By Mike Steffanos
When I was a kid I had trouble fitting in. My parents were divorced at a time when divorce was still uncommon in my working-class neighborhood. My father chose not to be a part of my life, which left some scars. I was raised primarily by my grandparents, whose relationship was defined by my grandfather's outbursts of physical and verbal abuse. I was troubled myself, given to outbursts of uncontrollable anger. Childhood is a time of life where there is an almost desperate desire to fit in and I most decidedly did not.
It wasn't that I was a total outcast or anything like that, but it seems that the goal of fitting in and being accepted was the overriding goal of my life for those years. Nothing seemed more important than that.
I recall a moment from sixth grade that I have carried with me since then. There was a big kid named Fred that joined the class. He was socially awkward and a decided outsider. I remember one day I got mad at something he did and told a couple of my friends that I was going to fight him. This would happen on the way home from school.
By the end of the day whatever I was mad at him about didn't seem important, but my friends wanted to see a fight. I gutlessly allowed myself to bow to the peer pressure and got into a fight with Fred a few minutes into the walk home.
By all accounts I should have got my butt whipped. He was bigger than me, and the only time I fought well was when I was fueled by anger, which I decidedly wasn't feeling. I got "lucky", though. I guess it took him by surprise that I started a fight with him for no discernable reason, as he didn't even remember the disagreement from earlier in the day. He didn't put up much of a fight and I won. Winning a fight made you king for a day, and everyone patted me on the back. What a hero...
Even at 11 years old I knew that what I had done was a feat of cowardice, not bravery. I felt dirty. I felt guilty. Almost four decades later, those feelings come back quite clearly.
I'd like to tell you that this moment produced a revelation that made me a champion for right and justice from then on. Unfortunately, although I never betrayed anyone like that again simply to gain approval from my peers, it took quite a few years to get over the overwhelming desire to be accepted and approved of by other kids.
Gradually, though, I let go of that desire for acceptance and finally grew into the type of person that would defend somebody else who was being wronged, even if it wasn't the popular move. Not because I was some kind of hero or anything remotely like that -- it was because I finally realized it hurts a lot more when your conscience is tweaked then when people who didn't really care all that much about you anyway disapproved of you.
My point here isn't to share those golden memories of yesteryear's angst. My point is that I understand what it feels to be ashamed of something that I should be ashamed of. However, I keep reading that Mets fans are ashamed of the way Willie was let go last night, and that makes me chuckle. Don't even try to make me ashamed of something that I had no part in. Life is tough enough already, and my conscience is clear.
For what it's worth, I honestly feel a lot of what's been written about the "cowardly" Mets organization in the past 24 hours was wildly overblown. Ironic, because some of the folks writing this stuff were complicit in running the Mets manager out of town on a rail. They milked the displeasure of many Mets fans with Randolph for all it was worth.
I appreciated the job Randolph did in turning this club around when he took over in 2005. In retrospect, though, it was time for the Mets to move on. I'll go into more detail on that at a future date.
For now, I wish his dismissal was handled better, but I think the extreme hyperbole in the media over this needs to be ratcheted down quite a bit. I've failed at things in my life, and I have sympathy for Willie that some fans seem to lack. However, I also understand that Willie Randolph will make $2 million this year and $2.5 million next year to do whatever he chooses to do or not do. I strongly suspect that he -- and we -- will be fine. I only hope life worked out that well for Fred.