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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Dear Fred and Jeff…

Off-day today, and I know the two of you probably have some things to discuss. Is Ramon Castro ready to come back? Who goes if Matt Wise returns? (I vote Sosa, though that's not why I'm writing to you.) How are Pedro and El Duque doing? There are probably a bunch of things to do with Citi Field, too. Busy day, in other words. So I hate to intrude.

But I think you need to get moving on one other thing today: finding a manager to replace Willie Randolph.

It's an unhappy business, using even a small public platform like this one to campaign for a man to be separated from his work. It gives me no joy; in fact, it makes me slightly sick to my stomach. But as a lifelong Met fan who's seen so many seasons come and go, I feel it's come to this: Willie has to be fired, and sooner rather than later. I say it reluctantly and unhappily, because I think he's a good man who's doing the best he can. But I say it nonetheless.

No, I'm not mollified by that 12-1 pounding inflicted on the Dodgers, by a 3-3 road trip against pretty good competition, or by the fact that for all the Mets' sputtering, they're two good days from first place. Nor am I held back by the fact that just 20% of the 2008 season is in the books.

One stat says it all, and it's this: 71-71. That's the Mets' record since last Memorial Day.

Fred and Jeff, if you think the Mets are truly a .500 team, then Willie's probably no better or worse than anybody else who could manage this team, and you ought to keep him around. But if you think this roster you're paying $137 million ought to be better than .500, then it's high time to try and figure out what's gone wrong. There are ups and downs to any season, hot streaks and cold streaks, most all of them statistical fluctuations you can make go away by shifting your start points and end points. 71-71, though, is different. That's 142 games, the better part of a full season. It's signal, not noise.

I think Willie did a pretty good job with the Mets in 2005 and 2006. He was calm and disciplined, even-keeled in good times and bad. He served ably as a lightning rod for a young David Wright, keeping the media from putting too much pressure on his shoulders. He got results from a young Jose Reyes by teaching him to be aggressive within the strike zone. He did a lot right, and in 2006 he presided over one of your franchise's finest seasons, a glorious ride finally undone by injuries within a single line drive of the World Series.

But 2007 was an unqualified disaster, one of our most bitterly disappointing years — and the price is still being paid in the boos that rain down from the stands at the slightest provocation. I didn't think that was enough for Willie to lose his job — it's always struck me as unfair that we're counseled to be patient with young players learning on the job, yet expect managers to arrive fully formed, able to execute game strategy and manage a roster over a marathon season and police the lives of 25 rich, sheltered young men. Willie gave every indication that he would be different in 2008, that this time if he saw complacency in his clubhouse he would step in and put things right instead of waiting for his veterans to do it. He appeared to have learned a hard lesson, and to be ready to apply that lesson. Given that, it seemed like basic fairness to let him continue.

But things are no different. The 2008 Mets look very much like the post-Memorial Day 2007 Mets — they play far too many listless games in which they look like they're punching the clock, and all too often they turn in a true stinker marred by inexcusable mental mistakes. And Willie keeps saying the same things he said in 2007 — that they need to get a little rhythm, that his players are veterans who know how to win, that he has faith in them. The Mets have been in the same rhythm for nearly a calendar year, and it's a bad one. Too many of their veterans have forgotten how to win, or show little evidence that they care. His faith in them, while admirable, is misplaced.

Most damaging of all is that we're hearing the same excuses we heard in 2007 — that the Mets will be fine once El Duque or Pedro or Moises Alou returns to shore up the rotation or add punch to the lineup and brighten up the clubhouse. This has bred a dreadful passivity in the Mets, who have far too much young talent to wait around for old, fragile players to change the team's fortunes. (Not to mention that it's a poor strategy to rely on the aged and the infirm for anything.)

Does Willie deserve more time — say, enough for a full 162-game sample since last Memorial Day? Not if you have trouble imagining — as I do — that the Mets can pull off the kind of hot streak they'd need to make their record respectable. If the Mets go 15-5 over their next 20, they'd be 86-76 over their last 162 games. Beyond the fact that 86-76 isn't playoff material, do either of you really believe this team will go 15-5? If you don't, then it seems to me that waiting will just give Willie's replacement a steeper hill to climb.

What does the new manager need to do? For starters, engage his players more — and do so publicly. He should encourage David Wright to stop his endearing but self-defeating insistence on not raising his voice because he's only 25. Wright is already the best position player on this team and will be its captain within a couple of years — his voice should be heard in the clubhouse, and not just in the game stories of the reporters to whom he's invariably kind. He should look for a new way to arrest Jose Reyes' depressing regression from electric player who has some frustrating days to frustrating player who has some electric days. He should encourage Carlos Beltran to come further out of his shell, whether it's encouraging Reyes to dance or telling Jimmy Rollins off. He should make sure Billy Wagner's isn't the only voice that sounds tired of losing.

