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No Way Out

The people who run the team to which we give an unhealthy portion of our lives are stupid, brutal cowards.

That’s the only explanation for what happened to Willie Randolph, Rick Peterson and Tom Nieto about 15 hours ago. Nothing Omar Minaya said this afternoon did a thing to convince me otherwise.

Take out your pocket schedule and look at last week and this week. Now, pick the single date and time that you’d pick if you wanted to make the New York Mets look as dumb and mean as possible. If you picked Tuesday morning at 3:14 a.m., well, perhaps a job awaits you at Citi Field.

I’ve thought for a while that Willie Randolph’s tenure as manager of the Mets should be over. But I’ve thought so reluctantly, mindful of a good man who’s seemed every bit as tormented by the last 10 months as we are. And it never occurred to me that the Mets would handle his dismissal in a way that a kind person would call jaw-droppingly incompetent and a less-kind person might call deliberately low and vicious. The just-hired entry-level guy at a downsizing firm — the one who gets the news from the HR harpies instead of from the boss — got more consideration and kindness than the Brooklyn native who managed the Mets to within one gapper of the 2006 World Series.

It’s embarrassing to be a Met fan today. Embarrassing, humiliating and infuriating. That’s not a unfamiliar feeling as a Met fan — I’ve seen Tom Seaver exiled to the Midwest, de Roulet era crowds that barely broke four figures, Vince Coleman throwing explosives at children, Steve Phillips chasing secretaries around desks, Jeff Wilpon tormenting Jim Duquette until his cell battery died, Robbie Alomar tiptoeing away from the pivot, pothead Mets having freakouts in airport-hotel parking lots, “Our Team Our Time,” and Tom Glavine lecturing us on disappointment and devastation. (To name just a few low moments.) But I thought things had changed. I really did.

Sure, there might be poorly executed front-office plans, clubs that tuned out the manager, maybe even a historic collapse every generation or so. Plans don’t work out and misfortune can lay anyone low. But I thought the Mets were past the era of habitual bungling, of routine backstabbing, of their apparent inability to do anything without screwing it up as embarrassingly as possible. Whatever nostalgia we may have for Shea, Citi Field looks like a beautiful park, a deft merger of Ebbets Field and the modern HOK baseball palaces. We can quarrel with the seating capacity and worry about encountering the same old sleeping vendors and snarling concessions staff, but the Wilpons look like they got the stadium part right, and I’m excited to see it. And not so long ago it looked like we’d have a team to match — a young, homegrown core bolstered by savvy role players and top-flight free agents, assembled through smart scouting and by spending money like the big-market team we are. A new park and a team built to contend year-in and year-out before adoring fans.

Well, that dream is gone.

The team itself is lifeless and mediocre, poorly assembled and badly run. The Mets give absurd contracts to punchless, hobbled middle infielders and then can’t find outfielders worthy of starting in New Orleans. The Mets park players who should be on the DL on the active roster for long stretches and fly players who should be in the neurologist’s office around the country. The Mets carry three catchers, then act like they only have two. The clubhouse is leaderless and rudderless. The front office is a Shakespearean drama of whispers and feuds — watching Gotham’s journalists open fire today (with Tony Bernazard and Jeff Wilpon the principal targets) was briefly exhilarating but quickly made me wonder why such critiques have been kept largely under wraps. For ownership we’ve got Steinbrenner Lite — less bluster, but by too many accounts every bit as much paranoia and micromanagement.

Omar played the good soldier today. He said, over and over again, that the firing was his decision, and I’m sure from a narrow, carefully calibrated perspective that’s true. But taking off the blinders, it’s all spin — asked why it happened at 3 a.m., Omar argued that it wasn’t 3 a.m. on the West Coast, that firing after a game was the norm, and finally resorted to the false comparison that firing Willie in uniform would have been much more disrespectful. (True — it also would have been worse to have him dragged out of his room, stripped naked and fired in the parking lot. Presumably that, at least, wasn’t on the table.) What felt wholly and honestly true was Omar explaining that he had to move immediately because the news would have leaked through some third party — in other words, there are people in his own front office and/or owner’s box pursuing their own agendas, and they couldn’t be trusted not to undermine the GM on this, too.

But we knew that — just as we’ve seen how far we’ve fallen from the pinch-me dream of 2006 to the mess we have today. The callous treatment of Randolph, however it came to pass, is the final indicator of just how thorough a disaster things are. And for me, it’s proof that that Met renaissance was a figment of my imagination. This team began its life as a showcase of incompetence, but that hasn’t been cute for 40 years — far too often, it’s been numbing and discouraging. Today isn’t the worst day in Mets history, but it’s definitely on the short list.

The office chatter today (channeling Mike and the Mad Dog) wondered if the Mets, seeking the back pages for 2009, might bring back Bobby Valentine. I laughed — not so much at the idea that the Wilpons might risk once again employing someone who occasionally has an actual opinion, but at the thought of Bobby V. coming anywhere near this horror show. Why on earth would he? If you had a choice, would you?

2008 signees Reese Havens and Brad Holt begin their professional careers with the Brooklyn Cyclones tonight. If I were either of those two young men, I’d talk to my agent. Maybe the paperwork isn’t quite done, or they forgot to include their middle initials in their signatures, or something. It’s too late for any of us to escape the thuggish dolts who run things around here — they’ve got us for life, occasionally for better, mostly for worse.

Anyone not so ensnared, though, ought to run like hell.