I'd been holding off on posting about the Mets' firing of manager Willie Randolph because I was waiting to see if I would develop a reaction that was more than my initial mild shrug.
Doesn't look like I will, so...
I wasn't surprised, disappointed, angry, or hopeful upon hearing that Willie had been shown the door, partly because I'd had the sense that the Mets had already fired him at the end of last season and they'd just been too scared to tell him and Randolph had decided to pretend he didn't know they'd fired him and showed up for spring training just to see what would happen. When Mets executives and their flunkies just gaped and then ran from the locker room, too embarrassed to face him, he put on his uniform and went to work. This kept happening all through February and March and on into the regular season and I'm guessing it would have kept happening except that the letter firing him last October had been left in somebody's fax machine all this time and finally, the other night, a janitor mopping up accidentally bumped into it and hit the send button.
All I know is what I read in the newspapers, of course, and the newspapers around here include the Post and the Daily News, so what I know is always full of spittle and blood, but it seemed pretty clear that the owners lost confidence in Randolph during the team's historic late season collapse and the only reason they didn't fire him at the time was that they were such craven cowards that they were afraid to be caught looking like craven cowards. I think it took a lot of guts on Randolph's part not to resign during the off-season knowing his bosses were going to be looking for an excuse to cut him loose.
So I wasn't surprised he was fired. Like a lot of fans, I was surprised it took them this long.
The other, main reason I just shrugged at the news, though, was that it's just not going to do anything that keeping him around wouldn't have done. The Mets are not going to win their division this season unless both the Phillies and the Marlins collapse and every other team in the league starts spotting New York three runs whenever the Mets visit their ball parks.
The Mets were a very good team in 2006, one or two relief pitchers away from being a World Series team, literally.
But last year they were a good team three starting pitchers away from being a World Series team, and that didn't get fixed in the off-season.
To put it another way, in 2007 the Mets were a good team with one reliable starter, Tom Glavine, upon whom they relied too much there in the end.
In 2008, the Mets are a fairly good team with one reliable starter, Johan Santana, upon whom on a couple of occasions Willie Randolph was too nervous to rely enough---but how can you blame him for that? If he'd used up Santana, how would he have replaced him? Called over to Brooklyn and see who in the Cyclones bullpen hadn't pitched in a few days?
The Mets starting rotation problems weren't Randolph's fault and there's nothing he could have done to fix them---unless Maine and Perez can be made more reliable by some better coaching. This is something I don't know. Seems to me that the best way to help Maine and Perez improve is to add another reliable starter---let's face it, Pedro is never going to be Pedro again, and there's even some reason to doubt that he wants to be---or find a way to score more runs and adding the likes of Trot Nixon to the line-up is not the most obvious way to go about this.
Basically, Randolph is the victim of the brilliant thinking that thought that the answer to the Mets bullpen problems in 2006 was to sign Moises Alou for 2007 and that Nixon's just what the doctor ordered to save the Mets outfield.
That sort of thinking is not going to correct itself now that Jerry Manuel's in the dugout wondering which of his two gimpy left fielders is well enough to send into the game tonight.
Given what he's had to work with the last two seasons, it seems unfair to judge Randolph a poor or even mediocre manager based on their record. I follow the Mets but I don't watch them. Not regularly enough to have a good sense of these things. I can't tell if Randolph's a good or bad manager on a game by game or series by series basis. But in the games I have watched I haven't seen as much evidence of bad managing as I have seen evidence of poor coaching.
The last two seasons these Mets (who of course have not been all the same Mets) have seemed prone to the kinds of elementary mental lapses and bad habits that their coaches have probably been trying to cure them of since little league. I'm assuming their coaches on the Mets, and that includes the manager, haven't been blind to these mistakes. Some players are just uncoachable. For one reason or another, they refuse to learn or they can't take it in or they can't make themselves put into practice what they've been told a hundred times and promised to do, next time, coach. An undisciplined hitter may take an oath on Ted Williams' grave (Does Williams have a grave yet? Has that been resolved? Is all of him in it?) never to swing at the first pitch again, but in a game, in a clutch moment, with the adrenaline pumping, he just can't help himself.