A possibility I keep returning to is Larry Bowa, no shrinking violet but also a guy who's been a mentor to young players (Robinson Cano sure seems to miss him) and shouldn't be blamed for being tuned out by a cancerous Phillies clubhouse that Patton would have had trouble motivating. Would the Mets tire of Bowa's high-strung ways? Undoubtedly, and perhaps fairly quickly. But he's the opposite of Willie, and for a time that 180-degree change in demeanor would register with a team that needs a good shake-up. One of the unhappy truths of baseball is that nearly every manager eventually stops being effective in leading his team — it's as if players naturally build up an immunity to his ways and his style, and need the antidote to those ways and that style. RIght now the Mets need a high-energy, aggressive type — whether it's Bowa or Wally Backman or Bobby Valentine or some name you have in mind that fits the bill.

It's not fair that too many of the current Mets have quit playing for Willie, and yet he's the one to take the fall. But that's an old unfairness in baseball. I wish it were otherwise, but Willie's time has passed. You need to ask him to step aside, before the 2008 Mets' time is gone as well.

Respectfully submitted,

Jason

Friday Update: Dan Graziano of the Star-Ledger is thinking along similar lines, though he and I differ on what kind of manager is needed. Added bonuses: He has some excellent psychological insights into Willie and why he's the way he is, and of course an actual from-the-clubhouse view.

29 comments to Dear Fred and Jeff…

  • Anonymous

    Could not be said any better.

  • Anonymous

    Knowing that Bobby V is outside the realm of realistic possibilities, I'd love to see Bowa or even Wally Backman given the helm to provide the needed “fire in the belly” to right this sinking ship . . . I'd also give some thought to Tony Pena

  • Anonymous

    Brilliant, Jace.

  • Anonymous

    IF they go 15-5, they would be 32-20. You may not realize it, but the games from last season are long gone. You (and everyone else) need to forget about 2007. This is 2008. A different year. Yeah, I know some of the same things have been continuing. And, I'm not saying that Willie should last the whole season, but I do think that he deserves more than 32 games. And the excuse of not having Pedro is a valid one considering he is 100 games over .500 for his entire career. Think a healthy Pedro would have made a difference? One other thing to consider. Maybe they are just not that good, and that other teams in the NL have caught up to them a bit.

  • Anonymous

    I love this site, but you've got to be kidding me with a serious suggestion that Larry Bowa should be managing the Mets.
    Larry Bowa is a bully, a blowhard and way too short-tempered and thin-skinned to manage in this town. The press will eat him alive and he'll be throwing a tantrum a day. He couldn't carry Bobby Valentine's jock, in terms of strategy or his ability to manage the pen. If you think Willie can't manage a pen, get ready for eight pitchers a night under him. Did Bobby Abreu ever turn into a firey leader under Bowa? Was Jimmy Rollins a firecracker when he was there? (He was there for most of Bowa's tenure, you might recall.) Am I the only one who remembers the extent to which the Phillies underachieved when Bowa was manager? Watched the Mets pull out game after game in the late innings as Larry botched bullpen usage? Am I the only one who remembers how he lost that clubhouse? Look at his record — he's an 85-win, second-place manager. Wille's won 90 games and finished first — two things that Bowa was never able to achieve in a longer tenure.
    And let's not forget how the Phillies forgot to show up down the stretch in 2003, and let the Marlins steal the wild card away from them.
    You want to make the case for firing Willie, fine. But please, for the love of God, keep Larry Bowa as far away from my team as possible.

  • Anonymous

    Can you hire a coach (Bowa) away from another team mid-season? I don't think you can. Has it ever been done?

