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Nightengale's notebook: Baseball lifers, Hensley Meulens and Jeff Banister, are on the outside looking in

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The former New York Mets coach, who just returned to his native island home after traveling five weeks in the United States with his family, was in disbelief seeing that two of his friends were fired three weeks into the season.

“Wow, at least I’m out of the zoo,’’ he said. “What is going on over there?’’

The former Texas Rangers manager sees that his old team still has their pitching woes, but it’s nothing compared to his new team.

“When you walk 10 batters, hit five others, and give up 18 hits,’’ he said, “it doesn’t bode very well for success. Patience my brother, patience.’’

Welcome to the world of Hensley “Bam Bam’’ Meulens and Jeff Banister.

They broke into baseball world together in 1985, spent nearly their entire lives in the game, but now out of professional baseball for the first time in 36 years, waiting for the phone to ring.

Technically, neither are unemployed.

Banister is a volunteer coach for the University of Northern Colorado with the title of “Director of Player Development’’ where his son, Jacob, is a freshman outfielder.

“It’s been fun, not only helping them, they’ve refreshed my passion for the game,’’ Banister says. “I don’t know if we have a single player that will play in any (professional) organization, but they truly love playing the game and the atmosphere as a student athlete.’’

Meulens, a native of Curacao, is managing the Dutch National team that's trying to qualify for the Olympics. He played for Netherlands in 2000 when they stunned Cuba and was on their 2004 coaching staff.

“When I played in 2000 in Sydney (Australia), it was the most incredible thing I’ve ever done,’’ he said. “I hadn’t won a World Series yet at that time, but to be part of the best 10,000 athletes in the world, I’ll never forget. It was awesome. I’d love for these guys to experience it.

“It’s the best sporting event in the world.’’

Still, as each tell you, it’s hardly the same as working in professional baseball.

Jeff Banister managed the Rangers from 2015-18.
Jeff Banister managed the Rangers from 2015-18.

Banister spent 31 of the past 35 years in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, and four as the Rangers manager.

Yet, after interviewing for the Pirates managerial opening that went to Derek Shelton and the Astros’ opening that went to Dusty Baker, Banister has not received a single job to interview for even a minor-league position.

“It is perplexing to me,’’ Banister, 57, says. “At times, it’s kind of hard to wrap your mind around. “Both of us have the ability and were fortunate enough come up in the game from both eras, the old-school era and the analytic era. We were doing things cutting edge before cutting edge was cool.

“I would think knowledge and experience would be appealing to organizations. We have such a passion for the game, the health of the game. Who wouldn’t want a guy like us helping make an impact on an organization? That bristles me a little bit.’’

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Meulens won three World Series championships as the San Francisco Giants hitting coach, spent two years as their bench coach, and was being groomed to be the heir apparent to replace Bruce Bochy. He was always considered a natural fit with his expertise, charisma, playing and coaching experience, while speaking five languages.

Yet, president of baseball operations Brian Sabean was moved into an advisor’s role. GM Bobby Evans was fired. And new president Farhan Zaidi went with his own man to replace Bochy, Gabe Kapler.

“It’s different times, man, weird,’’ Meulens said. “It’s so confusing. I’m only going to be 54 in June. I have a lot of energy left. But it’s hard to get a job with all of the cutbacks.

“It’s all about being in the right place at the right time, getting an opportunity. You can have all of the experience and success you want, but somebody has to give you the opportunity and believe you can take a team where they need to go.

“The process is so different now. They have for 30, 40 people now for one spot. When I went to the Giants, it was one phone call. I didn’t send in a resume. Brian (Sabean) said, “There are two open spots, one at Triple-A, one at Double-A. Pick your spot.

“Now you can’t even get people to call.’’

Meulens, after being passed over for the Giants’ managerial job, was hired to be the Mets’ bench coach, but Beltran was fired before managing a game in the wake of the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal. He interviewed for the Mets’ managerial opening. It was his seventh formal managerial interview. He also was a finalist in the past with the Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers (twice), the Yankees, Minnesota Twins and Giants.

The Mets instead went with Luis Rojas, who kept Meulens as his bench coach last season. But when the Mets fired GM Brodie Van Wagenen, they waited until December until deciding that Rojas was coming back. Two weeks later, Meulens was notified that he was out of a job.

“I was never really told the reason why,’’ Meulens said. “You got to remember that Beltran got me there, not Rojas. I thought we had a good thing going. Just like I was surprised when they fired (hitting coach) Chili (Davis).The hitters loved him.

“Something is wrong. I don’t know if people are intimidated, afraid or what. I’m easy to get along with. I study everything. I’m not stubborn. I change with the times. I don’t get it.’’

Well, if anyone can relate, it’s Banister. Just like Meulens is convinced he’d be managing the Giants if their front office had stayed intact, Banister believes he’d be managing the Pirates if Neal Huntington had not been fired as GM after the 2019 season.

“That would have been a bucket list opportunity of life,’’ said Banister, “going back home to an organization that you love so much. I was proud to be a Pirate. It didn’t work out, but really I’m willing to listen to anybody.

