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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.

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Change the Manager? Yeah, That's the Ticket

Adam Rubin of the News wasn't exactly presenting it as a scoop on the FAN tonight, but he did sound rather resigned in conversation with Lori Rubinson to Willie Randolph being dismissed, quite possibly Monday. I trust Rubin's reporting as much as I do that of any of those who cover the Mets daily.

Watching the Mets change managers, even if very much merited — even if it means a manager you don't care for will be out of your life — is never fun. It is an explicit admission that something has gone terribly awry for our team, which isn't why we turn to sports. It generally means either our season has gone down the tubes (Westrum, Torre, Harrelson, Green, Valentine, Howe) or it's been definitively judged headed that way (Berra, Frazier, Bamberger, Johnson, Torborg). In the four instances when it's happened around this time of year (Yogi was offed in early August), it's meant little in the way of changing fortunes. Only Buddy taking over for Davey in 1990 seemed to meaningfully spark the Mets for the balance of the season. No Mets team that has changed managers in-season (or even the next season) has ever made the playoffs.

I've held off from weighing in with a Fire Willie or Keep Willie proclamation this year because I couldn't conjure a convincing argument one way or the other to myself. Last September I was ready to replicate the final Saturday Night Live sketch of the tepid 1985-86 season. It was supposed to be a cliffhanger à la “Who Shot J.R.?” In that case an inferno threatened to engulf the entire cast, and producer Lorne Michaels appeared in the scene to direct only Jon Lovitz (then very hot with his pathological liar character) to safety.

Me, I might have airlifted David Wright out of the carnage of Shea on September 30 and turned my back on everybody else.

Cooler thinking prevailed, but that notion of firing 'em all and letting the Wilpons sort 'em out has never completely left my thought process. It really is everybody's fault. Nobody with the exception of a guy with a concussion has done his job exquisitely in 2008. That includes Wright. That includes Reyes. That includes Beltran. That includes Wagner. That includes Maine. That includes Santana. That includes the guy who traded for Santana, counted on Alou and gave four years to Castillo and that sure as hell includes the man who has managed Ryan Church and 24 underachievers/clockpunchers into a solid fourth place, at least until the Nationals heat up.

You've read it in varying measurements. Let me give it to you exactly and accurately.

• Starting May 30, 2007, one night after that fantastic game when Delgado blasted that walkoff homer off Benitez moments after Benitez balked home Reyes, the Mets have won 78 games and lost 82 games. 78-82 over 160 games. That's virtually an entire season's worth of sub-.500 ball under the stewardship of Willie Randolph.

• Starting September 14, 2007, when the Mets entered play with a 6-1/2 game lead as the second-place Phillies arrived at Shea, the Mets have won 28 games and lost 37 games. 28-37 over 65 games. That spans the stretch run of one season when the Mets surrendered a seemingly impregnable division lead and nearly a third of the year conceived as the season that would put the collapse behind them. All of it has been under the stewardship of Willie Randolph.

• Starting April 20, 2008, following a five-game winning streak that had vaulted the Mets into first place, the Mets have won 13 games and lost 19 games. 13-19 over 32 games. That is twice the length of this season's reasonably promising 10-6 start. This, too, has occurred under the stewardship of Willie Randolph.

• On May 25, 2008, Willie Randolph's Mets sit 23-25, 5-1/2 games out of first place.

With all that, I can't knee-jerk tell you Willie Must Go, even as I can't find too many reasons to tell you Willie Must Stay. Jerry Manuel or Ken Oberkfell or Wally Backman or Jose Valentin or whoever you like will have the same roster at his disposal, a roster filled with players who have lost 19 of 32, 37 of 65, 82 of 160. I have no idea what practical magic Willie Randolph could have stirred to have materially altered those trends. I still remember Willie Randolph leading the most exciting Mets team in 20 years to an easy division title and to within one out of a World Series only two years ago.

But trends are trends. And Willie Randolph doesn't seem to be reversing them any more than Wright, Reyes, Beltran, Wagner, Maine, Santana and the concussed Church are. If Willie Randolph doesn't get the chance, I will be genuinely sorry, both for a guy whom I've liked more than I've disliked and for my own selfish interests as a Met fan — because when the manager of my team requires replacement, it's rarely only the manager that needs to be changed.

22 comments to Change the Manager? Yeah, That's the Ticket

  • Anonymous

    Greg,
    Fantastic post! It's really well written and perfectly logical. I'm surprised that you didn't mention Willie's brain fart of a conversation with Ian O'Connor last weekend. I'm still not exactly sure what to make of it. Was it the ranting of a man cracking under pressure? Or was it just two old friends talking and one of them is a reporter with a tape recorder running? I think that fateful interview will have an impact on the Wilpon's decision, not as much as the won-loss record but it will have an impact.

