Sports fans always need to guard against the dreaded schadenfreude, a word whose definition I didn't know until I started frequenting Mets blogs. It means enjoyment taken from the suffering of others. Watching Charlie Chaplin slip on a banana peel in a movie is a simple and innocuous example of this. Snickering when Chien Ming Wang injures himself stepping on home plate is a step further. Hoping that T#m Gl@v!ne enjoys a good long reunion with John Smoltz -- on the Braves' disabled list -- is getting into the area of karma-tempting schadenfreude. Any Mets fan who takes glee in Willie Randolph's dismissal should think long and hard.
As Joyce Mandelkern opined here recently, this move was long overdue, not because it was the right thing to do, but because the indecision hung over the team's head like a creaking guillotine. To me, this move should have been made last September if it should have been made at all. A manager's first priority and main job is to get 25 players' heads pointed in the same direction. Clearly, that mission was not accomplished, not at the end of last season, or at any pojnt in this one.
As my officemate Johnny Gunnz noted this morning, "Willie is free now," as if he'd just started moving towards the light after a long, lingering illness. That analogy fits real well. Willie will probably get his most rested night of sleep all year tonight, at least after he flies back home from the Left Coast. The same thing happened to a boss of mine during one of radio's consolidation periods in the early '90's. The big bosses flew him from New York out to Los Angeles, just so they could fire him. I guess axing him in person might have been more humane than a phone call or a fax, but that red-eye back home must have been the longest trip of his life. After his head hit the chopping-block floor, my then ex-boss declared, "I'm never working for someone else again". He went on to build a new radio group from scratch, and today, he's doing just fine. Willie will be fine, too. He'll get the inevitable call from ESPN, and by this time next year, he'll probably be at the helm of another ship in a less pressured market.
Jerry Manuel will be just fine, too. He's got a winning record as a manager, something the Mets could use right about now. He managed the 2000 White Sox to a division title, and led them to four second-place finishes in his six years at the helm there. Most important, he has the evident fire in his belly that Willie seemed to lack. If you're not a screamer, as Willie was not, you can't manufacture that. Manuel brings a vocal passion to this team that they'll need if they have any hope of busting out of the mediocrity they've been stuck in for the last thirteen months.
To paraphrase Dr. Phil on parenting skills, Randolph did the best he could with what he knew. If he knew better, he would have done better. I'm more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and trust that the losses and blown saves and failures he endured ate away at him even more than they ate away at the most zealous of Mets fans. Like it says in every company memo about their latest ex-employee, I wish Willie Randolph good fortune in his future endeavors. I wish Jerry Manuel much more good fortune than that.