Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Yo, Meathead!

Why can’t Willie Randolph manage? What has happened to him?

Randolph is a name perennially associated with winning. Not only that, but he is associated with winning “the right way,” with class, dignity, and sportsmanship.

So what is going on with Willie’s Mets this year? Why can’t Randolph, one of baseball’s great winners in his years as a player and coach with the Yankees, get this team to play—as expected—like winners?

The team is deeply loaded with talent. Even taking into consideration the aging starters and oft-injured veterans who might be past their primes, there’s no reason why the players should be performing so far below their capabilities. The owner of the team, Fred Wilpon, and his COO son Jeff, both have said they have certain expectations for the team this year—especially after last year’s historic collapse to miss the postseason.

Drama already surrounds the team. There have been team meetings and front-office meetings and closed-door meetings. Randolph’s job came into question during one particularly bad stretch, and he had the poor sense to introduce race into the conversation. I’m not saying that race is not a factor in how Willie is viewed, and he is welcome to his opinion—what I question is the timing of bringing up such a sensitive subject, creating a distraction when the team really needed to focus.

Still, just when you thought Randolph was only keeping his job on a game-by-game basis, the Mets went on a little tear and won seven of nine, including series victories over division-rival Florida, the Dodgers, and the Giants. Fans were finally starting to think the team was on a bit of a streak.

Then they got swept in a four-game series by a pretty rotten San Diego club. The panic began anew. And the sword above Randolph’s head was poised to fall.

Through a lifetime of Yankee-hating, I’ve always liked Willie. He was a great ballplayer and a class act. I always thought he had the skills to manage and that he could manage under the spotlights of New York. I agree with his approach: Treat your players like men—if they need their manager to spark them to try to earn their salaries, then they are poor teammates and should be on another team. It is astounding to think that the players on the Mets don’t have enough to motivate them on a daily basis to try as hard as they can every time they go out on the field. If nothing else they should be motivated to silence the merciless boos that rain down on them whenever they play at home—a great final season at Shea, indeed. But the boos only appear to fluster these great stars who are making so much money—nary a clutch hitter or fielder among them, it seems.

In today’s paper, New York Times writer Ben Shpigel outlines key differences between the Mets and the division-leading Phillies, who seem to truly be the team to beat in the NL East. He writes, “Consider what happened in Philadelphia last Thursday afternoon, when Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel yanked Rollins from the game for not running hard on a pop-up that was eventually dropped. Rollins said he was wrong and openly backed Manuel’s decision to take him out of the game. When Randolph removed Reyes from a game in Houston last season for not running hard on a ground ball, Reyes sulked and spiraled into a two-month slump.”

At what point do the players have to shoulder some of the blame? Why should Willie have to change his managerial style to prod a bunch of overpaid spoiled brats to play to win? Just because he hasn’t won a World Series doesn’t mean he has no idea what he is doing. And when does some of the blame start falling on GM Omar Minaya, who assembled this fragile team (both mentally and physically) in the first place?

2 comments:

BIG ED said...

Nice piece, Meat. It was great seeing you this weekend!

ed said...

Willie went bye bye yesterday. On well..you forecast it right here on Ed & Meat's Sports on the Street!