I, along with many others who have already expressed their thoughts, am embarrassed and confused about what went down in the wee hours of the night. Many have used the word “cowardly.” The last time I heard that word thrown around this much was right after 9-11, referring to the terrorists. In fact, I haven’t seen this much television coverage of one story in this town since 9-11. Even the music leading to and returning from commercial on SNY reminds me of FOX News’s coverage of the war.
The team has played poorly and needed a shake-up. I think it should have been more than letting go the manager and a few coaches, because it is the players who actually need the kick in the ass. Willie was not the one who went out there and lost game after game. Though many of his moves can certainly have been questioned, if the team played even 50% better than they did, most of those questionable moves would not have needed an answer. My biggest issue with Willie was not his strategy. It was his lack of ability to get on his players and show them he meant business. It was his lack of spunk and fire, which I believe the team also lacked more recently, because they took on the attitude of their manager.
The fact that this team is playing better the past two weeks than they did all season, as far as fundamentals and focus go, makes the average fan wonder, “Why now?” If the Mets fired Willie after last season’s collapse, it would have been justifiable. Had they done it after his racial comments, it would have been justifiable. Even after they got swept by the Padres, one of, if not the worst team in the NL, justifiable. But Willie was not fired when the team was at it’s worst. He was not fired after making unprofessional and clearly un-thought-out comments. He was fired after winning three of his last four, after making the trip to the West Coast and in the middle of the night where fans and media alike would not be able to respond as they usually could and would. On the road, instead of at home. At the hotel, instead of at the ballpark. And with the players finding out one by one as they returned to the hotel, what went down. It was almost as if Omar wanted to avoid having to do it at all, no less the attention that everyone knows it would bring.
Willie Randolph’s future had been jerked around by the Mets organization for several weeks leading up to yesterday. And no matter how much some fans may have disliked Willie for their own various reasons and wanted him gone, I don’t think there is any fan out there who would disagree that the manner in which Willie was let go was unprofessional, immature and tacky. They didn’t do it on Sunday, not because it was Father’s Day, but because with the terrible schedule that the Mets are in the midst of playing, time didn’t allow for it. The team had to get on a long flight out to Cali to play a game the very next day. There was no room for media and chaos to hold the team back. But regardless of that, Willie should have at least been treated with respect, and not made a fool of for so long. Let the man go and get on with his life. Stop giving him false hopes. And put an end to the uncertainty that hangs over the heads of our players, which may indirectly be impacting their performance.
No one is going to tell me that this decision wasn’t made days ago. It was just a matter of when. But the “when” could have been chosen better. And with that, no one is going to tell me that this wasn’t the Wilpons’ decision. They have been pressuring Omar to do it for some time now, but Omar’s hesitation came because he knew that once Willie was gone, he was the next man on the totem pole. He still stood behind Willie and didn’t really have the best replacement for him. All of these things led to a spur-of-the-moment decision by Omar, and unfortunately for the organization, it made them look worse than the way we have sometimes seen the team play.
Jerry Manuel has been around this team for a while and knows the players. That can be good or bad. Sometimes a fresh face, someone who has no favorites and no enemies, is the best person for the job. They can come in and tell it like it is before they get too comfortable with the players. A guy like Manuel can’t do that. While he may know the strengths and weaknesses and idiosyncrasies of each player, having been around them for so long, he may be hesitant to discipline them because of that closeness. Jerry Manuel is not the guy to run this team past September. This team can still come around and do great things. But if they do, it won’t be because of Manuel. It will be because they no longer have an excuse, and the blame will be solely theirs, not their manager’s.
As Dan Graziano of the Newark Star Ledger said, “Say what you want about Willie Randolph, not managing his bullpen well or not fighting with umpires, but he cared about his job as manager of the Mets and he wanted his team to win, probably more than any other manager.” Kevin Burkhardt said that in his opinion, “80% of the players were in his (Willie’s) corner and wanted to play and win for Willie.”
So what’s next for Willie? I wouldn’t be surprised to see him coaching for the Yankees again, or even for Joe Torre out in LA. But whatever road Willie travels, on behalf of all Mets fans, I thank him for a great run, especially in 2006, and wish him the very best in his professional and personal life.
PS…Amazingly enough, as I was about to post this, I received a call from the Mets Front Office, offering me ticket plan options for the remainder of the season. I saw “New York Mets” on my Caller ID and thought maybe they wanted my opinion of the whole Willie thing. I told them to go read MetsMerized Online.com.