Monday, June 9, 2008

Things that go "bump" in the night

The worst-kept secret in baseball is finally out: Willie Randolph has been fired as manager of the New York Mets. And before we all get up-in-arms about the utterly classless fashion in which the news was delivered, can we all just leave the "Willie as a martyr" stuff alone? Bottom line: he's just not that good a manager, even by baseball standards. Actually, by baseball standards -- turn in your lineup cards, let the players play and don't make yourself the story -- Randolph was actually pretty lousy.

But that's not to say Willie didn't deserve better than having the world learn of his termination via a 3 AM news release. (The Wilpons must have studied at the Irsay School of Management.) No one deserves that. (Okay, Willie really does deserve it, but that's a story for another time.) But regardless of the tactics, firing Randolph was the right move. My question is, "What took you so long?" After all, some of us saw it coming quite some time ago, like, say, back in October:

Look, if you think Willie is a good manager who's only getting better, keep him. If, on the other hand, you're among the many who could go either way, who think that 2008 will tell the Willie Randolph story -- redemption or recrimination -- then why not cut bait now? Willie had arguably the National League's most talented roster and managed to grind them into the dirt. That's potential? When we're back here in October '08 reading all the post-mortems on Willie's managerial career, remember where you heard it first.

So that was me, just eight months ago, predicting Randolph's eventual demise. To be fair, even I didn't foresee this rapid a descent. But that underlies my point: Willie Randolph didn't show anything over his brief managerial career that would lead one to believe that he's any better than he'd shown over the past season-plus. If I might quote myself again:

I’ve heard time and again about all the experience Willie gained from his time as a Yankees coach. Let me tell you: sitting next to the guy driving the bus is not the same thing as driving the bus... Can the Mets really afford a manager who's learning on the job?

Question asked, question answered. But the nagging question that should be on the minds of all Mets' fans today is that if Willie could be so easily dismissed by the owners after a slow start, why couldn't this whole mess could have been avoided by letting Willie go last October? In the end, the Wilpons didn't save any money and they certainly didn't buy themselves any good will in the process.

So now that Step 1 of "Resuscitating a Sagging Franchise" is complete, we await Step 2. There are two ways this can go: the first, happy scenario sees Jerry Manuel energizing his team, leading them to the post-season and getting that "interim" tag removed. The second, decidedly less happy but probably more likely scenario goes like this: it becomes clear that Willie was not the cause for the Mets' decline, but rather the collection of "talent" on the field. With that, Omar Minaya becomes the next casualty. Check back in October to see how that one plays out.

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