Minor league coach who lost sight in eye feels betrayed by Mets

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When Frank Viola underwent open-heart surgery and missed the beginning of the 2014 season, the New York Mets assigned Brooklyn Cyclones pitching coach Tom Signore to Las Vegas to fill in. A mishap during his stay with the Triple-A club ended up costing Signore use of his right eye. It also led to nightmarish concussion symptoms that left him unable to work.

Now, Signore feels able to return. But the 53-year-old Signore has been pushed out by the organization. And he feels betrayed.

He suggests the late decision not to renew his contract leaves him unable to find a position with another organization for 2016. He also believes the decision is coming from the Mets' human resources department because of liability fears, not from a baseball-operations staff that holds him in high regard.

Signore indicated that he has an active workman's compensation case against the Mets. He said the only explanation he has received from human resources, after more than a dozen attempts to reach them, is that they decided to go in another direction.

“I think I deserve a better explanation, because I gave up an eye for the organization,” Signore said. “It’s not fun having given up a right eye. I know that I can do my job.”

The Mets, in a statement, merely alluded to Signore’s contract having lapsed.

“His contract expired on Oct. 31, 2015,” the statement read.

Early in the 2014 season while filling in for Viola with Las Vegas, during a rain delay at Tacoma, Signore was getting ready to coach a bullpen session with then-prospect Jacob deGrom. A couple of other players were throwing in what Signore described as an “off-limits area” by the plates in the bullpen. Signore was struck with the baseball and suffered vision loss and concussion symptoms.

Signore tried returning later that season with Brooklyn. He started taking the subway to MCU Park on Coney Island because he was unable to drive. However, about 30 games into the New York-Penn League season, his concussion symptoms resurfaced with such a vengeance that he needed further treatment. On July 16, he went into the training room and was dispatched to a local hospital’s emergency room. He ultimately was pulled from the field for the remainder of the season.

Signore also tried to return during spring training in 2015, but on his second day on the field in Port St. Lucie, Florida, he realized it was unworkable. He called Dr. Teena Shetty at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan.

“The second day there I’m dying,” Signore said. “I can’t survive four hours. I called Dr. Shetty, and she said, ‘You need to get off the field.’”

Signore now describes his right eye as “useless.” All he sees are puffy clouds whether the eye is open or shut, and whether there is bright sunlight or darkness. Still, after spending months at a concussion clinic and using the drug Topamax, headaches are rare and he feels capable of doing his job -- despite the lack of vision in one eye.

But there is no job for him to return to with the Mets. And he feels betrayed, especially since he was held in high enough regard before the accident to fill in for Viola with Las Vegas, where some of the top pitching prospects had been assigned.

“How can you throw people to the curb?” Signore said. “… I’d be interested to get the real reason. [General manager] Sandy [Alderson] has been fantastic through the whole thing. He kept track of my health throughout. The whole thing I think it comes down to human resources and risk management.”