Two former St. Louis Cardinals infielders with ties to the Mets are among the candidates for the open New York managerial job. Do they have a chance?
One of the St. Louis’ Cardinals players that bridged the gap from the awful 1970’s to the fantastic 1980’s was their second/third baseman Ken Oberkfell. The now 54-year-old has managed the New York Mets’ Triple-A affiliate for the past six seasons, except for a brief stint as first base coach for the major league team in the second half of the 2008 season.
He has been under consideration for the Mets’ top job several times in the past and is again among the candidates to replace the fired Jerry Manuel. Obie reportedly interviewed for the position in the Dominican Republic on Friday, where he is managing in winter ball.
One of his competitors for the job is current Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo, who came up with the Mets as a 19-year-old back in 1983. The 47-year-old is scheduled to sit down with new Mets general manager Sandy Alderson in Orlando on Monday.
While the two candidates were both infielders for St. Louis and their MLB playing days overlapped, the two were not teammates.
Oberkfell was a free agent signing by the Cards in 1975 and remained in the organization for almost the next ten years. He made his major league debut via a brief cup of coffee at the age of 21 in 1977. In two more seasons, the Highland, IL native had taken over at second base before moving over to third in 1981 when Tommy Herr came onto the scene.
Obie, who never hit more than three home runs nor drove in as many as 50 in a single season during his time with the Cardinals, was known most for his solid fundamental play and especially, his glove. He led the NL in fielding percentage as a second baseman in 1979 and at third both in 1982 and 1983.
In June, 1984, the Cards traded Oberkfell to the Atlanta Braves. He then moved on to the Pirates, Giants, Astros and Angels. Oberkfell was a member of the 1989 NL champions from San Francisco that fell to Tony La Russa’s Oakland A’s in the infamous “Earthquake Series”. He ended his playing days with the then-California Angels at the conclusion of the 1992 season.
Oberkfell has 15 seasons of experience as a minor league manager in affiliated ball including six leading the Mets’ Triple-A team, first in Norfolk, then in New Orleans and now in Buffalo. He began his managing career in the independent Northern League in 1995 and 1996 before joining the Philadelphia Phillies the next season. Obie skippered Phils farmhands in the Sally and Florida State Leagues from 1997 through 2000.
The Mets hired Obie in 2001 and he first led the Capitol City Bombers of the Sally League. In the second of his two seasons with St. Lucie club of the FSL, his 2003 team was the league champion. An assignment up the ladder to Double-A Binghamton for the 2004 season ensued.
Oberkfell was recognized as Baseball America’s Minor League Manager of the Year in 2005 when he was leading the Norfolk Tides, but he has never received the call to manage in the big leagues. He interviewed for the top job with the Mets several times, including when Willie Randolph was hired prior to the 2005 season. Previously, he had also been passed over for at least two other coaching spots on the big league club in Flushing.
In terms of minor league managerial experience, Oquendo’s resume is much shorter. His strength is in 12 years of major league coaching for St. Louis. Oquendo had just one season as a minor league manager, in short-season ball back in 1998. He has also managed in more short-term assignments, including winter ball in Puerto Rico, the Olympics, World Baseball Classic and Futures Game.
I recently wrote about Oquendo’s background in detail here: “Is Oquendo on the managerial carousel?”
Neither man may have the inside track with New York. Ten or more men have been or will be interviewed for the opening. They include current Mets employees Dave Jauss, Bob Melvin, Wally Backman, Chip Hale and Terry Collins in addition to Oberkfell. External candidates along with Oquendo are Don Wakematsu, Clint Hurdle (reportedly taking the Pittsburgh Pirates job instead) and DeMarlo Hale.
The New York Post’s Joel Sherman reports that Alderson favors hiring an MLB-experienced manager. The same article quotes the GM as saying “a fiery manager is actually quite desirable.” If both are true, a number of the candidates would be ruled out, including Oberkfell and Oquendo, low-key guys without major league top jobs on their resumes.
After a decade, Oberkfell must be wondering if or when he will ever get a chance with the Mets if those are the ground rules.
Further, why even interview Oquendo, the last name on the list to be contacted? Is it any more than a courtesy move by Alderson, a friend and a former co-worker of La Russa in Oakland?
A recent rumor out of Cardinals camp had the organization holding a similar position that the La Russa’s eventual replacement must have MLB managerial experience. For Oquendo to compete, he has to earn that first managing chance somewhere. If not with the Mets, where?
As La Russa’s career approaches its end, Oquendo may be running out of time to show what he can do.