By Dave Mills
To run, manage or play on a professional baseball team in New York is becoming more complex every day. There is no rumor that is not worth discussing and/or printing. There can be no honest mistakes (or any other type of error). And there is absolutely no place to hide.
Was there any reason to put a basically decent man like Willie Randolph through the mill, as was most certainly the case? Not really. If anything else, his identification with NY and his professional successes should have earned him some greater consideration than Art Howe, who had zero NY acclimation before making such an incredible impression on Phillips and the "Skill Set" duo.
Was it all the fault of the Mets front office? No way, but they sure could have done a better job of it.
The list of culprits is a mile long. Here is a rundown:
I find it incredibly hypocritical that the members of the media, almost to a man, are putting the blame on Minaya and the Wilpons (who certainly deserve their share of blame). The media was in a virtual feeding frenzy reporting on every angle of whether or not Willie should be banished and when. Can we cite one reporter or blogger (including yours truly) who did not discuss the matter? And once Willie was canned, where were all those who had been calling for his head?
The media played a pivotal role in the Willie Watch. Ratings, readership and numbers dictate the extent of the coverage, which was completely over the top and out of proportion. There is little doubt that no one could have survived such scrutiny.
No doubt, Willie was his own worst enemy. Last season's collapse and his unfortunate and less than articulate comments on SNY's coverage of his managing were probably the nail in the coffin. Randolph's claim of racial bias on SNY was certainly not true, but there were many things going on that may have made it seem that way to a man who was losing control of his team and suffering from the paranoia that often plagues a leader. My last post dealt with this in some depth.
No doubt, from culling through a host of accounts, Willie had lost his clubhouse. Perhaps some of that was unfair? Perhaps it is the result of having to deal with athletes who make so much money that a post-season windfall of $100,000-$150,000 is a mere drop in the bucket? To the 1969 Mets, the post-season money was certainly a part of the incentive. Now, it is more about pride (rather than accomplishment). Accomplishment is fulfilled by achieving the big contract.
Many of us think Willie Randolph was not a good strategic manager, but the first two and a half years of his tenure seemed to indicate a knack for handling his players. We forget that he has the second best record of any Mets manager and his teams spent virtually all of the 2006 and 2007 in first place. His 2005 team was exciting and showed tremendous improvement.
I can make mistakes and errors, and often do. But as with most of the rest of us, I do it in relative anonymity.
Is there ever a perfect time to fire a manager?
Minaya's explanation was reasonably plausible. Clearly and with loyal sentimentality, Omar Minaya had trouble coming to terms with terminating the man he brought to the party.
It is worth mentioning that Omar had more information to go on than all the prognosticators and provocateurs combined. He did what he had to do and he stumbled and bumbled a bit because it was unpleasant. It is impossible to watch Minaya talk about what he did without having some sympathy pains for the relationship between these two men. For the media, it is way too cut and dry. For real people, it is about real issues that have personal ramifications now and in the future.
FRED & JEFF - THE SKILL SETS DUO
In my last post, I expounded upon the various permutations of the Willie Watch and was critical of the Wilpons. My opinion has not changed in spite of Fred's comments.
To a certain degree, the Wilpons have disrespected Met fans time and time again. They did it in the design of Citi Field, which pays considerable homage to Ebbets Field. They are doing it in the central rotunda of Citi Field, which pay homage to Jackie Robinson, a baseball icon of considerable merit, but with Dodger (not Met) roots. And they allowed the hiring of a Highlander icon to manage the ballclub, even though there were some very fine candidates with greater Met pedigrees.
I can live with the design of Citi Field, but the Tom Seaver or Gil Hodges rotunda would have far greater meaning to this Met fan. Those two men played monumental roles in the history of the franchise, which has little else to show for 46 years of existence. Not one MVP, not one Batting Title and only two championships 17 years apart from each other. We are now in our 22nd season without a championship and the Wilpons have owned some or all of the team since 1980.
Fred says it was all Omar's decision. I will take him at his word, but a wise leader can and should display wisdom to all his charges, especially during a crisis.
The Mets Vice President of Media Relations is a highly regarded man by the name of Jay Horowitz. Much of the baseball world considers Horowitz to be the best PR man in the baseball universe. Where the heck was Jay throughout this debacle? Does he just skate? Or was he integral to the happenstance's?
No member of the "media" is about to ask Horowitz' about his role since he controls access, not just to the Mets, but to the All-Star Game and the Fall Classic, where he operates for Major League Baseball.
All we know is that Jay wrote the press release, but doesn't he provide leadership and consulting services toward something like how a firing is carried out?
SPORTSNET NEW YORK ("SNY")
The role of SNY in this entire scenario is also called into question. The network is substantially owned by the Wilpons. Its on-air personalities are walking a fine line when it comes to journalistic responsibility. The YES Network does not really report on sports. Its mission is to promote the Highlanders, so there is no gray area.
With so many disparate voices speculating on SNY each day, the line between journalism and promotion is blurred in a dangerous manner, especially since it appears to be more journalistic. With most of the mouths opining that Willie is "in trouble" or "about to be fired" or "doing a terrible job," on the same network that is owned by the Mets, is really disconcerting for a team and its manager, not to mention the fans.
Did the Mets have a right and perhaps even an obligation to make a change? Without a doubt, but not in the middle of the night after a victory and after flying a man 3,000 miles. For that, the Mets, Minaya, Horowitz and the Wilpons are forever shamed.
Now, lets play ball and try to win a pennant!