  • Anonymous

    Without Willie you still have a divided clubhouse and undeserved contracts. If Willie is gone tomorrow, Fred and Jeff begin a G.M. hunt. Watch Omar and Bernazard be gone by the all-star break.

  • Anonymous

    Eric Karros was really pissing me off doing the game on Fox the other day. He was going on and on about how people in New York are overreacting and it's only May, only 4 1/2 games out, and how Willie Randolph's job is in question just because the Mets went on a 5-game losing streak. Basically, he was doing what all Fox announcers do: make sweeping judgments about teams when they don't have the slightest fucking clue what they're talking about. As if Eric Karros knows the ills of these Mets, as if he's watched them since last memorial day like we have, as if one swing of Carlos Delgado's bat, one blowout victory will put the Mets right back on track. Thanks for the crack analysis, rookie of the year, but I'll pass.
    The point he failed to make, but that you outline beautifully here, Greg, is that the problem with the Mets is not so much Willie Randolph, but the fact that nobody can figure out what the problem is (aside from just sucking, which seems hard to accept) and it's part of Willie's job description to figure it out. Evidently he hasn't. But banishing him will not solve this phantom problem. This team has gotten pretty good at losing. They can do it with or without Willie Randolph. The precedent of mid-season managerial replacements is not promising either. Ultimately, it's simply a convenient form of scapegoating, an action to take simply to avoid doing nothing in the face of glaring failure. An act from which very little good can come.
    Let the Met who is without sin throw the (ceremonial) first stone. And let's hope he can hit and play the field too, because he's not gonna have much company.

  • Anonymous

    Couldn't agree more. This is a team-wide problem and firing Willie to me signals that the team is not going to contend in 2008.
    it is tough to argue either way at this point, though – this team sure has fallen from the world beaters they were in 2006/early 2007.
    I'd even settle for missing the playoffs this year if the team could be exciting to watch again! Or at least not depressing to watch…

  • Anonymous

    The O'Connor piece is what threw this into overdrive, for sure, coming as it did at the moment when they needed to keep winning and forget the Wagner outburst. I really was guessing June 10 for a replacement day if there was to be a replacement (at this hour, there hasn't been one, so who knows?). I thought that muddling along through the homestand and one more road trip and blaming injuries would be sufficient as long as the GB didn't get too bad, and that from there maybe they could still reason it's early and we're close and so on. Who knows, maybe the margin will be sliced with Florida coming in and the chance to pick up ground right there in front of them (a managerial change is usually good for a couple of wins right off the bat if nothing else).
    But they're not even muddling along. They're sinking. Even if one wants to dismiss the Marlins, 5-1/2 is pretty stunning all of a sudden, especially playing as we are. Philly and Atlanta aren't world-beaters, but they've got a bit of daylight opening up over us as well (+3). Bigger leads have been blown (don't we know?) but there has to be a sign that a change is gonna come and after 160 games or 65 games or 32 games or simply the 48 played so far in 2008, it ain't made itself apparent.
    The more I think about it, the less conflicted I get.
    Don't know the timing on Omar, but his honeymoon is over. Bernazard may very well be the sacrifice by ASB, which is ironic in that sacrificing hasn't served this team well.

  • Anonymous

    I tend to agree. As we've said before, with bitter irony, it would be almost enough for me if this team “battled.” I'm just tired of bonehead plays, egregious errors and feeling like the game is over when we fall behind 3-1 in a park like Coors freakin Field.
    I've got tickets to three games this week. I'm not asking that you win, Mets (let's not get carried away), I'm just asking that you play good, engaging baseball. If you do that, I'm willing to let the W's and L's fall where they may.

  • Anonymous

    For some reason I just don't think that Omar's fate is closely tied to Willie's fate. Sure, Omar has made some questionable moves: Luis Castillo contract, Brian Bannister trade, Heath Bell trade. But he's also made some moves that have panned out really well like the Church/Schneider deal, Santana trade (I think will be a good one over the seven years), and don't forget John Maine. I don't have anything to base this on, but I don't think that Omar has anything to worry about. There's enough talent on this team on paper. But their play is very uninspired and that's on Willie.

