By Mike Steffanos
I'm outing myself and earning the scorn of my fellow Mets fans: despite his flaws, I think the Mets have a pretty good manager.
There is a nice Marty Noble article on Mets.com about the relationship that Willie Randolph and Cliff Floyd developed last year. Last year in spring training, the rookie manager made it a point to sit down with his talented but fragile left fielder, and let him know how important he was to the team. According to Cliff, that talk transformed him:
[Randolph] changed me. He changed everything.
Willie said, 'I want you on my team.' No one ever said that to me before. That was awesome. It made me feel important -- to me. He told me he wanted me on the field. He got me to play when I didn't feel well. He made me a better player
Randolph drives a lot of the fan base crazy, and I have a feeling that he always will. Willie likes to manage from his gut, and sometimes his gut tells him to do some crazy things. Last year it seemed that almost all of those moves backfired on him, from expecting Shingo Takatsu to throw Miguel Cabrera sliders (but not explicitly telling him that) to watching Danny Graves toss away an 8-run lead in one of Pedro's games last year. Given the talent upgrade that this team underwent in this past off-season you would think that he might get away with a little more of that this year. Still, as soon as this team hits a rough patch it will be open season on Willie again.
I'm not a big fan of all the moves that Willie makes, but I've become a big supporter of his as a manager, as I get reminded of in comments and e-mails sometimes. Keep them coming, I always enjoy hearing from people that disagree with me, it's part of what makes this really fun. I know you won't let me down, Ed, as you have become addicted to refuting my razor-sharp logic. :)
It's easy sometimes to focus on what a manager does poorly and take his strengths for granted. Davey Johnson always drove me nuts. He never pushed his teams to be sharp fundamentally, and that's one of my pet peeves. The Cardinals teams they always seemed to be battling for the Eastern Division title was always more fundamentally sound than Johnson's Mets, and that always seemed to bite them in a close race. Still, no one was better at imparting swagger and confidence in his players than Johnson, and that won them a title in 1986.
Willie has a little of that, but unlike Johnson puts a priority on defense and solid fundamentals, and that's a nice combination to me. I think it's the right combination for this team. Even though he'll make you shake your head with some of his pitching moves, and a lot of you hate the way he constructs a batting order, I believe the Mets finally have the right man for the job again. That doesn't mean that I'm going to agree with everything he does, nor defend all his moves. He's going to have to develop a thicker skin if he's going to survive here, and it wouldn't hurt him if he learned to explain himself sometimes. Still, when this team goes in to its inevitable slump, I'll be easy to recognize -- I'll be one of the few Mets fans NOT calling for Willie's head. (Note: I reserve the right to renege on this if he brings Takatsu back.)
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