venezuela -- Guillen was the first in 2004 with the White Sox -- to be put in charge of a Major League team.

Mendoza and Guillen have known each other since the late 1990s, when they were both playing in the Venezuelan Winter League. Guillen was toward the tail end of his career, while Mendoza was a young pup. However, it wasn’t until two years ago that Guillen’s youngest son, Ozney, predicted to his father that Mendoza would be the next person from their country to manage in the big leagues.

“I said, 'Man, that would be nice,'” Ozzie recalled telling his son. “Now he is in the big leagues. We are proud of him. I hope he is not the last one. I hope he has opened the gate, not just for people from Venezuela, but for Latin American managers. If you are hired and you do well, you open the gate for a few more people.”

After four years as the Yankees’ bench coach, Mendoza goes across town and takes over a Mets team that underachieved this past season, finishing fourth in the National League East with a 75-87 record -- 29 games behind the NL East champion Braves. Former Yankees outfielder Harrison Bader believes the Mets will rebound under Mendoza’s leadership.

“I think he will do great,” Bader said. “He proved he can win and be part of a winning franchise with the Yankees. It’s different colors now, different uniform, different ownership on the other side. But New York is New York, so he will do just fine. I’m looking forward to seeing how it shakes out for him.”

To people in the know, Mendoza brings high energy into the Mets' dugout, and most importantly, he knows the game of baseball. Mendoza’s communication skills are off the charts, and he is not afraid to tell players what they are doing wrong on the field.

“He is about the players,” said former Mets general manager Omar Minaya, who is now a senior advisor for the Yankees' baseball operations department. “The reason the players respect him is because if they do something wrong, he will hold them accountable in the right setting. He is just not going to do it in front of people.”

Mendoza and Phillies manager Rob Thomson have been friends for years. They worked together in the Yankees organization for more than a decade. While Thomson is “super excited” for Mendoza, they will now be division rivals starting in 2024. Thomson is looking forward to the regular-season matchups between the two clubs, starting with a home-and-home series over four games in May.

Thomson said Mendoza deserved the chance to lead a team because of his work ethic. Thomson remembers Mendoza running Major League Spring Training workouts in Tampa, Fla. Mendoza understands how people should move around the diamond, so they are not taxed and being put in harm’s way, Thomson said.

“When I was a bench coach in the big leagues, I got to work quite a bit with Carlos. He is so organized and so detail-oriented,” Thomson said. “He builds relationships with players, which turns into trust down the road. This guy is as solid as you are going to get.

“I know the Mets let Buck [Showalter] go and they lost out on [Craig] Counsell, but I think Carlos is going to surprise a lot of people with his knowledge and ability to run a game, handle a clubhouse. I think he is going to do a great job. … He was interesting to talk to because he is very innovative, but not over the top. But he is thinking all the time about how to do things a little bit better -- be a little more efficient, how to talk to players. He is thinking about all that stuff all the time. He was really interesting to hang around with and pick his brain. He probably taught me more than I taught him.”

Minaya said Mendoza earned the job of skipper in the traditional way by managing in the Minor Leagues and the Arizona Fall League.

“He has worked his way up. He has earned it,” Minaya said. “Nothing wrong with guys getting the opportunity without going through the traditional way, because you have a lot of them who have done [a good job]. But to see how Carlos has done it -- he is a worker. He is just a baseball guy. He has done it the traditional way. He has checked all the boxes.”