During his unprecedented run of pennants and World Championships as manager of the Yankees in the 1950’s, Casey Stengel was quoted as saying, "I don’t get paid to win every game. I get paid to win two out of every three games." It seems as if this does not hold true for our current manager. Willie Randolph has been placed in a tenuous no-win situation this season, thanks in part to the players on the team, the local media and the Mets fans who are starved for a World Series.
After the debacle that became the 2007 season, many were calling for Randolph to be fired immediately. The Wilpon’s and GM Omar Minaya showed patience and decided to bring Randolph back for 2008, albeit with a short leash and very little room for error. The Mets needed to come out quick this year. But they have not. The off-season acquisition of the top lefty in the game, while a source of hope, confidence and bragging for Mets fans, only served to add even more pressure onto the Mets skipper.
Of the 18 managers we have had, Willie Randolph has the second highest winning percentage. His .547 is second in team history only to Davey Johnson who led the team for 6 1/2 years from 1984 through 1990. By comparison to his predecessors, Willie’s numbers definitely can hold their own. Gil Hodges, who led the Mets to the Miracle championship in 1969, compiled a .523 winning percentage. Much loved (or much hated) Bobby Valentine, who led our team for 6 1/2 years, including the only time in team history we made the post-season in consecutive seasons, garnered a .534 winning percentage. Although Yogi Berra led us to the World Series in 1973, he only achieved a .497 winning percentage in his three plus years and this, in spite of having perhaps the best trio of starting pitchers in the National League at the time.
To further illustrate Randolph’s success is the fact that in his first three full seasons as skipper, the Mets have averaged 89 wins, trailing only Davey Johnson and Bobby Valentine who averaged 97 and 92 wins respectively in each of their first three seasons.
Being a Mets fan for some 35 years, I have grown accustomed to season after season of disappointment. There is more than just a river separating the Mets from that other New York team. Yankees fans enter every season with high expectations. When someone is a fan of the Yankees, only a World Championship is acceptable. Nothing less. A strong season or an appearance in the post-season is simply not enough for the fans of the pinstripes. Case in point: The firing of Joe Torre. Over the decades, we Mets fans have come to expect different. A decent season, finishing at or near .500 with hope that next year will be better, is considered a success for us. However, the times they are a-changin’. The "Win Now" attitude has taken over. A finish of 81-81 will now be deemed as failure. Not making the post-season this year will be unacceptable and a huge let down for us all.
And where does this leave our skipper?
In my opinion, rightly or wrongly, Willie Randolph is trapped in a lose-lose situation. If the 2008 Mets fail to make the post-season entirely, it is safe to say that Randolph will only get into Citi Field next year if he buys a ticket. If the Mets do make the playoffs, but get knocked out in either the first or second round, it’s fair to say that the majority of fans and sportswriters will deem the season a bust and once again, Willie’s future in the blue and orange will probably be non-existent. Lets say we happen to win the NL pennant but come up short in the fall classic. Will that even be acceptable? After all, with the highest payroll in the National League, we are supposed to win. Willie would still not get credit for a job well done.
And lets say the best of all possible scenarios come true. Imagine for a moment that 2008 ends up going down in Mets history along with 1969 and 1986. Opening Day 2009, in our new stadium, and a World Series flag is raised high above the field. Picture in your mind, David Wright waving to the crowd, Jose Reyes smiling broadly and Billy Wagner pumping his fist in the air as the Mets are presented with their World Series rings before 40,000+ adoring fans. Even then would Willie get the praise he deserves? Maybe, but maybe not. After all, coming in to this season, weren’t we all expecting a Championship? Willie will simply fulfill what we expected all along.
And if the 2008 World Champion Mets happen to start out the 2009 season slow, we will all be having this same conversation next year. To borrow a quote from Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, "The players make the manager. It’s never the other way around."