So, last Sunday, Father's Day, against Texas, first game of a double header, eighth inning, Mets down 8 to 2, the Mets get a rally going. Three runs in, bases loaded, one out, Jose Reyes comes up. The Rangers have just brought in a reliever. First pitch. What's Reyes do? What would Wade Boggs have done? Tony Gwynn?
One of the ugliest swings I've ever seen too.
A real hack.
Made himself look more like Aragorn lopping at an orc than like Williams or DiMaggio, Musial or Brett.
His next couple of swings were no prettier. When he got hold of one at last, flying out to right, it looked like an accident...or a mistake.
Where does an at bat like that come from?
From from inside Reyes' head? Why hasn't anybody been able to get in there and clean it out?
There's poor coaching that's poor teaching---and I'm not saying that's what's going on with the Mets coaching staff, just wondering---and there's poor coaching that's just boneheaded decisions made during games.
Reyes flies out to right, right? Not deep but deep enough that if it's someone speedy standing on the third, someone like Reyes himself, you send him home. Maybe. If that's only the first out, definitely. But it was the second. So maybe you play cautious even with a speedy runner. Tough call.
But the runner on third's Brian Schneider.
Schneider is not speedy.
Schneider tags and...
Ball beat him to the plate by minutes. Between the time he caught the throw and when he tagged Schneider out, catcher could have whipped out his cell phone, called his dead, had a nice conversation wishing the old man a Happy Father's Day, and even chatted a bit with his mom. Ball was there so far ahead of him that from where he was when the catcher caught it Schneider might have stood a better chance turning around and running back to third.
Everybody's entitled to a dumb decision now and then. What I don't know, and what I'm asking if someone can tell me, is if Sandy Alomar and the other Mets coaches make more than their fair share. I'm also wondering how good they are at the other part of coaching, the teaching part.
Ever since way back when, even early in his playing days with the Yankees, the word on Randolph was always that he was going to be a great manager someday. Clearly, people who knew the game believed Randolph knew the game. But there's knowing the game, and then there's knowing your players who have to play the game for you and knowing how to get them to play well for you.
And while Randolph isn't responsible for the holes in the Mets line-up, he was responsible for whatever strengths are weaknesses there were in his coaching staff. Anybody know if there were any, strengths or weaknesses? How good a staff had he put together?
I'm only asking, not doing any blaming. I don't blame Randolph for the Mets current mediocrity. I think the Mets powers-that-be aren't any too bright. I think they think that the team's collapse last season was a complete fluke. Worse than that, though, I think they think that the Phillies did nothing to bring it about and were simply the undeserving beneficiaries of the Mets' meltdown. This would explain why they did nothing in the offseason to improve their offense---some would say they seemed to have deliberately made it worse. It would also explain why they blame Randolph for the fact the Phillies are in first place.
But the real fluke last season was what happened to the Phillies in the first half of the season.
If the Phils had been as healthy all season as they were after July maybe the Mets would have noticed they weren't as good as they been in 2006 and done something about that.
The same thing that happened to the Phillies last season, key players getting healthy again all at once, could happen to the Mets. I'm not holding my breath. But it could. Which is another reason I think it was unfair to fire Randolph now. It's blaming him for Alou's bad legs, Pedro's fragility, and Ryan Church's concussion.
Over the long haul I don't think firing Randolph's going to change much. It's not the players on his own team that would have caused Randolph trouble. I don't see what he would have been able to do about the fact that the Phillies can put Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, and Ryan Howard out on the field every day. I don't know what Jerry Manuel's expected to do about that either.
At any rate:
Lawyer Bill Altreuter laments Randolph's firing.
Tom Watson laments the way Randolph was fired.
Scott Lemieux laments the fact that there are people making the argument that the Mets have been
under-achieving this season and the implication that Randolph's to blame for that.
And I can't tell if Roy Edroso is lamenting or looking forward to the coming of the Wally Backman era.