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Willie Should Be Manager of the Year

Mike SteffanosThursday, September 14, 2006
By Mike Steffanos


There has been a lot of discussion over this recently, and I thought I'd throw my two cents in. Apparently, Joe Girardi is the favorite for manager of the year in the National League because the Marlins were such a surprise this season. What Willie Randolph has accomplished with the Mets is no big deal, because he had a team that was supposed to win. While I take absolutely nothing away from the fantastic job Girardi has done with such a young team, I have to question why it's more impressive to win when nothing is expected and many things go right than it is when everything is expected and many things go wrong.

Funny, I don't remember a ton of pundits picking the Mets to finish ahead of the Braves this year, and saw more than a few predictions that the Mets' iffy starting pitching would keep them out of the playoffs entirely. Then when Brian Bannister and Victor Zambrano went down, the forecasts of impending collapse came fast and furious. Soon the Mets had more men passing through their rotation than Heidi Fleiss had passing through her bedroom. Carlos Delgado was in a horrible slump for 2 months of the season, Cliff Floyd has slumped or been hurt for much of the year. Tom Glavine pitched poorly for much of June and July and then gave the Mets a huge scare in August. All spring we were hammered with how vital Pedro Martinez was to our chances, yet he has only pitched 120 innings so far. The Mets went through 3 second baseman before they found one worthy of the job -- coincidentally enough, he was a guy just about all of us besides Willie Randolph had written off.

With the Mets sitting on 90 wins and on the verge of clinching their first October in six years, it almost seems there was an air of inevitability attached to this season. Don't make that mistake -- there were many times this year when the Mets seemed to be teetering on the edge of disaster, with any one of them being a potential banana peel on the road to this "inevitable" division championship. There was a long stretch of a full quarter of the season stretching from the terrific road trip in early June through the All Star break where this team struggled to play .500 ball as pitchers bombed out of the starting rotation, key players slumped or went on the DL and everyone in the media was talking up the Phillies and/or the Braves. There were countless times this season when things could have gone horribly wrong.

There's nothing "sexy" about Willie Randolph as a manager. He's not a "genius", he's not a relentless self-promoter, and he's not a terrific in-game manager -- though he is becoming better at that all the time. He doesn't give out wonderful quotes to the local media. He doesn't put himself out in front of the team, and refuses to take credit for the accomplishments of his ballplayers. He's surrounded himself with a tremendous coaching staff and isn't afraid to give them props for their efforts. He's also the beneficiary of some savvy moves by one of the best GMs in baseball.

As much as anyone on this team, including that terrific GM and all of the wonderful players who were brought here, Willie Randolph has created a professional atmosphere where winning can flourish -- and that has been the exception, not the rule, in the history of this franchise. In his two years here, Randolph created an atmosphere where young players like David Wright and Jose Reyes, young stars like Carlos Beltran, veteran elite ballplayer like Pedro Martinez and Carlos Delgado, and even surprises like Jose Valentin can all flourish. He demanded a lot from his players, but also supported them. He wasn't supposed to be able to handle Pedro Martinez, he was supposed to be too sensitive and thin-skinned to do it in New York, and all does is win.

New York is a tough place. No offense to Joe Girardi, but Miami is a freaking picnic for a baseball manager -- except for the jerk owner. Hardly anyone cares enough to criticize there, while here the criticism is loud and often tinged with cruelty, and the expectations are onerous. Even winning here doesn't get you off the hook, where every fault or perceived error of Randolph's is mercilessly picked apart ad nauseam, while any accomplishments are glossed over as if they were "inevitable". There's no such thing in sports, folks.

I wasn't thrilled when the Mets hired Willie Randolph after the 2004 season. I didn't think he had the experience, and everything I had heard suggested he would be overwhelmed by the job. He's grown on me quite a bit since then. I think he's a fine manager who is still improving. More importantly, he's the right man for a very difficult job. I've competed in sports my whole life, and he's the type of manager for whom I would love to have played. I guess it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that he will almost undoubtedly be overlooked as manager of the year, when he is so often taken for granted by the fans of his own team.

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Comments (14)

Steve Martin once described the Motion Picture Academy's Irving Thalberg Award as someting awarded to an actor who's "really old and hasn't won any Oscars yet".

