If you have been reading MiracleMets.net anytime in the past year, you know that I’m not a big fan of Willie Randolph, the strategic manager. I just don’t like his style; he seems a little TOO “by the book,” too willing to do what every other manager does, when most traditional manager strategies have proven to be self-defeating. In particular, strategies such as batting Jose Reyes leadoff during periods where he isn’t getting on base, because he is fast, or batting Castillo second because “he is a traditional #2 type hitter,” despite not being a particularly great hitter at this juncture, are just two of the reasons why I do not think very much of his in-game decisions. I mean, if he’s just going to do what any other manager would do in the same situation, what sort of advantage is he in the clubhouse?
That being said, I am not on the ever-growing bandwagon looking to chase Willie out of town mid-season, and there are two reasons for that. One, the Wilpons gave him a vote of confidence last year. They told the man that he was going to keep his job in 2008. I am a believer that unless there is some sort of dynamic candidate waiting in the wings, what’s the point of changing managers in-season? Who are they going to replace him with? Howard Johnson? Jerry Manuel? They have already made a committment to Willie for 2008, and I feel that when a team makes that committment, they need to honor that. Willie makes mistakes, and they drive me crazy, but making a change in-season with a lack of available alternatives means that they will probably wind up hiring somebody who would make the same mistakes anyway. What’s the point?
Secondly, there is another aspect of managing that is overlooked, and may ultimately be as important than on-field decisions – handling the media. Willie does this quite well, with the latest example being his appearance on Mike and the Mad Dog today. This is how a manager needs to handle tough questions; he needs to be firm, stand his ground, and explain what he does. I may not agree with his processes, but at least he’s willing to stand up for them. He also stands up for his players very well, and knows who he can throw under the bus and who he needs to handle more delicately. Generally speaking, I don’t think it takes a special personality to PLAY in New York, but I do think it takes a special personality to MANAGE in New York, and Willie Randolph has that ability. That said, I’m sure plenty of other managers also possess this ability, and this alone should not be enough for him to have kept his job last year.
So where does that leave the Mets? Despite the praises above, I do not think Willie Randolph is the man who should be managing the Mets. His tactical decisions are highly suspect; he seemingly has no clue how to manage the bullpen (and in fairness, Rick Peterson deserves a lot of blame here too, because he’s the pitching coach and he should be able to advise Willie who is best used in certain situations). he tends to run into outs more often than not, and I’m not sure he knows how to best use the energy Jose Reyes brings to the table. But these things were all true and were all apparent at the end of 2007, and ownership declined to make a change; isn’t it better to be ahead of the curve than behind? The Red Sox knew after two years that Grady Little was not going to manage their team to their first championship since 1918, and I think most Mets fans knew the same of Willie after two, but the team committed to him anyway. They had their chance to make a change, and decided to stand pat; with Willie still not understanding that Aaron Heilman doesn’t pitch well with runners on base, or how to use Jose Reyes most effectively, the team continues to struggle.
Thinking about this…the Mets need a manager who isn’t afraid to manage differently than the rest of the league, a guy who defends his players, and a manager who can handle the New York media. Am I crazy, or did I just describe Bobby Valentine? I know there’s no chance of it happening…hell, it’s no less crazy than the idea that the Mets would hire Wally Backman, though, and that idea has taken steam in the blogosphere. Sadly (well, happily for him), Bobby V. has found fame and fortune managing in Japan, and holds enough bitterness to where I can’t imagine he and the Wilpons could work out their issues to bring him back to the States with the Mets. I suppose I also described Davey Johnson as well, but he has been out of the managing game for so long, he would probably be a mistake at this point, no matter how much I’d love to see him back in blue and orange.
So that is where the Mets are today. I think Willie Randolph is a good man. I really do. I like how he backs up his players in the media, and I think that the argument that he doesn’t argue with umpires enough is completely overblown. But strategically speaking, he’s not the right man to be managing this Mets team, or perhaps any major league team. Yet, I don’t think the Mets should fire him, either; firing the manager won’t make these guys play any better, and considering that the current coaching staff would largely be left intact, the same group that is advising Willie on some of these particularly bad roster and bullpen moves, the net result is nil. I’m not thrilled that I’m defending Willie Randolph to remain as manager, but that is the situation we are left in, because ownership chose to be reactive instead of proactive. Don’t blame Willie Randolph for not managing this team well; he’s managing this team exactly as he did in 2007. Blame ownership for not understanding that a move needed to be made sooner and putting themselves in a bad situation.