It was one late evening in June when the New York Mets sent shock waves through the baseball world. There had been some rumors about the eventuality but when these rumors became fact, the news was still hard to accept. It was not just what transpired but the way in which it all went down. The General Manager had come to a decision. The deal was sealed and Mets fans from New York to California, from Flushing to Anaheim, worried and stressed about the uncertain future of their beloved team. The fate of the once powerful Mets was now in question. Fans were confused, upset and bewildered as to how management could treat one of our own with such little respect, not just as an athlete but as a human being.
The main participants in this disaster, however, were not Omar Minaya and Willie Randolph.
The General Manager was M. Donald Grant. It was June 15, 1977 when the Mets GM decided to trade away hometown hero Tom Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds for four relatively unknown commodities. What followed was a catastrophe. Unlike the lovable losers of the 60’s, these Mets now became just losers. Shea became nicknamed Grant’s Tomb and many nights it seemed like the hot dog vendors outnumbered the spectators. With the departure of "Tom Terrific," the Metropolitans descended into a downward spiral that lasted for close to a decade. Over the next 7 endless seasons (subtracting the strike shortened season of 81), the Mets would average just 65 wins per year against 97 losses.
Thirty one years and one day later, history is repeating itself as the Mets have once again displayed a total lack of class and dignity. Yet again, a seemingly cold hearted decision by a Mets GM has tipped the baseball world on its collective ear.
As Mets fans slept comfortably safe in their beds, hours before the sunlight of a new day reached the shores of Queens, Willie Randolph was not just dismissed but disrespected. Like a thief in the night, Omar Minaya fired the first African-American manager in New York baseball history. The man who compiled the 2nd highest winning percentage in the 46 year history of our franchise was sent packing, departing to the airport for his second cross country flight in twenty four hours.
We all have different opinions on Willie’s managerial style and technique. Some are glad to see him go and some are not. Some blame him for the lack of motivation, for being too "low key." Some, in the back of their minds, would always look at Willie but see Yankee pinstripes. Whatever opinion one may have of the Mets recently departed skipper, it’s hard to argue that he was not treated well. Up until the very end—and even at the end–Willie Randolph maintained a sense of class and dignity. As pained as his heart was, with sadness in eyes and an emptiness in his soul, he still displayed the courage to speak with reporters in the hotel lobby. Good manager or bad manager, right decision or wrong decision, this midnight raid was tactless and cowardice . Reminiscent of the George Steinbrenner/Billy Martin charade of the late 1970’s, the Mets sunk to a new low in their own team history with the debacle that became the end of Willie’s managerial career. Safe to say, no one was shocked by the firing of Willie Randolph. However, no one expected it to be carried out in such a heartless, uncaring way.
We all hope that Jerry Manuel will turn things around this season but it seems unlikely. No matter whose hand is writing down the lineup card, the results will probably be the same. Even if our new skipper is the spark that can ignite this team, the end result may be bittersweet.
With Randolph gone, it is now Omar Minaya being led towards the guillotine. His head is next on the chopping block and it appears as if the Wilpon’s are already laying the groundwork for the next act of this Shakespearean tragedy. It was Minaya who built this team but yet Willie was left to take the blame. Now, Mets ownership has already planted the seed. By Fred Wilpon stating this was solely Omar’s decision, he is clearly washing his hands of the situation. Much in the way Minaya hung out Randolph, Fred Wilpon is hanging out Minaya.
Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver once said, "You win pennants in the off-season when you build your team with trades and free agents." As Omar Minaya now enters the cross hairs and figures out what is needed to bring a Championship to Shea, Willie Randolph can return home to his wife and family. Unlike Minaya, Randolph already has his World Series rings.