The Manager of the Year Award is similarly skewed. It seems to go, more often than not, to those skippers who really haven't won anything or consequence, but took a young team and got a little more out of them than people thought they would.

So much goes into running a team in the course of a season, it's difficult to quantify who got the most out of the 25 guys they led. Injuries alone hit every team, some way more than others. In fact, Orlando Sentinel columnist David Whitley opined today that, had they not been hit by injuries, the Braves would have extended their string of division titles:

"...About half the lineup went on the disabled list. Schuerholz couldn't locate his magic wand. You knew the end would come someday, but the streak deserved a dramatic October exit..."

Cry me a river over injuries, Braves fans. I agree, Willie most definitely will not win Manager of the Year, for all the reasons you mentioned. He's managing the way he played - letting others make the noise, get the headlines, and be the "straw that stirs the drink".

All Willie's ever done this year was win. How boring is THAT?

Here's my POV: if you put them in each other's shoes, I'd say it's way more likely Willie would replicate JG's accomplishments with the Fish (80+ wins) then the opposite.

Girardi's done a great job with those kids, but I doubt he'd be able to communicate with the vets as effectively as Willie.

I know we where "supposed to win," but Willie's never let these guys go on cruise control. Great teams don't manage themselves.

NostraDennis -- I'm not sure how boring winning is, but I'd love for the Mets to do it regularly enough to find out over the next few years. In-game coaching is so overrated in baseball, which is the one major sport where it matters the least.
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Joe -- I'd like to see what Girardi does next year -- if he stays there. I think that job will be much harder, and they won't be sneaking up on anyone.

Mike, as a former athlete, I think I would have like playing for Willie too; if he thought of me as a starting player(unless I was catching, where I would be thinking he wanted me to keel over). If he viewed me as a sub though, I might not think so highly of him. I guess I will break with the love-fest here; based on this line of thought, Joe Torre would be a candidate to win almost every year, no?. Granted, Willie has gotten the players on the same page attitude-wise, but I have a harder time giving him the credit you do as it pertains to the pitching situation. I continue to be amazed at how the team has managed to cruise through the season with the patch-work starting staff they've thrown out there at times; I tend to think it was sort of a "perfect storm" type of season(where the opposition wasn't as stiff as it could have been either), rather than some managerial genius at work. Remember, the Mets won't be sneaking up on anyone next year either, and they will need some significant upgrades in the starting staff and corner outfield spots to stay on top. Now, all that said, I tend to agree that if the choice is between Giradi and Randolph, that Willie deserves the nod

I find it funny that the Mets are going to be overlooked for every major award...

Willie is 2nd fiddle to Joe Girardi because his team was supposed to win. Beltran will be overlooked as MVP because of Howard's numbers and because of Beltran's supporting cast. If you take Howard out of Philly's lineup, Philly isn't as good -- true. But when you take Beltran out of OUR lineup, we're not as good, either... that's 40 HR's, plenty of OBP, SB's and more missing. Even Reyes should be seriously considered... but they won't, because Pujols is such a sexy name and because of Howard.

But consider this... Jeter is being heavily considered for the AL MVP award. What about his supporting cast? Sure, he's batting .345 and all that, but that lineup can still mash without Jeter in it. Will it be as good? No. But would we be as good without Beltran? I don't think so.

And I fail to see how it should be held against us that we're clinching in mid-September -- how does the fact that we rolled over our competition make the accomplishments of Beltran, Reyes, and even Wright any less? Especially if Philly misses the playoffs? What's 60 HR's and 150 RBI if you're watching from home?

How do you guys feel about this (even though my post strayed a bit off-topic)?

The reason why Girardi gets more love is because the Marlins were expected to win 40 games.
The Mets were reasonably expected to win about, what? 90 games or so?
Big difference in my opinion. And nothing wrong with it either.

1. The mets were picked by ONE writer I saw to win the WILD CARD. Largely I saw them predicted to repeat last yrs record. So, I cant say expectations were high.

2. But, I dont see Willie as manager of the yr. A top 3 pick maybe. Omar IS GM of the yr...no doubt there. Bruce Bochy has gotten more out of his players than Willie has. Willie is still tooo stubborn but is much better than last yr.