  • Anonymous

    I've always contended that Willie did little to attempt reversing the primadona attitude of his players and for that he has to be held accountable. However, the real culprit goes beyond Willie's handling of his personnel, or even Omar's roster making decisions. It's the multi year, multi million contracts that came with the evolution of free agency.
    For example, by beginning a second consecutive season of mediocre play, decades ago the Mets could have benched, traded or released either Reyes or Delgado. Of course, in the case of Reyes, that is going to the extreme but the point is that before free agency money wasn't an issue when it came to decisions on who to put on the field. Each year players went to spring training knowing they could lose their job and while indeed cold and cruel, it simply meant players earned and lost their spots based upon their ability to produce from one year to the next. And isn't this the manner in which the rest of us still have to abide to?
    The reserve clause was, of course, completely unfair but it did force players to put out 100%.
    Today, securing star players for a multitude of seasons also means the risk of being stuck with them for the same amount of time should they turn into busts due to either dwindling skills or lacks of motivation.

  • Anonymous

    Did anyone else detect a bit of Girardi subtext to Randolph's outburst, though? I mean, the Yankees actually MADE the playoffs last year, and they changed managers by being total dicks to Joe Torre. And now Girardi is micromanaging to the extent that he's changing the batting order every other day. And it looks frantic and it isn't working. Despite stringing together a few wins, the Yankees totally suck this year. Totally. Much worse than the Mets. Yet Girardi gets a pass, and you can't deny that the New York media really seems to have had it in for Willie Randolph since the season began.
    I don't agree with his retracted statements. I don't think it's a racial thing, but how is he supposed to read all of that criticism, when it's the same papers covering both teams? Does the New York media, finally, actually, really, sincerely think that the Mets are a better team than the Yankees this year, that we're the ones to watch, and that our management needs to be scrutinized because we're really underproducing? I can understand fan frustration, because I'm feeling it just like everyone else. But why, during the past two months, haven't the Post or the Daily News been able to mention Willie without putting the word “embattled” somewhere in front of his name?
    I don't think it's racism. I think it's because, as a team, the Mets are only interesting to the New York media when we're winning the playoffs, or when they can make us look like a total trainwreck. And, this team is not a trainwreck. This team had a mediocre start and a really bad week where several injuries were a real factor.

  • Anonymous

    I don't think it's entirely assbackwards for Willie to see a racial subtext in the criticism of him. But it's not so much that black managers get ripped when they don't deserve it, as it is that white managers often DON'T get ripped when they DO deserve it, thanks to the Old White Boys Network at work. Plenty of white managers have been just as ineffectual or incompetent as Willie, without frying their careers over it. Joe Girardi, for example, has roughly enough in his brainpan to be worthy of mopping the floors at White Castle; instead he's managing the Yankees.
    And yeah, the Mets are probably at a point where they need fresh blood at the helm, but I can't help but look at Willie and think of Terry Francona, a guy who was roundly mocked and scorned as an idiot when he managed the Phillies, and now apparently can do no wrong now that he's helming the Red Sox.

  • Anonymous

    I don't mean to come off as a racist, I'd just like to say what appears to me to have been the problem with this team over the last 200 games, and that's the lack of a leadership structure with the Latino players. I don't mean this to sound like an accusation and I certainly don't mean this to excuse the lack of execution of anyone who isn't Latino on the team. But it seems to me that ever since the departures of Manny Acta to the Nationals in the beginning of '07 and the release of Julio Franco part-way though last season, that the Latino members of the team don't have a figure who's in the clubhouse day-in and day-out who they feel they have to respect and who they'll listen to. Now I think that Sandy Alomar Sr. has tried to assume that role, but I think the generation gap between him and the players is too great. To take an example from 2006, there's no elder statesman sitting on the bench to tell Carlos Beltran that actually, Yes, You do need to go and acknowledge the fans for a curtain call, even if you're mad that they booed you all last year. I hope we all remember that night because it's one of the singular moments that I knew the 2006 Mets were a special team. One of the moments I know that I thought the 2007 Mets might be in trouble was when Jose Reyes didn't run out a ground ball and there was no one on the bench like Julio Franco or Manny Acta to go and give him a lecture that he wouldn't view as a lecture. The lack of a presence like that has killed this team. I think Pedro Martinez can be that guy when he wants to be, but he's been hurt more often than not, that this team hasn't had him around enough. I don't think that the Latino players dislike Willie Randolph, I just think that they don't respect him as much as Manny Acta or Julio Franco. Unfortunately for Willie, it looks like he'll pay because of it.

  • Anonymous

    The problem, essentially, is that players' salaries are based not at all on their current playing ability, but on a projection of this ability made in the past. This projection is heavily influenced by the perceived immediate contribution of the player's ability to the team's success. In other words, teams are inclined to overpay for players if they perceive that sometime soon they are going to get a lot production from that player, production they simply cannot do without. The duration of that production in the future often takes a backseat to concerns of the present or near future. Conversely, some players are paid for potential they never realize. The result is a lot of players end up with salaries disproportionate to their playing ability, both on the positive and negative side.
    More incentivized contracts might help mitigate this problem, but under the current system, I can't really see a way past it. It seems like a lot of players feel a sense of entitlement for their big contracts, a sense that's rarely justified.