  • Anonymous

    Ah yes, but do you really think Larry Bowa or Wally Backman will get the Mets hits with runners in scoring position, or get OP to stop forgetting how to throw a strike, or get Heilman to not throw a mediocre changeup over the heart of the plate? I doubt it.
    This team is not listless or apathetic; in fact I think it's just the opposite. They are trying too hard, because no matter what they say, last year looms over them. Beltran is in a massive slump. Delgado is clearly nearing the end. Wright is trying to cope with being the franchise pillar, and a veteran leader, even though he's only 25. I'm entitled to my wrong opinion, but I don't think a different manager would make any discernible difference with any of those things.
    I understand that in these cases, you're not going to trade Beltran or release Delgado, nor should you; in these cases, the manager has to take the brunt of the fallout. Maybe a new manager would “light a fire”, it's possible, but remember, Bowa or Backman or whoever can burn down Queens with all the fires they light, it doesn't mean Beltran will hit a double with 2 on and 2 out or that our starters will suddenly stop thinking that a “quality start” means giving up 5 runs in 5 innings.
    Willie is far from perfect, but I think the importance of the manager is being dramatically overblown because we're frustrated with being a .500 team for the last year. Look at Jim Leyland's Tigers. Do you think those players aren't trying? Aren't playing hard? Do you think bringing in some other manager will get them going? I doubt it. Not to say Willie is as good as or better than Leyland, but it's undeniable that players need to execute no matter who is calling the shots.
    I don't know where I'm going with this, but basically, why is this Willie's fault? I think that sums it up. If Willie goes, then Omar should go as well for relying on El Duque and Pedro and Alou and Delgado and whoever else is ready for the nursing home.
    I guess I'm just as frustrated as the rest of you, but I think the players should be held accountable and not so much the manager, again in my probably wrong opinion, who is doing the best he can with what he has.
    Sorry for the long post. I'm easily led into long tangents.

  • Anonymous

    As far as I'm concerned, last year is over. As of right now, this team is 2 games over .500 and 1 game out of first in the loss column. So now this is when Met fans should be excited: two of the worst teams in baseball come into Shea for 7 games. We have Santana pitching for 2 of those. We should win most of those games and be somewhere near or in first place. Of course who knows what will happen, this is why they play the games. But come on, get excited – we may have been given an excellent opportunity (by the schedulemakers) right here, right now to make a serious run at the top. But hopefully this time, it won't turn out like mid-August, 1980 (Greg knows what I'm talking about). :)

  • Anonymous

    [i]One other thing to consider. Maybe they are just not that good, and that other teams in the NL have caught up to them a bit.[/i]
    I sort of agree with anonymous here. Not that they're “not that good” but that they're not nearly as good as many people want to believe they are.
    I'm not averse to whacking Randolph — I'd wait a few weeks so as to give everyone 150 ABs and then consider it — but I'm under no illuision that it's going to make a real dramatic change.
    And Bowa? No-wa.

  • Anonymous

    Great post! I love this site, but man, there is so much negativity here! I think they are OK considering the injuries and lack of production from certain players (which I think will turn around). You would think that they are 10-22. For God's sake, it's a 162 game season.

  • Anonymous

    Not without the other team's permission, but I don't see why you couldn't provided that was granted — and teams generally don't stand in the way of their coaches' managerial ambitions.
    I'm playing opposites with Bowa/Randolph. The point, to me, is more that the team needs someone who's the opposite of Willie for the change to register.

  • Anonymous

    May 8, 1961 – Happy 47th birthday Mets

  • Anonymous

    They're 71-71 since last Memorial Day. That's a big sample, and coupled with how similar this team feels to last year's, I think it's important. When the calendar turned over, Willie got the benefit of the doubt, assuming on a better start to '08 and evidence that he would handle things differently. Neither has happened.

  • Anonymous

    A healthy Pedro is a thing of the past. Ditto for El Duque. The Mets have to stop dreaming that either of those guys will ride to the rescue. (Ditto for Alou, who's certain to back on the DL before too long.)
    How do you forget about last season when the team is 71-71 since Memorial Day and looks exactly the same as that sorry outfit?
    If they aren't that good, Willie may as well stay. I believe they're better than that, though, and the most-plausible explanation to me is that this manager can no longer motivate his clubhouse.
    And, of course, I'd like nothing better than for them to go 15-5 — or 20-0. If Willie rides down the Canyon of Heroes and says the doubters gave him strength, I will cheer long and hard and post so many mea culpas your head will spin. I'd LOVE to be wrong. But I don't think I am.

  • Anonymous

    why do we have to forget about 2007 when you can't let go of 2006?

  • Anonymous

    Bobby Valentine started 1985 as the Mets' third base coach when Texas requested permission to speak with him. It was granted and he became their manager.
    If Valentine had stuck around, he might have waved around third base (once, maybe twice) late-season pickup Larry Bowa.

  • Anonymous

    Willie is on a short leash – the upcoming homestand may well decide his fate, and if the team is no better than 2 games above .500 by Memorial Day, then Willie will have to be given his walking papers . . . too bad Manny Acta left town for the Nats because Los Mets would probably benefit from a Hispanic manager, and although I hate the thought of another coach from the Bronx taking over, Tony Pena may be the logical choice to manage Los Mets

  • Anonymous

    Jason,
    A manager, at best, can be responsible for winning or losing maybe just a handful of games each season based on strategic moves. I agree with you, however, that it's the non-strategic aspect of Willie's leadership – undisciplined and lackluster play he allowed to continue throughout last season.
    Last year it was obvious how blase his players were and at times this season it does seem as if they are playing the same, undisciplined baseball that cost them the division in 2007 So I don't know, for as you also say, it's hard not to like Willie as an individual.