4. I think BV should have won in '99 and would have in 2000 if they had overcome Armando and won the title.

Who votes for the manager of the year? If its the managers then I see a vote swaying to the one who is popular among the managers. If its the news, then its who plays ball with the writers and tv people. Willie strikes me as a guy who don't care what they think and won't kiss butt for a vote. And even without an award, thats a bigger man in my book. Good read Mike.
p.s. Willie gets my vote for just keeping the spirit of the team up.(and you too for keeping us up)

Dan,

I second your emotion regarding MVP's.

The Mets' problem is that they've got so many viable candidates. Viable, but none of them stands out as "valuable" to their club when compared to a Howard or a Pujols. Those two represent the overwhelming bulk of "most valuable-ness" on their respective clubs.

Steve Carlton won the MVP award in 1972 when he won 27 games for the 59-win last-place Phillies. The next highest win total on the team was 7. Without Lefty, the Phillies would have still finished in last place, but they might have challenged the '62 Mets' all-time loss record. Most valuable? Yeah...I guess...

What we need are two separate awards: one for the player who stands out furthest among his teammates (we can call this one the MVP award), and another for the best player on the best team in each league. We need a new name for this one - taking nominations now.

This isn't a new idea, but it's worth considering, expecially since all these new awards are getting corporate naming rights attached to them. The Viagra Comeback Player of the Year Award? I love it.

That's probably the most sound argument I've heard this year for somebody receiving any of MLB's end-of-season accolades. Unfortunately, that automatically rounds out the possibility of the sportswriters ever paying attention to, much less employing, your logic. That said, with columns like this, it's a wonder that you're not getting paid by someone to do this.

George -- I know that you're no fan of Willie, but I think he's done a good job with his bench guys.

My criteria here is a team that has the pressure on all year has overcome everything that's been thrown at them. Your comparison to Torre is unfair, the Mets payroll is not the highest in baseball by more than $75 million.
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Dan -- If you look back to the 1980s, being overlooked for awards is nothing new. If you want to win a NL award, you really don't want to be a Met.
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benny -- My point is that what Willie has accomplished with all of the expectations and all of the problems, really is the equal of what Girardi accomplished in Florida with absolutely no pressure. And it wasn't like Girardi had no players, that starting pitching is excellent, and there are plenty of good position players. There were no expectations at all, so it wasn't hard to overachieve.
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Micalpalyn -- Couldn't disagree with you more. Look what Willie has gotten out of Reyes and Beltran, just to name 2.
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REV AL -- Believe it's the writers. They do worse than the fans when it comes to voting, with less excuse.
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NostraDennis -- How about simply the "Top Player" award?
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Matt -- For some reason I can't get Lisa to pay me for "connubial bliss", either. She laughs and tells me I'm not worth it. It's not easy being me...

A big reason why Willie won't win that award is the widespread perception last year that he didn't know his way around the X's and O's, so to speak. Some improvement was necessary, and I have been pleasantly surprised in the job he has done on the tactical side; it is really what has allowed his true strengths to show.

I don't think Randolph turned into a tactical genius over the winter, but that part of the job can easily be overvalued. What Willie has shown me is the steady hand on the helm that could allow him to hold this job for a long time to come. Talk about exceeding expectations!

Hi Mike- Thats a good question-this honor is much like the Academy Awards-like back in 1986 when the Mets won, Cher deserved the Academy Award for Mask, but they give it to her for Moonstruck a year later. Moonstruck was not an Academy Award performance. Randolph actually deserved the honor last year in my opinion. Although I killed him on some decisions, considering it was his first year as an manager and coming from the AL like he did not understanding double switches etc-he made a team that was an embarrassment into almost a wild card contender-this group right now I feel I can manage them and they would still win.
he got better pieces to make a puzzle with in 2006. How he manages the team through the play offs will bne more of an indicator whether or not he deserves it this season, but I really think he should have been acknowledged for last year. If they give it ohim this year-it will be his "Moonstuck" year.

dd -- I still say the tactical side of baseball management is completely overrated. How many titles for LaRussa? I do agree with you that Willie has improved a lot in that facet of the game.
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Shari -- I get your point, but think he's done more this year. How many teams win more than 90 games when they've had as many guys pass through their roster as the Mets have?

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