Thursday, June 19, 2008

TerMet Art: The Willie Randolph Affair

There's been an incredible amount of invective directed towards the manner in which the New York Mets management fired their former head coach Willie Randolph. Even Jon Stewart is getting into the act. Now, I've been a Mets fan since I was a tot (a revolutionary act against my Yankee loving father), and I think the mock outrage being shown regarding the ousting is verging on the ridiculous. Jon Stewart says that Willie Randolph was fired at 3AM, which is what I've heard all over the place. This is false. The New York media received the press release at 3AM. Willie and Omar Minaya, the GM who fired him, were both in Anaheim for a three game series with the Angels. Omar wanted to fire Willie face-to-face, so he waited until after the first game of the series, and fired him around 12AM pacific time. The press release went out at that time, so the New York media received the press release at 3AM Eastern time. Most of the outrage, I think, is that the press felt left out of the process, and that it was too late for them to run a witty back page headline the next morning.

The other question raised is why they made Willie fly all the way to Anaheim before firing him. This is a more valid complaint, but a minor one. First class flights to California are not very taxing, and I have a feeling that Omar was trying to buy more time for Willie, but the pressure from the Wilpons became too much, and the leaks from the front office declaring his firing was imminent, made him act at the time he did.

The biggest problem of this whole affair was not the manner in which Willie was fired, or that he was fired at all, but that there were so many leaks from the front office. It seemed like every deliberation by management was on the back page the next day, subjecting Willie to endless speculation, and turning his employment status into a sideshow that overshadowed the team. If this was an orchestrated effort by the Wilpons (perhaps in concert with Assistant GM Tony Bernazard) to force Omar (always Willie's biggest supporter) into making a move, it's rather despicable, but ultimately will have little effect on wins and losses.

I don't believe that MLB head coaches have much impact on the performance of their team. The most important decisions in baseball are made by the players (what to throw, when to swing), which, I would claim is different from the NFL, when almost every strategic choice is plotted out by the coaching staff. I fully expected the Mets to rebound under Willie, and now I expect them to do the same under interim coach Jerry Manuel. They just have too much talent not to compete, and I think they'll be in the Wild Card hunt at year's end. The only difference will be that Manuel will get credit for inspiring the team rather than Willie. If I was in charge I would have left Willie in, just for continuity's sake, but I ultimately do not think it will make much difference. In any case, Jerry Manuel is way more quotable. Take this quote regarding Jose Reyes, who threw a tantrum after being pulled from a game with a minor injury:

"I told him next time he does that I'm going to get my blade out and cut him. I'm a gangster. You go gangster on me, I'm going to have to get you. You do that again, I'm going to cut you right on the field," quipped Manuel."

Jose's line the next day: 3 for 5 with a triple, two singles, three runs scored, and a stolen base. I smell coach of the year.

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