“It’s still a people’s industry, and the knowledge you have is crucial. I’ve got to believe somebody will come along the way and make sense of all that.

“The challenge is making contact with people, especially now. People are busy. And I’m the one with time on my hands.’’

Maybe this winter, after stadiums are full again, and the pandemic is safely behind us, it will be different. Furloughs and cutbacks will be over. Front offices, coaching staffs and scouting departments will be expanded.

And those who have devoted their lives to their game, with a burning passion that no spreadsheet or analytic analysis can begin to formulate, will return to the game of baseball.

“Life doesn’t stop,’’ Meulens says. “The clock keeps ticking every second. Baseball is still a great game. I’ll always love it. That will never go away. I just really miss it.’’

Best money spent

Max Scherzer is living proof that some long-term mega contracts can work, particularly for a pitcher.

He has lived up to every penny of his seven-year, $210 million free agent contract, which expires after this season.

The numbers: Two Cy Young awards and a runner-up finish, 86-45, 2.78 ERA, 1,164 ⅓ innings, 1,524 strikeouts, 11 complete games, four shutouts, three postseason berths and the 2019 World Series title.

It will go down as the third-best team valued contract for a pitcher of at least four years since the advent of free agency.

The best?

Randy Johnson, when he signed four-year contract, $52 million with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The results: Four Cy Young awards, three ERA titles, 89-33, 2.48 ERA, 1,030 innings, 1,417 strikeouts, 31 complete games, 11 shutouts, three postseason berths, 2001 World Series championship and World Series MVP.

Runner-up?

Greg Maddux, Atlanta Braves, five-years, $28 million.

Three Cy Young awards, one runner-up, three ERA titles, 81-27, 2.13 ERA, 883 strikeouts, 38 complete games, 10 shutouts, five playoff appearances, two pennants, and the 1995 World Series title.

The wait pays off

Starter Taijuan Walker didn’t have a job in February, sitting around, waiting for someone to give him something remotely what he believed he deserved.

He spoke to a number of teams that expressed interest.

The New York Mets were on the backburner.

They had their sights set on Trevor Bauer, and were convinced they had a deal, until the Dodgers pounced at the last minute and grabbed him.

Still needing a starter, they shifted gears and signed Walker to a two-year, $20 million deal one week into spring training.

Who could have imagined that Walker would be one of the league’s top starters the first five weeks of the season, going 2-1 with a 2.38 ERA in his first six starts.

“He’s a guy you can’t sleep on,’’ Mets catcher James McCann said. "He should be in the talks of being that guy at the top of the rotation, the way he’s throwing the ball, the stuff that he has.’’

The quiet star

It’s hard to believe that shortstop Xander Bogaerts has already played 1,000 games for the Red Sox, only the 30th player in franchise history to accomplish the feat, and only the 10th before his 29th birthday.

He plays virtually every day, remaining in the lineup even with nagging injuries. He has averaged 149 games a year in every full season since 2014.

“To play 1,000 games in an organization,’’ Bogaerts said, “you have to be productive and be a guy that pretty much they can rely on. I’m happy to be the player that I’ve become.”

And, oh, how the Red Sox are thrilled to have him as the steady force on the field.

Around the basepaths

Chicago White Sox ace Lucas Giolito had serious talks about a contract extension during the winter, but couldn’t reach an agreement. Now, he is off to a sluggish start, going 1-3 with a 4.99 ERA. One of the biggest differences being cited is that he no longer has his personal catcher, James McCann, who signed with Mets in the off-season. … Cleveland is just the third team in history to be no-hit twice in their first 31 games, joining the 1884 Pittsburgh Alleghenys of the American Association and the 1917 Chicago White Sox. … The Cincinnati Reds still are wondering how in the world reliever Amir Garrett got a seven-game suspension for merely yelling and pounding his chest after striking out Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo after Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman threw a 102-mph fastball in retaliation at Mike Brosseau of the Tampa Bay Rays, and got only a 3-game suspension. Hard to see this suspension not reduced. … Baseball executives predict that MVP Freddie Freeman, who’s eligible for free agency in the winter, will stay in Atlanta with a contract extension similar to the five-year, $130 million deal that first baseman Paul Goldschmidt signed two years ago with the Cardinals. … There have already been three no-hitters by left-handed pitchers after Wade Miley’s no-no for the Reds, tying the most in a season. The last time it was accomplished was in 1990 when Randy Johnson, Fernando Valenzuela and Terry Mulholland did the trick. … It’s stunning that Davey Martinez, who just became manager in 2018, already is the Nationals’ longest-tenured manager in franchise history. … How dominant has Orioles ace John Means, who threw their first no-hitter in 40 years, been this season? He has faced 166 batters, and only 38 of those plate appearances were with a runner on base. In those plate appearances, he has yielded just seven singles and a walk. … … Dylan Cease made history last week by becoming with his when was the first White Sox pitcher since 1925 to get three hits at the plate before giving up one on the mound since Ted Lyons in 1925. More remarkable? Those were the first plate appearances of his career.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Baseball lifers, Hensley Meulens and Jeff Banister, are out of MLB