There is only one word to describe how the Mets chose to handle the situation with Willie Randolph, and that is shameful. This is coming from a guy who was 100% anti-Willie, who wanted him gone after the collapse, who thought that Willie’s management was at least a small part of the reason behind the collapse. I’m not a fan of Willie’s, and I made that clear on this space. Yet here I am, being put in the position of defending a man who I had no love for as manager – because the Mets acted shamefully in the way they handled his dismissal.
Why am I defending Willie? Because the way in which Omar Minaya chose to handle this decision was handled wrong from the get-go. By bringing Willie back after last season’s collapse, the team was essentially saying that they did not hold him responsible for what happened. Yet it was clear by May, with the team struggling to play above .500 baseball, that they did hold him at least partially responsible; why else would a manager who won more than he lost find his job in jeopardy the second this team started slow? By not firing him immediately after the collapse, Minaya allowed the collapse to fester into 2008, because it is clear that the front office had not completely absolved him of the blame. Is he the reason the team started slow? Probably not, but it created a distraction in the first three months of the season.
Then there is the way the team chose to handle the firing. This team had ample opportunity to get this done. They could have fired Willie on Memorial Day, when the team had finished a disastrous road trip and came back to New York three games under .500. Instead, they told him he had the job “for now,” allowing him to keep the job but sharpening the knife behind his back. The dark cloud surrounding him never fully lifted. The team waited three weeks to reach a decision that should have been obvious in October, but continued to make this a distraction for everybody else. As of Memorial Day, they needed to make a commitment to Willie, or go in another direction; by dragging their feet for three weeks, they strung along a proud man and hurt their own team by keeping a manager with whom they clearly lacked confidence.
Then there was the final days of the Willie regime. Look, I will continue to say that I was dissatisfied with Willie and the job he did as manager. But why would they allow Willie to get on an airplane, fly cross-country to California, and manage (and win!) last night’s game against the Angels, only to fire him hours after the game ended? I don’t care how poor of a manager Willie may have been, that’s wrong. That is not the way a professional organization handles a manager firing. I’m not defending Willie, I’m not saying he should have been retained, but they handled this the complete wrong way, and it makes the franchise look second-rate. They knew what they had going into this week, and they should have waited until the team went back to New York, or fired him before the trip.
It was clear going back to Memorial Day, if not longer, that there was dissatisfaction with the job Willie had been doing as manager, so why pick now? Why allow him to fly to California, manage one game, and then fire him? I don’t disagree with the move at all, but I disagree with the way they handled it. Look at the model franchises around baseball; the Yankees and Red Sox. Would either of those teams ever handle this situation the same way? When the Red Sox collapsed in game seven of the ALCS, they fired Grady Little swiftly and shook up the team and the coaching staff before they played another game. For all the talk of how poorly the Yankees treated Joe Torre, they never fired him in mid-season, or strung him along. They made it clear at the end of last year that they wanted to make a change, and they made a change. The Mets, by acting wishy-washy, made themselves look like a Mickey Mouse franchise. It is situations like this that make Mets ownership look incompetent, and the team look second rate, and why Mets fans shouldn’t hold out any hope of a World Series championship as long as they own the ballclub.
While we’re here, I did want to say something about Rick Peterson – thank goodness he’s gone. I blame him as much for the bullpen issues as I blame Willie, because he is Willie’s pitching adviser, and he’s the one Willie trusted to help make some really poor decisions with the bullpen the past two seasons. Mets fans may blame Peterson for the Scott Kazmir trade, but I’ve always felt that Duquette tried to blame that on him after the New York media and Mets fans savaged him over the trade, and he needed a scapegoat. That said, I do blame him for the Heath Bell trade, because the two of them hated each other. Heath Bell is kind of indicative of the Rick Peterson reign; if you bought into his system, you might be OK, but if you didn’t, even if you could pitch, he would ostracize you and try to change you as he saw fit. He didn’t see Bell’s talent, and he went on to become a very good relief pitcher in San Diego. It may also be true that he didn’t see Kazmir’s talent, or that he saw false talent in Victor Zambrano. Nevertheless, I’m glad he’s gone, he may have done some good things here and there, but I think he was a net negative in his time with New York.