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Bernazard Firing Offers a Peek to Bisons' Woes

Mets minor league point man dismissed at bizarre news conference

Tony Bernazard.

Until last week, he was the New York Mets’ director of Minor League Player Development, and general manager Omar Minaya’s right-hand man in the organization.

Judging from his track record, and recent stories of his strange and aberrant behavior, a big piece of the puzzle as to why the Bisons are suffering through such a wretched season begins to emerge.

Bernazard is no stranger to controversy. As a powerful man in the Mets hierarchy, he had become a one-man lightning rod, dealing heavily with behind-the-scenes politics within the organization, while forming alliances with Hispanic players.

Joining the Mets as a special assistant in 2004, he was widely credited with bringing such blue chip players as Carlos Beltran, Billy Wagner, and Carlos Delgado to the team.

While it seems that many within the organization either feared Bernazard or disliked him, his Teflon veneer began to peel shortly after an incident down at AA Binghamton in early July. According to multiple sources, Bernazard removed his shirt and challenged several players to a fight during a profanity-laced tirade in the B-Mets clubhouse following a game. He singled out former Bisons infielder Jose Coronado, going after him and challenging his manhood in the process.

According to the New York Daily News (and more on their reporter later), Minaya tried to sweep the incident under the rug. “I know [Bernazard] did have a team meeting with them,” Minaya said. “It was not a ‘you-guys-have-been-great meeting.’ I know he spoke to them in a stern voice. But as far as what he was wearing, what kind of shoes he was wearing, I don’t know anything about that.”

Bernazard apparently has mistreated his subordinates in the organization regularly, as well as visitors to the ballpark. In yet another embarrassing incident, Bernazard arrived at his seats behind home plate during a recent game at Citifield to find a Diamondbacks scout sitting there. Rather than wait until a half inning break, Bernazard immediately launched a temper tantrum in front of other staffers and horrified patrons sitting in the vicinity.

The Mets finally pulled the trigger at a July 27 news conference, dismissing Bernazard. The announcement dropped the latest curtain on a minor league system in shambles. Both the AAA Buffalo Bisons and the AA Binghamton Mets are dead last in their leagues, going through woeful seasons, and there is little on the horizon to offer any hope that things will turn around soon.

At the news conference, the Mets made yet another journey into cuckoo-land. Minaya called out New York Daily News beat writer Adam Rubin during his rambling conference, accusing Rubin of lobbying for a management job in the Mets organization, and inferring that Rubin had his own agenda in writing about the entire Bernazard debacle.

The story quickly made the rounds among the New York media and the Mets blogosphere, with most defending Rubin for his professionalism and objectivity.

Even the Sportsnet New York broadcasters, who ostensibly are affiliated with the team, said that the Mets front office had brought embarrassment on itself for its handling of this situation, saying that Minaya’s apology was “more like a non-apology.”

Swarmed by reporters in the Mets dugout last week, Minaya added apologies to the Mets fans and to his bosses for his inexplicable tirade against a member of the Mets media corps.

“I let the emotions get to me on that day,” Minaya said. “I felt really bad—I still feel really bad what I said that day and Adam Rubin being in the room. You guys know me—that’s just not the way Omar Minaya is. I made a mistake. I should’ve talked to Adam separately and I did not do that. I take full responsibility for that.”

While everyone in the Mets regime wants to put this fiasco behind them, this does nothing to help the Bisons, as they limp to what will be one of their worst finishes ever. The trading deadline has come and gone and the Mets did little to tamper with their pool of prospects. There will be plenty of work ahead if the team has any hope of getting restocked for 2010.

Small wonder that Ken Oberkfell so angrily tried to retract statements he made to Artvoice about the team’s miserable start earlier this season. While Oberkfell looks to be a strong and husky guy who could take care of himself in a fight, the prospect of having one’s unstable boss show up and start acting crazy and belligerent doesn’t exactly inspire an environment where one can speak freely. That climate of fear and intimidation is probably at the heart of everything that is wrong with the Buffalo Bisons this season.

Around the Bases

Circle next Wednesday, August 12, for the “Crystal Beach replica giveaway.” The first 4,000 lucky fans through the Swan Street entrance at Coca Cola Field (7:05pm start vs Rochester) will receive a figurine of the now gone landmark, a continuation of the team’s popular ballpark replica series.

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