Randolph ready to get going for 2008
Manager has grown and adapted while focusing on a title
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- General manager Omar Minaya is in charge of making the baseball universe forget the Mets' 2007 from now until the bats and balls come out in February. The responsibility falls to manager Willie Randolph at that point. And his will be a more challenging assignment, because some of the memories he will try to purge will be those of his players, the men primarily responsible for the memories in the first place.
Despite the Winter Meetings finally overcoming inertia Wednesday, it still seemed likely -- though less likely -- that the Mets will head home Thursday virtually unchanged by four days in the South and not all that different from the team that ended its 2007 one day and one game short of October. And the most significant change -- an improvement in the players' state of mind -- still was pending and left for the manager to enact.
Randolph was quite aware of that before he left Nashville for his New Jersey home.
"I can't help it," Randolph said. "It sticks with me. It should. It's my job."
The manager acknowledged that the sting of September has remained with him.
"Last year is there," he said. "It can't be denied. We have to get past it, but not before we learn from it."
Every manager implores his team to turn the page after a vexing loss. But what the Mets endured in the final days of their September descent requires a Magic Slate. The stain of '07 must at least be reduced to a residue. And the best way to do that is to spin it forward as positively as possible.
"It's something that will make us stronger," Randolph said. "That's how we have to look at it. It can help us learn."
Randolph indicated Wednesday that some change of approach is likely. He's trying to determine the most effective means.
"I know more about my guys now than I did," he said, a seeming admission that he didn't know them as well as he thought. The steep descent that denied the Mets a return to the postseason surprised him as much as it stung.
"I have to get in here," Randolph said, pointing to his chest. "My approach was 'OK, show me you're champions.'"
The Mets didn't, so the manager's assignment is different.
"Now," he said, "I show them."
But not in any overt ways. The rings won't come out in Spring Training this year. Randolph is quite removed from his days with the Yankees, and the jewelry he won as a player and coach with them no longer goes with what he's wearing.
"I'd rather be wearing a Mets ring," Randolph said. "But I probably will assert myself more. I'm not talking about cracking the whip in Spring Training. I don't think effort was a problem. A lot of things contributed to what happened. They were things that couldn't be controlled. But I can have my team prepared mentally for the season ... have them thinking right, not looking back.
"There might be a little more attention to detail and things that go on, but that's with every spring. I'm not going to take this experience and change and try to go into a person I'm not. I think the big key for me is knowing my players better now -- knowing my players better and knowing that I know how to communicate with them better, and tweak what I need to tweak.
"And I'll be there to remind them when things start to go off track. Intensity won't be a problem. We'll have our approach in shape before the season starts. We'll have the right mind-set. It's going to be about next year, not last year."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.