As it always happens when the New York Mets have a managerial opening (and they do, despite the folks who killed Joe Torre for answering a fair question with an honest answer), the Mets fans and media have already started the public debate of who should be the next skipper.
The problem with this public speculation is that the Wilpons pay far too much attention to public opinion about things like managers, GMs, trades, and free agent signings. Too bad they don’t listen to the fans and media about ticket prices, Brooklyn Dodger love, ownership meddling or nepotism.
It really doesn’t matter who the Mets fans want as manager, because even if he’s a jerk and wins, Mets fans will get over it. If he’s a solid dude who has a short temper with the media, even the folks who cover the team will give him a pass if he wins.
So, I would advise the Mets ownership group, which insists on calling a meeting to discuss everything, to hire the GM first, and then let him pick whoever the hell he wants as manager, even if it doesn’t promote brand equity.
Why go through the Willie Randolph charade again?
When the Mets announced that they had hired Randolph back in 2005, I didn’t think it was a good fit at all. In fact, since the completely reactionary and undeserved firing (or reassigning, as the Wilpons like to call it) of Jim Duquette (who had been considering Ken Oberkfell to be the Mets’ skipper in ’05, and some say had already indicated to many in the org that Obie would be his top choice), I was still trying to understand why the Wilpons, especially Fred, were so enamored of Omar Minaya.
But I digress, back to Randolph.
So, I wasn’t really loving the Randolph hiring. Not because he was a former Yankee great, mind you. I’m not one of those “anti-Yankee at any cost” type of fellows. In fact, Willie was of those Yankees easy to root for among the Bronx Zoo club that rumbled its way to four AL pennants and two World Series.
Mostly it was because I had it on excellent authority that he wasn’t Minaya’s first, second or even third choice to manage the club.
Public record will say differently, and the same goes true for the people that reported it as such, but Rudy Jaramillio was Minaya’s first choice. A hitting guru with disciples all over baseball who fit right in with Minaya’s program of recruiting some of the top international talent in the game. Fred Wilpon might have gone along, given his affection for Minaya, but was advised by his PR machine that a hire of such a virtually anonymous nature would fail to impact ticket sales. Jaramillio, who was given two interviews as a courtesy by Minaya, never really had a shot. So much for autonomy.
Minaya was eager to begin the overhauling of a club that held very little resemblance to the organization he had left in 2002, so he moved onto the next candidate; eventual third base coach Manny Acta. Acta wasn’t “known” by the Wilpons, and despite the urging of former Minaya mentor Sandy Johnson and confidant and soon-to-be assistant Tony Bernazard, his lack of managing experience at the major league level scared the Wilpons.
Minaya was left with the idea of bringing back Valentine, and reportedly had met with him informally to gauge his interest. Minaya, probably the only GM that wouldn’t be intimidated by working with Valentine, underestimated the bad blood — at that time — that still existed between the former manager and ownership.
“Bobby went through s season in hell in 2002,” an intimate of Valentine’s (and friendly with both Wilpons) told me recently in an interview. “To be let go after getting stuck with players he didn’t want, finding out that (former Mets GM) Steve (Phillips) was staying … he still hurt. He wasn’t ready, and I don’t think Fred (Wilpon) was ready either.”
So enter Randolph. He appealed to Fred Wilpon in a myriad of ways. He was a conservative baseball man who put high value on tradition. Check. He was kid from Brooklyn. Double-check. Though he had no major league managing experience (and had eschewed more than a few opportunities to manage in the minors for the Yankees, despite being turned down for several other MLB manager openings), being on the bench during the Joe Torre years gave him stature for the Mets owner. Giving a New York guy, who would be the first African-American manger in New York baseball history, certainly didn’t hurt either.
The final decision really came down to the fact that Minaya had no real objection to Randolph. He respected Willie’s baseball acumen (and let’s face it, Willie was a an All-Star second baseman who had a career .377 OBP) and went along with the consensus of the Wilpons so he could get things going. But not letting Randolph pick his coaches, with the exception of hitting coach Rick Down, put the first year manager on the defensive immediately. By choosing Randolph over Minaya’s original choices, the Wilpons created a adversarial relationship between Minaya’s front office and the manager from the get-go.
From Opening Day 2005 until the infamous West Coast firing of Randolph in 2008, Randolph was second-guessed, criticized, undermined and eventually dumped by people who never managed a day of baseball in their lives. Think about that before you start crying for the guy you want as manager. Hope that the GM wants him too. Or it will happen all over again. For the record, Randolph wasn’t exactly receptive to several questions I asked him during his Mets stint, and I thought his handling of the bullpen — during the NLCS in 2006 and for much of his tenure — was dreadful. I believe he should have been fired at the end of the 2007 season, because it was clear that players like Carlos Delgado has so little regard for the manager that they openly mocked him. Ownership, and Minaya’s front office made it possible.
The Mets do NOT need another go-along-to-get-along executive in charge, not do they need a guy who will re-arrange the entire baseball department regardless of individual merit. When Pat Gillick took over the Phillies, he kept several of Ed Wade’s people in place, including assistant GM Ruben Amaro and a core of minor league staffers who had overseen good value drafts. That’s why Pay Gillick is going to the Hall Of Fame, because winning is far more important to him than ego.
Far too often, personal politics play a huge role in Mets policy, and the new GM, whoever he or she is, must stand up to ownership to prevent this continued practice.
I mean, how many people reading this even know who the Phillies owners are? I’m guessing very few. The Wilpons have tried Steinbrenner Light, and got the 1980’s Yankees. Maybe they should try a new direction, hire a respected baseball man to run the baseball department, and go on safari.
Like Nelson Doubleday.