06/17/08 2:15 PM ET
Mets' woes not Randolph's fault
Manager a victim of lofty expectations that weren't met
It was not Willie Randolph who put together a roster entirely too dependent on aging, high-priced players, players who could not stay healthy and/or productive enough to make a difference. The general manager, Omar Minaya, would be in charge of that sort of thing.
But this is baseball and when major money has been spent and when lofty expectations are not met, the manager will be the first to go. So the Mets have dismissed Randolph. You'll forgive the rural reference in the case of a Brooklyn man managing in Queens, but it is still workable here: The tractor is broken and they have fired the farmer.
Randolph took the Mets to within one game of the World Series in 2006. He must have been doing something right then. The September swoon of 2007 is also on his record. There were plenty of fingerprints left at the scene of that crime. There is evidence that the 2008 Mets have never really recovered from that trauma.
The problem with Willie Randolph was not that he couldn't manage, not that he couldn't lead, not that he wasn't big enough for the job. He is a man of considerable depth and intelligence and his baseball knowledge is beyond question. His training -- all those years playing for the Yankees, all those years coaching for Joe Torre -- were nothing less than ideal for managing the Mets.
Based on his record, based on who he is, Randolph should have received a managing opportunity long before 2005. He had the background, he had the training, he had the brains, he had the will. So what went wrong here?
There are built-in problems with the roster he was given. On paper there is a wealth of talent, but there have been chronic health problems in some cases and there have been other cases in which the vast potential has not turned into the consistent production. That is not the manager's fault alone.
If Willie Randolph made a mistake here, it may have been in the public persona that he created for himself. Anyone who knew Randolph as a player, knew that he was passionate about the game, that he cared deeply about the game and was committed to playing it the right way all the time.
People weren't allowed to see much of that Willie Randolph in his tenure as Mets' manager. It seemed as though he purposefully staked out a position for himself that would be endlessly cool, calm, collected. The highs wouldn't be too high, the lows wouldn't be too low. For public consumption the manager of the Mets would be in control, but in a very low-key sort of way, meeting the inevitable ups and downs with a sort of all-purpose serenity.
This created, in some quarters, a perception of Willie Randolph that was flatly wrong. The impression was that he was emotionless, that he somehow didn't care enough. That was not the case, but it was an impression that gained some unfortunate currency. And it was a very small step from that impression to the general belief that the Mets players, as a group, didn't care enough, either.
Now, into a very difficult situation steps the new manager, bench coach Jerry Manuel. Again, you have an intelligent man, a thoughtful, incisive baseball man, a man with some significant credentials on display, such as once being AL Manager of the Year with the Chicago White Sox.
In some ways Manuel is an obvious choice, a man with managerial experience, who has obvious knowledge of this team and this situation. In another way, it is an ironic choice, because Jerry Manuel is not likely to produce fire-and-brimstone for public consumption, either.
He comes into a situation that is light years away from hopeless. For all their struggles this season, the Mets at the moment are 6½ games out of first place in the NL East. They don't have to move mountains or perform miracles to get directly back into the postseason chase.
But emotionally, this isn't going to be a day at the beach, a walk in the woods or any other exercise in light-hearted ease. This is a team that has been routinely castigated for under-achievement since last September. It is in need of improvement, but it also may require a healing.
And it has just gone through a period in which its manager has been left to dangle in the face of weeks of relentless speculation about his status. That is never a particularly healthy situation for any baseball team.
More to the point, Willie Randolph deserved better. He is taking the fall, as managers do, for circumstances far beyond the control of one man. The Mets have made a change and it should not be a shock. But it was not as though Willie Randolph was the singular cause of the Mets' current dilemma.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.