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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 [1]. I trust Rubin's reporting [2] 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 [3]) 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 [4] 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.