  • Anonymous

    Meanwhile the Red Sox have an apparently great clubhouse dynamic while ours…leaves much to be desired.

  • Anonymous

    Those Phillies phanatics also loved throwing things at Wagner in the bullpen. Classy bunch.

  • Anonymous

    The Latin players can bypass Willie to the top through Tony Bernazard. That divides the clubhouse. My remaining sympathy for Willie is a result of this factor. There is a lot of blame to go around. If the clock stops for Willie it needs to start for a couple others.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with the last two posts..If Willie goes, others MUST follow!! You cannot put this ALL on him!..This season is far from over and something must be done..

  • Anonymous

    As Reyes goes, so goes the Mets . . . and Reyes plays with all the maturity, baseball IQ and focus of an 8-year old . . . until he permanently extracts his head from his anal orifice, this team will mirror his erratic play and be nothing much more than a few games above or below .500 . . . personally, I've grown tired of hearing about his youth – he's in his 6th season in the bigs and unfortunately for us Mets fans, I think this is what he's always going to be – a frustrating player who is occasionally brilliant, instead of vice versa

  • Anonymous

    This is such a good point. Especially your second paragraph. I could definitely see appointing Manuel as interim manager if Willie gets fired, but how would that solve anything? He is part of the team that has deeply sunk over the past year. The problem is unidentifiable, to the point where all you can do and say “this is not a winning team.”
    One guy who I'd love to see back (whether coach or player) is Jose Valentin. Valentin proves that it's not necessarily age that kills the team, as he is old and brittle but he plays the game the way it should be played. I remember when he came back from a knee injury and could barely walk and in his first inning back he dove for two straight balls at second base. Alou is very much the same way. I'm not sure if Valentin's effect on Reyes was overstated, but it would be nice to have him back with the team. Neither guy can be relied upon but I wouldn't mind seeing them stick around as role players or to coach within the organization.
    I don't know if that kind of stuff can be taught, but we've seen a lot of these guys play like a different team a short year ago, so they have it in them.

  • Anonymous

    I totally agree. I can already see Willie sipping champagne with another team within a few years while the Mets are floundering under the flawed leadership of someone who was hired because he was part of the 1986 team.
    1986 was special, but it doesn't mean that anyone on that team knows how to manage a team. Similarly, Willie being a Yankee doesn't make him unqualified to manage the Mets.

  • Anonymous

    Reyes and Delgado had rough starts this year, but during this latest, horrible slump, Delgado has hit three home runs in the past four games. Reyes has made some errors and gotten picked off too many times, but he's got a 10 game hitting streak going, and he's playing with energy again. And Beltran has looked like he's breaking out of his early season slump as well. The thing that's so frustrating about this team is that it's getting so difficult to pinpoint the problem. Something is just not clicking. Maybe there is someone other than Randolph out there that could piece together the puzzle, but I kind of doubt it.

  • Anonymous

    I think that the fire Willie case is pretty much airtight.
    Who else would:
    A) Make Julio Franco his #1 pinch hitting option?
    B) Play an immobile 41 year-old man wearing a leg-brace who is barely hitting a powerless .200 as his starting 2nd baseman over a 24-year old who had put up a .330+ average with more than adequate power through about 100 plate appearances, regardless of his sub-par, though passable defense?
    C) Bury Ramon Castro on the Bench in favor of a declining and anemic Paul LoDuca?
    D) Make Scott Showenweiss, who flaunts the worst real lefty/righty splits in all of baseball his 7th inning setup man, while relegating Feliciano to the role of a left-handed specialist, despite his outstanding career numbers against both lefties and righties?
    E)Send Guillermo Mota to the mound in crucial situations over and over again?
    Anyone with a brain could recognize these for the gross errors they were, and yet Willie made them over and over again. He might have single-handedly cost his team 6-10 games last year.
    The thing is that Omar knows that all eyes will be on him once Willie goes. Willie is a terrific scapegoat for Omar, simply because he is as horrid as he is. And people with precious little talent like Omar do not get where he got without an instinct for self-preservation. Omar will do what he can to ensure that Willie rides out this season, claim that it was out of loyalty, keep his job for a year, screw this team up even more, and lose his job after '09.
    (Or possibly '10 if Mark Teixeira and Santana can lift the Mets and propel them to a season similar to 2006. But this will lead them to become a very expensive 2nd place team, and even the Wilpons will discover this by '10.

  • Anonymous

    I totally agree. I can already see Willie sipping champagne with another team within a few years …

    Probably the Yankees.