  • Anonymous

    I agree. Bowa would be a mistake. Hire Ozzie Guillen as soon as he quits Chicago.
    If he's cursing and swearing at the Chicago media, I would LOVE to hear him put Mike and the Mad Dog in their places. Then there's the idea of blow up dolls at Shea Stadium.

  • Anonymous

    It happened right here in 1985.
    Bobby Valentine was Davey Johnson's 3B coach for 1984 and half of '85, when Texas hired him to manage.

  • Anonymous

    I should just read more & post less…
    (RMPL for short)

  • Anonymous

    Leave Willie alone. He cares about the team and he deserves full support for 2008. As the weather heats up so will the Mets bats.

  • Anonymous

    But that 's the thing , it's not just the weather or the cold bats it's that after Santana and Maine we have bad starting pitching , and really Santana hasn't had that start yet where I'm riveted by every pitch , that will happen I am sure but this team will be a .500 team all season.
    I would whack Willie and cut Delgado for starters.

  • Anonymous

    It's hard to make a case based on how this team 'feels' as a fan. Our feelings may be colored by last year, drawing comparisons that aren't actually there. If you think Willie's attitude last year caused the collapse, then you should fire him between seasons, if not, then last year's games don't count towards this year, or the evaluation of the manager. You could pick out a random 162 games over the last three years and come up with a 0-162 record that suggests he should be fired too.
    However, if the Mets don't explode, and maybe even as soon as the end of this homestand, something might need to be done for the sake of something to be done, I just don't know that it would help. And I think you'd want to hire someone disposable for the rest of the season, not look for a longterm replacement. But we'll see where we are in a couple of weeks.
    I think more of that leadership from Wright (and Reyes) is there, we just don't necessarily see it. I wonder if Castro's clubhouse chemistry is missing. \

  • Anonymous

    actually i DID want to shed willie after last year. biggest letdown in the offseason was how management, in the very statement declaring their own “bitter disappointment” with how 07 ended, found room to say that willie was staying on. which made you wonder what they'd do for the guy if they were only mildly depressed — give him a raise and extension?
    willie is responsible for lackluster play in the same way he takes credit, rightly, for the “crisp” play of seasons past (that would be 05, 06 and early 07) — head's up defense, sharp throws to the cut-off, smart management at the plate. we have not seen much of that this year. isolated web gems aside, the defining play so far, for me, is from opening day at shea, when schoeneweis got the double-play ground ball that could have gotten them out of the inning, but delgado threw the ball into uttley's back, and the deluge followed.
    to the point about leadership, the FAN has been making hay by recalling that when a player's only meeting was called last september to address the slide, it wasn't beltran or wright or reyes or delgado or wagner or anyone in the starting lineup or rotation who did so. it was marlon anderson. that in its way sums up the problem in the clubhouse.
    is that willie's fault? don't know, don't honestly think so. but it's reflective of some enduring issues, some reluctance to step up. and in the absence of true leadership by the players, the manager HAS to.
    even so, i admit that none of the names kicked around here inspire me. meanwhile, the season is a crapshoot, and could go either way.

  • Anonymous

    Forget Bowa. If the intangibles and attitude of an underachieving team need whipping into shape in a hurry, the guy you want just became available a couple of weeks ago, when he stepped down as head coach of the Miami Heat.

  • Anonymous

    Screw Pat Riley; he'd never take the Mets job unless they promise him a 7ft franchise center, which is kinda unneeded in baseball. No use for Bowa here either, he was a jerk as a player, coach and manager and is the Hilary of baseball in that he pisses off as many people as he motivates. I ilke the Latino angle, I always thought Pena left KC too soon. Would prefer a Latino with a Mets past, maybe Chico Escuela is available. Juw know, baseball has been berry berry good to hem.
    Joel

  • Anonymous

    This team most definitely needs some sort of positive streak. But in defense of Randolph, I've got to say, he has been encouraging some abnormally aggressive base running when the bats aren't working. Alou stealing home against LA was no aberration. Our guys are trying to steal everything they can, and when it works, it works well. Ever since we got killed by all of those double plays against the Brewers, everyone on first base has been running their ass off at 3-2 with no outs, and we're getting lots of successful steals in between. What else can a manager do? He can't erase last year from their memory, or pinch hit for Beltran or Wright, whose bats will wake up soon.

  • Anonymous

    Chico Escuela would never take the pay cut . . . how's about Felix Millan or maybe Frank Taveras . . . Go Los Mets