By Dave Mills
Too many times, one person is blamed for the failings of one or more other persons. This is certainly the case to be made for Willie Randolph.
In the current mess--and it is a mess--we have a so-so manager being blamed not only for the failings of his underachieving millionaire players, but for the foolish win now attitude of his owners. Throw into the mix New York's voracious media circus and there you have the crux of the situation.
Willie is far from the worst manager that has ever donned a ML uniform. Yes, he has never seemed to grasp the full bounty of the NL version of the game. Perhaps spending 11 years on an NL bench as a coach would have been far better than riding Highlander pine. Yes, he protects and defends his players, at least publicly, to a fault. It is hard to imagine a present-day manager doing what Billy Martin did to Reggie after the megabucks of the past 30 years and even harder to imagine Gil Hodges walking out to any position and removing a player from a game. The Player's Association would have a field day with that one. And yes, being a quality player and longtime coach does not always translate to good stewardship. In fact, it may give a false sense of security in terms of your relationship with your players.
Willie Randolph is not a bad man or an evil doer. In fact, from all sources, he is most likely a very good and proud man. He made some unfortunate comments last week that stem from being a person of color in a society that is and always has been racist. Does that mean SNY has been racist? Absolutely not, but none of us has lived in Willie's shoes. How many baseball writers, bloggers, broadcasters and sports commentators are African American, not to mention the behind-the-scenes personnel (editors, cameramen, engineers, directors, etc.)?
I, for one, do not think that if Jim Leyland was managing the Mets in an identical scenario, the calls would be as numerous for his head to roll. Nor do I think every move of his that did not pan out would be criticized with such voracity. In fact, in Detroit, a city with a huge African American population, while there are a few calls for Leyland to be fired, they are far fewer and more under-the-radar.
In New York, however, Leyland and everyone else is under a media microscope that makes managing a relentlessly unforgiving endeavor. This is precisely why Leyland spurned overtures from the Mets and Highlanders during the past 15 years. But to a man of color, the lack of similar faces at the other end of everything has to get in your craw, especially when the heat is so profound and there is no escape from the kitchen.
Lets take SNY as an example. They have one on-air host who is African American (Brian Custer) and he has virtually nothing to do with baseball coverage. Willie sees and listens to Matt, Maz, Kevin, Keith, Ron, Gary, Howie, Wayne and Ed. Perhaps I am missing something, but the lack of color in this bunch is more than fairly obvious. And of course, I haven't mentioned the rest of the media horde that bombard Willie with questions and commentary.
The best thing SNY has done recently is to hire Harold Reynolds, one of the best baseball analysts in the business. I wish I could say the same about Strawberry. Reynolds was available at the time SNY made the decision to hire Lee Mazzilli. Why wasn't he hired at that time, with all his experience, over Maz, who had virtually no broadcast experience? Questions like this are NEVER posed to Curt Gowdy Jr., or the Wilpons, by media members of the same color.
Baseball has done a good job bringing minorities into roles other than players, while at the same time losing African American players in droves. Perhaps the media outlets need to reexamine their role and hires in the overall landscape as they continue to analyze, proselytize and condemn.
So why are the Mets floundering?
The responsibility lies firmly at the feet of Fred and Jeff Wilpon. They are at the top of the ladder. They made the decision to pursue today rather than tomorrow. Isn't it rather profound that the two teams leading the two most high-spending divisions in baseball have two of the lowest payrolls in the game. Go Fish and Rays! Funny though, their fans seem to be oblivious.
The Wilpons made the decision to hire a manager from a team most Met fans despise and whose take on the game was from a league that plays a game which is different and far less tactically significant. Face it, every indicator said Wally Backman, a favorite of Mets fans, was a great motivator and baseball mind, yet the Wilpons went with Willie. This was before any of the Backman baggage, much of it media contrived, was produced.
Fred Wilpon made a decision to put his son Jeff in charge. How often is it that a rich kid, who has never had to prove himself, finds a business success formula of any kind?
The Wilpons gave the approval to trade Scott Kazmir. The Wilpons OKed the Delgado deal and all the other deals that have left the Mets where they are today. I think platooning Mike Jacobs with a fine-fielding, right-hand hitting first sacker had far more upside than bringing on Delgado even if he gave us two good seasons rather than just one. Jacobs is likely to drive in runs for many seasons.
And it has been the Wilpons who have joined the Highlanders and BoSox in throwing huge offers out there to every player who has ever hit .275 and kept his ERA under 4.50. It is not Minaya making the decision to forsake tomorrow for today, he is just carrying out the plan set forth by his bosses.
Today's press conference was a joke. What was the point? Why hasn't the media chimed in on the top dogs in Metsland? As in every business, it all flows from the top. But in NY, no one wants to pose those questions at or near the top. Time to give the Willie treatment to the top dogs. Who is going to step up and ask the really tough questions?