Met pitching legend — OK, one-season legend — Frank Viola has been tapped to be the Brooklyn Cyclones pitching coach next season, the team announced on Monday, part of a shakeup of the field crew after last season’s failure to win the New York–Penn League championship for the ninth consecutive year.
Skipper Wally Backman, who was booted upstairs to Class AA Binghamton, will be replaced by Rich Donnelly, who has spent the last three years as a roving instructor for the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. And Bobby Malek, a Cyclone fan favorite whose career was cut short by injury, will return as hitting coach.
Most of the excitement about Monday’s announcement centered on the Cy Young Award-winning Viola, who was beloved by Met fans for his 20-12 performance in the otherwise depressing 1990 season, has been put in charge of the weakest pillar in the Mets rebuilding effort: its promising young arms.
In plucking Viola, the Mets are going back to the future for the Cyclone organization. The team’s pitching coach in 2001 and 2002 was Bob Ojeda, another former Met coming off a slightly better-than-average pitching career.
Viola was 172-150 in a 15-year major league career, including that award-winning season in 1988 for the Minnesota Twins, when he went 24–7.
Ojeda went 115-98 in his 15 years as a pro. But he went on to develop many Major League-level arms from his Cyclone teams, including Lenny DiNardo, Scott Kazmir, and Neal Musser.
Malek will be remembered by only the loyalist of Cyclone fanatics, though it was only injuries that prevented him from greatness. Drafted by the Mets in the fourth round in 2002, he was a fan favorite that year in Brooklyn, but was injured. He retired from a playing career in 2008 having made it as high as Class AAA. He’s been coaching ever since.
Cyclones General Manager Steve Cohen put a positive spin on the announcement on Monday, saying he was “excited to welcome our new staff to MCU Park,” but even he couldn’t hide his excitement about the sweet music of Frank Viola’s return to the Big Apple.
“It’s a wonderful thing to have a Cy Young Award winner like Frank Viola guiding our young pitchers,” Cohen said.
Donnelly is no slouch to instructing the young, either. The 63-year-old Ohio native has been coaching since 1972, most famously at third base when the Florida Marlins won their 1997 World Series title. He’s played that role for the Milwaukee Brewers and the Los Angeles (formerly Brooklyn) Dodgers.
Tickets to Cyclones games are on sale at MCU Park [1904 Surf Ave. at W. 17th Street in Coney Island, (718) 372-5596] and online at www.brooklyncyclones.com.