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Rating the Season: The Manager

Mike SteffanosFriday, October 7, 2005
By Mike Steffanos

Willie Randolph

Willie Randolph didn't enjoy a long honeymoon with Mets fans. During the 5 game losing streak that opened the season there were already calls in to radio talk shows demanding he be fired. When the team has enjoyed some success this season you heard some positive references to "Willie Ball", at other times Willie took a lot of criticism for sticking with guys for too long.

Personally, I haven't agreed with all of Willie's moves this year. I thought that he stayed with Kaz Ishii in the rotation much too long. Some of his bullpen moves were really questionable - but be fair, that was a tough bullpen to manage, especially for a rookie manager. And keep in mind that most rookie major league managers at least have minor league managerial experience; Willie was a rookie in the true sense of the word.

For the most part I have supported Willie this year, but my purpose in writing this is not to blindly defend Willie.

What he's done right...

Create a winning attitude.
I know some fans think this is vastly overrated. I couldn't disagree with them more. After 37 seasons of following this team, I'd easily rate the losing attitude of the organization their biggest problem. In 44 seasons the 83 wins the team achieved this season ranks in a tie for 14th all-time. Think about how lame that truly is. Despite relatively short runs of success this is a team that has been programmed to lose.

There were a lot of ups and downs this year, culminating with the road trip that buried our playoff hopes in early September. But the team never packed it in, even after that disaster. They played well down the stretch and built a decent foundation for next year. I have to give Willie a lot of credit here - to me it was one of his biggest achievements.

Took the pressure off the kids.
I know it was controversial, but I thought Willie was correct to go slow with David Wright. For all of his talent and maturity David was 22 years old. He's going to be a star here for a long time; there was no reason to put the team on his shoulders from the start of the season.

I thought Willie (and his staff) did a particularly good job with Jose Reyes. I think he was right on with his goal of trying to help Jose develop patience at the plate without putting a damper on his aggressiveness. If Jose becomes a true star in this league over the next few years, you'd better believe that his aggressiveness will be a key part of what makes him tick. A lesser manager would have tried to force Jose to take more pitches. Yet there was real progress over the course of the season, and Willie deserves credit for that.

Kept them playing.
Cliff Floyd played 150 games this year. He played banged up, he played day games after night games. Players were expected to be ready to play. How refreshing. Willie did a good job of letting the players know what he expected from them - supporting them without babying them.

Kept Beltran batting third.
I know a lot of fans thought this was a mistake. I personally liked it. There was a lot of pressure on Willie to put Beltran into the 2 hole in the lineup to "take the pressure off him." Carlos was signed for big money, and will be under pressure for his whole stay in New York. Maybe it didn't pay off this year, but I think in the long run it will help Beltran to realistically adjust to what is expected of him. I thought leaving him in the 3 hole all year was Willie's way of sending a subtle message to Carlos that he will have to find a way to live up to expectations.

What he's done wrong...

I won't spend as much time on Willie's faults, as I think they've been pretty well documented:

Stayed too long with some guys.
Kaz Ishii. Danny Graves. Manny Aybar. Need I say more? Loyalty is good, but needs to be earned. Keeping Piazza in the clean-up slot too long is much more forgivable than giving Ishii 16 starts. Piazza earned some loyalty here.

Managing the bullpen.
Managing a relief corps is an art for the most experienced of managers - even when they have a solid bullpen to work with. Willie lacked both the experience and the horses. I have a feeling he'll have more to work with next year, but he'll need to pick up his game, too.

You have to second-guess yourself to learn.
This one might be a little unfair, but from the distance of a fan this is what scares me about Willie a little. He seems to avoid second-guessing himself to a fault. Just once I wanted to hear him say something like, "I screwed up on that move," or even "I guess I should have told Shingo Takatsu that I didn't want him to throw Cabrera a fastball."

Keep this in perspective...

You've got to give a guy who has never managed on any level a little time to learn. I know this was a frustrating team at times this year, and some of Willie's moves were hard to defend. I think Willie made some progress as a manager this season, and I believe he will be a much stronger in-game manager next season.

I don't think we'll ever stop second-guessing him or whoever eventually replaces him as manager. In my opinion, some fans give a manager way too much credit or blame for an individual game. To me, 99% of managing is done while no game is being played, and even the best (or worst) managers have any significant effect on a very small minority of games.

And no manager is strong in every aspect of managing. Davey Johnson was an incredibly mediocre in-game manager, and not particularly good at managing a pitching staff. His teams were below average fundamentally, especially in defensive positioning. Yet he managed the team to our last Word Series victory.

Bobby Valentine, for all of his ability and charisma, often let his own ego get in the way of managing the team. Bobby is the type of guy who always is going to be brilliant at first wherever he manages, but is going to wear out his welcome before too many years go by. But he is without question one of the finest and most effective managers we've had in Flushing.

No manager will ever please all of us. Even if he manages to win a title here he will find that the love fest will play itself out some time during the ensuing April. It's just the nature of managing in a town where people really care about baseball (and wash their hands after using the bathroom). But I think Willie has earned next year, although it will be fair to judge him more harshly in 2006 with the year's experience under his belt. I know that I, personally will grade him on a much harsher curve, as ultimately it is results that are all that matters for the manger of the New York Mets.


Omar Minaya

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