Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Willie Randolph for the Mets Blowing a Playoff Berth

Back in the late 1970s, Garrett Morris played former New York Mets star Chico Escuela on Saturday Night Live. Chico wrote a book titled Bad Stuff 'Bout the Mets. Clearly, it was a parody of the kind of tell-all sports book pioneered by former Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton's Ball Four.

If Chico had been real, and is still alive in 2007, he could write at least one more sequel.

It was not much sooner than the end of the final game that several Met fans went on various message boards saying that the Mets' newly-completed collapse, blowing a seven-game lead with 17 to play, perhaps not the worst but maybe the most humiliating choke-job in regular-season baseball history, was all the fault of manager Willie Randolph.

Willie grew up in Brooklyn as a Met fan, played second base for the Yankees from 1976 to 1988, and closed his career with the Mets in 1992. He then became the Yankees' assistant general manager, and served as a Yankee coach until 2004. In three seasons managing the Mets, he has managed them to a respectable third-place finish, to within one run of a Pennant, and to within one game of a Division title. That may not look bad. But with the talent that Met fans think their team has, they should have gone further.

Unless, of course, the Mets just aren't that good, right?

No, of course not. The Mets are a great team. The best team in baseball. The best team in New York. And New York is a National League town. New York has always been a National League town. Jose Reyes is a better shortstop than Derek Jeter, just as Rey Ordonez was. David Wright is a better third baseman than Alex Rodriguez. Paul Lo Duca is a better catcher than Jorge Posada, just as Mike Piazza was. And Pedro Martinez is still a great pitcher, unlike Roger Clemens.

It can't be the fault of the players. So it's got to be all the fault of "Witless Willie."

When am I going to learn not to expect rational thought from the Flushing Heathen? After all, if these people were capable of ratoinal thought, they'd know: 26 > 2; since 1969, 6 > 1; since 1986, 4 > 0; and, most of all, they had their chance to "take over New York" in the 2000 World Series, and the Yankees ended the discussion.

But they blame Randolph, because it couldn't be the fault of the great Met players, right?

So, in the tradition of ESPN Classic, I present to you...

The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Willie Randolph for the New York Mets Blowing a Berth in the 2007 National League Playoffs

Now, I could just take the easy Number 1 answer: The Philadelphia Phillies were better. But I'm not so sure they are. Anyway, here's the Top 5:

5. Paul LoDuca. His hotheadedness got him thrown out of key games, and he publicly upbraided Randolph to the press and on a radio talk-show. Since LoDuca was considered a "team leader," several players followed his lead, and lost confidence in Randolph at the worst possible time.

4. The Left Side of the Infield. Reyes disappeared down the stretch, and proved that his discipline was not the equal of his talent. Wright was supposed to be this year's NL Most Valuable Player, an award that no player has ever won while on the Mets' roster; whereas A-Rod, stats be damned, is not an MVP. Wright came down the stretch playing less like A-Rod and more like A-Bum, just as he choked in the 2006 NLCS.

3. The Starting Rotation. At times, this season, Tom Glavine looked like a 300-game winner. At other times, he looked like a 41-year-old man. (Both of which, he actually is.) Pedro Martinez is "only" 35 going on 36 -- or so we were told, you never know with Caribbean pitchers -- but he is no longer capable of being the unstoppable pitcher he was from 1997 to 2000. (Of course, he really hadn't been that pitcher very often anyway.)

John Maine was not in 2007 what he was in late 2006. Oliver Perez was fine until the very end, falling apart when the Mets needed him most. And the Mets never found a reliable fifth starter.

2. The Bullpen. The closer is Billy Wagner, whose blown saves cost the Phillies Playoff berths in 2004 and 2005, and helped prevent the Houston Astros from winning a postseason series in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2001. They have now cost the Mets the 2006 Pennant and the 2007 Division Title.

The top setup man is Aaron Heilman, who in 2006 gave up a Pennant-losing home run to Yadier Molina, the third-best Molina brother. Then there's the clearly washed-up Scott Schoenweis. Pedro Feliciano. Guillermo Mota. This is a bridge from a great rotation to a reliable closer? No, it's a bad connection from a shaky rotation to a shaky closer.

You've just seen Reasons 5 through 2. There's one major reason why Randolph should be exonerated. There's an old saying in baseball: You can't make chicken salad out of chicken, uh, feathers. Somebody assembled the surprisingly weak, not-especially-stout-hearted, undisciplined, clutchless bunch that Willie had to manage. That somebody is Reason Number 1:

1. Omar Minaya. The Mets' general manager is supposed to be a genius at getting the players necessary to win a World Series. His failure to get a reliable bullpen cost the Mets a 2005 Playoff berth, the 2006 Pennant, and now the 2007 Division Title. He went after Pedro, Glavine, Wagner and Schoenweis. He settled for Perez, Maine, Heilman, Feliciano and Mota. Meanwhile, across town, Mariano Rivera remains the best closer in baseball, and the Yankees found a bridge to him -- at least for 2007 -- in Joba Chamberlain.

(Or maybe we could blame The Dreaded SI Cover Jinx.)

In addition, Minaya pursued Carlos Beltran (very good at times, terribly disappointing at others) and Carlos Delgado (once a very good hitter, but now too injury-prone to matter much). And he pursued Pedro Martinez, who has been too injured to contribute much, a 36-year-old pitcher with the reliability of a 42-year-old pitcher.

Minaya has had the money. He has had no excuse. Just as the Mets blew it by getting rid of manager Bobby Valentine before getting rid of general manager Steve Phillips, they should dump Minaya along with Randolph. Better yet, dump him instead of Randolph.

As ESPN's Brian Kenny says on The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame... , maybe I changed your mind, maybe I didn't, but I hope I at least made you think about it in a different light.

So a guy goes into a doctor's office. The doctor examines him, and tells him he needs surgery.

"I want a second opinion," the patient says.

"Okay," the doctor says. "The Mets stink."

(NOTE: When I began writing this blog, I intended to avoid using profanity. I have since given that up. Hence, I did not say, "You can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit," which is how the line actually goes.)

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