'Post' Interview: Mets GM Minaya is a real mensch

In Israel, 'O' discusses the IBL, steroids and his inspirations.

omar minaya 88 (photo credit: )
omar minaya 88
(photo credit: )
You won't find many general managers rolling around a gym floor with a group of Israeli and Palestinian kids, but then Omar Minaya isn't any ordinary GM. Minaya, General Manager of the New York Mets, visited Israel this week as part of a delegation of the Peres Center for Peace to promote the center's Twinned Peace Sports Schools project, focusing on joint athletic activities for Israeli and Palestinian youth. More than anything else, Minaya seemed eager and proud to discuss the purpose of his trip. "It's my first time in Israel and it's wonderful to be here," he tells The Jerusalem Post. "It's beautiful to see the potential dream of peace here in Israel, being around the kids today. It's exciting and feels good to be a part of." The first Hispanic to hold a general manager position in Major League Baseball, Minaya, or "O" as he is called by almost everyone, is known for aggressive management of player trades and free agent signings, but just as much for his friendly smile, warm disposition and unique ability to connect on a personal level with everyone he comes in contact with. He is the rare executive who doesn't keep to-do lists, whose desktop is usually barren of paper. It is immediately apparent when speaking to Minaya that after nearly everything he says he adds the phrase "know what I'm sayin'?". That is what matters most to him; that you know, and understand what he is saying and that he knows and understands what you are saying, that he is connecting with people, not controlling them. When asked about the Israel Baseball League that got off the ground last summer, Minaya was very optimistic for the future, despite the resignation of many of the leading members of the IBL advisory board in November. "The fact that they had the league last year is a great step,"Minaya says. "I think that, in hearing from the people I'm talking to over here, we need to build more fields and strengthen the little league development in the country," Regarding the mixed reviews the IBL received in its inaugural season, Minaya says he believes that, "anytime you have a league, growth and youth development will come along with it, so it is important for the league to continue to grow and get better to maintain and further the game's expansion in Israel." Going forward, Minaya is clear that he understands the need for Major League Baseball to become involved in developing the sport in this country for it ultimately to be successful. "I hope to come back to Israel to see the baseball league here during the season and I know that we, the Mets, hope to be able to participate and help out as much as we can with baseball here," he stresses. In his typical humble, yet honest, fashion, Minaya was well-aware of his ability to have an impact in the bigger picture through his role as a pioneer and role model for the Latin community. "Being the first at anything, you're able to be the one to give hope to others that they can do anything they want to in life by working hard, in anything in life," he notes. "It's about being fortunate enough to get the opportunity and to be able to open the doors for others to follow and accompish for themselves as well. If a child can look at me and say 'If Omar did, then so can I', then I have accomplished more than I could have ever imagined." Born in the Dominican Republic, Minaya moved to Queens, New York at the age of eight. A star baseball player in high school, he had a short-lived career in the minor leagues as well as stints in leagues in both the Dominican Republic and Italy. After injuries ended his playing career, Minaya began his true calling as a baseball executive, but more accurately a "people connector and inspirer". With the Mets struggling, at the conclusion of the 2004 season, Mets owner Fred Wilpon asked Minaya to become the team's general manager. In his first offseason he made two significant signings, pitcher Pedro Martinez and outfielder Carlos Beltran, in later years also adding and developing a number of key star players that have made the Mets perennial contenders in the National League. He speaks of his players with a soft tone and twinkle in his eye, as if describing his own children with unbound pride. A similar thread of "humanity first" flows through each statement out of his mouth. "Pedro been great for the Mets," he describes, "he is a very special player, and even more so, a very unique and special character and person; we are very lucky and happy to have him for everything he does for the organization both on the field and, just as importantly, off it." Minaya is very open and candid in his discussion, not shying away from the one issue that is currently haunting baseball throught the sporting world. "There's no doubt that there is an issue right now in baseball with steroids," he readily admits. "The one, and only, good thing about it is that there is now a system in place that is working. The punishment for first time offenders is a 50-game suspension and the number of people getting caught with steroids has been greatly reduced and we're constantly looking for new ways to improve it." Pondering the principle on which he bases his life, Minaya reflects "It is much more more important for me to be a good person than a good professional." Minaya is renowned for entering the Mets' clubhouse wearing a ball cap on which is stitched one word - RELAX - and looking each player, coach or lowly attendant in the eye and asking, "How you doin'? how you feelin'? Anything I can do to make things better?" Asking that of the trainers before he even inquires about the star player's injury. And really meaning it when he asks. In his own words, "being a mensch before a general manager," Minaya knows that feeling, atmosphere and good values are everything. "It's important to have talent but character overrides talent," he explains unequivocally, "it's more crucial, in fact, because without character it's hard to maintain team unity. You have to have both, but you can't have one without the other." Responding to the political climate in Israel, Minaya diplomatically asserts, "I must say that I don't really know much about the specifics of the situation, but one thing is that I'm always for peace and any venture or effort that promotes it." Refreshingly honest, unassuming, hard-working, supremely talented at every part of his multi-faceted position, genuinely interested in the lives of every person he meets, one thing that emerges from meeting him is that Omar Minaya truly is an inspiration. Know what I'm sayin'?