Omar: It Was My Decision

In his 54 second conversation with the media before leaving the team hotel, Willie Randolph apologized to the fans for “not being able to fulfill his dream of this team winning a World Championship.”    He said he was disappointed and he will miss his players, and I don’t doubt that for a minute.  Omar insisted that it is not in his character to fire a manager while in uniform.  That, to him, would have been disrespectful and humiliating.  A manager is usually fired in the morning or after a game.  He also stated that he didn’t want Willie to find out from a third party, during a game, that he had been fired.  He had promised Willie that he would let him know as soon as possible when a decision was made. 

“Once the decision was made, I had to let him know. Once I felt it, in my heart, that it was time to go, it was time to go.”

He then went on to talk about the logistics of bringing up the guys who would be replacing those let go, and how that took time.  All reasons why Omar chose not to show his face at the ballpark, and instead wait at the hotel for his soon-to-be ex-manager to arrive, where he could give him the news out of the scope of the media.  But as GM of the team, doesn’t Omar have full control over the “logistics”?  

The fact that “sources” learned on Friday that a decision was to be made about Willie’s fate as Mets manager within hours may have caused Omar to make a spur-of-the-moment decision.   It was time to put an end to the speculation of whether or not Willie would make it to the end of the season.  He said his decision was made on Sunday, but he had to “sleep on it.” Well, then his decision wasn’t made.  And if it was, then he did not keep his end of the bargain, notifying Willie as soon as he was sure.

You could almost sense the tears in Omar’s eyes as he addressed the media yesterday afternoon.  I believe him when he said he and Willie were friends.  I believe it when he said this was a hard decision to make.  And I believe the disappointment in himself, when he said that having to fire Willie was a reflection on his judgment, because he hired him, and he had a vested interest in Willie’s performance.  What I didn’t like was how many times he reminded us that Willie was the first African-American manager in NY, and that he was the first Hispanic GM in baseball.  What does that have to do with anything?

We have all come to terms with the fact that Omar did what he did, when he did it, in an effort to avoid the media frenzy that would have surrounded him and the team in New York, had it been handled correctly. But would it be fair to say that the media may have put added pressure on Minaya, on top of the many hassles he already had to deal with?   In other words, was it really the Wilpons so much as the fans, who sometimes come in the form of reporters, who wanted Willie gone?  Maybe Omar saw how empty Shea was this past weekend (and that’s what he had to “sleep” on) and decided to appease those fans who wanted Willie gone.  And of course, the players are to blame for the poor performance on the field.  So when you narrow things down and put them into perspective, Willie was the LAST man at fault here.  The fact that he didn’t spark his club or fight with the umpires is only a personality trait.  Maybe he just wasn’t right for this town.  But if the team had played over the past year the way they did in 2006, no one would care about Willie’s personality.  In Omar‘s words, “The team is not underperforming only because of Willie Randolph. I’m responsible too. And the players.”  Truth be told, Randolph was just the scapegoat for the players not doing their jobs.  And since you can’t fire 25 guys, you fire the one head honcho.

Omar touched on the fact that the players were “pressing” because of all the speculation.  But wasn’t the speculation caused by the fact that the team wasn’t playing well to begin with?   The fact is, Willie Randolph had the second highest winning percentage of any manager in franchise history, with a record of 302-253. And now that Jerry Manuel has taken over, I can’t see this team changing much.  If the team does turn it around, it won’t be because of Manuel.  It will be because the players will no longer have an excuse to blame the manager; it will be obvious that they are the ones at fault. 

So we all agree that a major change was needed here.  But I sincerely hope that this was not a change for change sake.  It could very well be that this team is just not as good as everyone thinks they are, and then it wouldn‘t matter who the manager is.  If that turns out to be the case, would it be safe to say that player moves would be next?  They should be.  Since Omar is the next man on the totem pole, could his job be at risk if the Mets don’t turn it around?  The “Willie Watch” may be over, but the state of this team is far from being sound.

If Omar really wanted to relieve Willie of his duties with this team, he had plenty of more logical opportunities do that, starting with the collapse of last year, the racial comments this year, and most recently, being swept by the Padres two weeks ago.  Though they have still been erratic, the Mets have had some spirited games lately, and have been playing harder and better the past 2 weeks than they did leading up to that point.  What made Omar decide to do it now?

So who is going to be the one to step up and finally be the leader of this team?  David Wright not wanting to step on the toes of the many veterans that are ahead of him, who are not taking the role, is nonsense.  Someone has to officially be named captain of this team. 

Speaking of the players, the team should have been called in and told all together that Willie and some of the coaches were no longer with them.  Does anyone know how Jose Reyes found out?  He received a text message from someone in the Dominican Republic yesterday morning. He put on the tv and saw for himself that it was true. That is, at the very least, unfair to the team, not to mention unprofessional and lacking class.  Mets fans haven’t had a whole lot to be proud of this year. They could have at least done this right.

The first thing Manuel plans on doing is “refresh the everyday guys – Wright, Reyes and Beltran”.  But as he said, that’s hard to do when there is a
n urgency to win every game.  The next thing to concentrate on is to “find definitive roles for the middle inning guys.”  I said it a few weeks back – these guys need to be reminded what their role is and how they are expected to accomplish it and contribute to the success of this team. 

One interesting note – when SNY’s Gary Apple asked Keith Hernandez if he would accept a job as Mets manager, he said no, that he had too much going on in the booth at SNY, he is not prepared at this time and it would be a disservice . I thought that was very honest and considerate of him to admit that.  And I was happy he didn’t give a Gary Carter-like response.

In closing, I’d like to share Jerry Manuel‘s position on the collapse of 2007:  “I would have reminded the team more of it, rather than say let’s put it in the past, because it’s going to be a part of anything we do when we start to struggle.  I would have brought more attention to it and use it as a springboard hopefully to motivate us to play at a different level.”