So I’m at my friend Travis’ house on Sunday watching the disaster that took place on the field as the Mets were in the midst of making history. The Mets were getting ready to finish a run of dropping 12 of their last 17 games to blow a 7 and a half game lead and finish out of the playoffs, despite having the best talent in the National League. I tell my friends that there is no way that they are going to keep Willie Randolph after this season, that somebody would have to be held accountable for what was happening before our very eyes, and that Willie’s questionable game decisions and poor handling of the clubhouse would be held to blame. My friends Joe and Travis disagreed, saying that the Wilpons would not want to pay Willie for two years to not manage after having just done that with Art Howe, that the team would prefer to keep the status quo. I bet them each $5 that Randolph would be fired, confident that this team would recognize that after three years of falling short of expectations, the team would be content to seek a new direction.
I owe my friends $5. Unbelievable. How did Willie keep his job? How? What pictures does he have of Omar Minaya and the Wilpons to where he kept his job after this disaster? What more does he have to do to get fired? Walk on the field naked? Beat up a clubhouse attendant? Rape? Murder? I mean…what has Willie Randolph done to prove he deserves to manage this team in the future?
Forget about 2007. That was a disaster of epic proportions, and even if he was Joe Torre before that, he would have deserved to have gotten fired. But what is Willie’s track record? Let’s go back to 2005. On August 26 of 2005, the Mets defeated the San Francisco Giants 1-0. The team was 68-60, a half-game out of the wild card race on this day. The team would lose 16 of their next 19, falling to 71-75 before beating the Braves for their 72nd win. By this point, they were well out of the wild card race and had to finish on a tear to win 83 games, but it was too little, too late. Is this not a collapse as well? The team finished with the 3rd best run differential in the National League, and allowed the 2nd fewest runs scored in the National League. This was a playoff team that didn’t cut the mustard, but was let off the hook because nobody had any expectations for the 2005 Mets after finishing below .500 the past 3 seasons, with two last place finishes and a 4th place finish.
Last year, the 2006 Mets were undoubtably the best team in the National League. I mean, this was a team whose talent was head and shoulders above the rest of the league. David Wright and Jose Reyes were two young, great talents coming into their own. Carlos Beltran had an MVP campaign. Even without Pedro Martinez, their designated ace, for chunks of the season (and with Pedro pitching below average when he was available), this team ran away with the NL East crown, the only team in the National League to win more than 90 games. No team in the league was within 9 games of their record. What happened? They bombed out in the playoffs, getting swept by the 83 win St. Louis Cardinals. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t failing to beat a far inferior team in a major postseason series a collapse, particularly when this was a team built to win the World Series? Forget about 2007; Willie Randolph’s Mets have collapsed each and every season under his management.
So where is the accountability? Why aren’t we holding Willie accountable for his actions? Shouldn’t somebody be held to blame for all of this? If it’s not Willie, then who is it? It’s not talent. We know that there is talent here. These teams are underachieving, and when a team underachieves, you blame the manager. Look at the 2003 Boston Red Sox. After their collapse in the 2003 ALCS, they moved quickly, dismissing Grady Little and bringing in Tito Francona. Why aren’t the 2007 Mets moving in the same direction? At what point do you look at teams failing to live up to expectations and realize that it’s the manager?
I can understand if it’s an unwillingness to pay the manager to sit on the sidelines for two years, particularly because Willie would almost certainly be on the YES Network immediately as the new studio analyst for Yankee games. And hey, it’s not my money. I get that. I wouldn’t want to pay him $4 million to broadcast games on an opposing television network either. After buying out Art Howe and Bobby Valentine, they probably aren’t in a rush to do so again. But the problem with Art Howe was that management didn’t think he was fiery enough, that he was a poor motivator, that he catered to the veterans too much. Who does that sound like?
Then there’s the bullpen woes. Granted, part of this is talent. Guillermo Mota should not have been resigned, particularly after it was revealed that he would miss the first 50 games due to a steroid suspension. The Scott Schoeneweis signing was a disaster. They could not find another Darren Oliver-like reclaimation project in Aaron Sele. Jorge Sosa started the year pitching great, and then went into the tank when the league caught up with him. Joe Smith hit a wall after a promising start. Factor in that the Mets traded four possible contributors for the bullpen, and in return received two minor league starters, a minor league reliever, and a quadruple A outfielder, and the fact of the matter is that this was not a bullpen built to succeed.
But the problem is, Guillermo Mota is a pitcher who proved himself incapable of holding a lead. He just wasn’t the same pitcher he was last year. Yet Willie Randolph would continue to trot him out there in high leverage situations; Mota was third in the bullpen in innings pitched despite missing two months due to the steroid suspension. Scott Schoeneweis was a pitcher who showed that he was very good at getting lefties out, not very good at getting righties out; he’s a specialist and nothing more at this point. Yet he faced more right handed batters than left this season, contributing to his unsightly ERA. Just example after example of mismanagement of the bullpen and a general lack of understanding of how bullpens work. This despite having Rick Peterson as the pitching coach, the supposed pitching genius who should have been aiding him, yet criticized by Billy Wagner for not knowing how to talk to his pitchers.
I’m just stunned. I know that it wasn’t completely Willie’s fault that the team collapsed, but this is now three collapses under his management. A lot of the players from this season didn’t play in the other two collapses, so it’s not just the players. Whatever Willie was doing to motivate this club was not working, so it was time to bring in somebody else, somebody to change the atmosphere of the clubhouse. It isn’t going to be happening. As a Mets follower, nothing frustrates me so much than seeing a problem, knowing what the solution to the problem is, and watching as the team fails to follow through on resolving the problem. It looks like the team is going to wait until next year to make the move. The problem is, Willie doesn’t usually have a problem with April, it’s the end of the year where he starts to have his issues. The team will start off strong again next year, and when the games start to become a little more important and the team falters again, they will be stuck with Willie during the freefall. I hope you’re ready, Mets fans. I hope you’re ready for another collapse, because the New York Mets’ management has decided this is the direction they wish to pursue.