Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Would Firing Willie Randolph Make a Difference?

Just one week ago, the Mets are at a place where their fans, whom I call the Flushing Heathen, were thinking that a corner had been turned, and maybe things were going to be all right. While the Yankees are at a place where their fans were thinking all was lost, and that the last regular-season game at Yankee Stadium would be The Last Game.

One week. And, while the Yankees are by no means out of the woods, things are definitely looking up. While, over in the minds of Met fans (a place with considerable echo)...

So! The Mets are a bunch of overpaid, underachieving primadonnas.

So! Payroll is an issue with Met fans.

As a Yankee Fan, it's so good to see the cleat on the other foot for once!

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There's a more sinister side to it: For those Met fans who want to blame more than just Willie Randolph's managing (for the moment, still a minority), they are also blaming general manager Omar Minaya's penchant for signing his fellow Hispanics.

It's worth pointing out that, for all our criticisms of Alex Rodriguez, such as, "He's no good when it counts the most," or, "We should get rid of him," or, "The A-Rod experiment is a failure," I've never seen one Yankee Fan add the word "Latin" or "Hispanic" or anything like that.

Robinson Cano started the season in an awful slump, but nobody used the fact that he's black and/or Hispanic against him.

Hideki Matsui has had his difficulties, but no one criticizes him while suggesting that his being Japanese or Asian is a part of the problem.

Jason Giambi can have all kinds of criticism thrown his way, but the fact that he's Italian doesn't seem to make any difference. In either direction: We don't see too many Italian Yankee Fans standing up and saying to leave him alone, so there is some objectivity.

This is not to say that Yankee Fans have been angelic in this regard. Up until 1955, many said they didn't need any "colored" or "Negro" players to win. And a lot of the early criticism against Reggie Jackson was racial in nature.

But Randolph, being criticized because he's black? The Mets, losing because of Hispanic players?
No, Willie's being criticized because of a perception that he's not managing well, that he's lost control of the team; the Mets are losing because they don't seem to care, that they're out of control.

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Maybe it is time to let Randolph go. It is hardly all his fault that the Mets have been a .500 team for a full year now. The players have underachieved, and Minaya is the one who brought them in. The booing and general surliness that he's already getting in the homestand that began last night may eventually make the atmosphere at the William A. Shea Municipal Stadium almost poisonous.

If Willie is let go now, a clean break can be made. A new guy can be brought in with a fair shot at turning things around -- after all, we're only a third of the way through the season.  Willie won't be twisting in the wind anymore, and, who knows, the next major league managing vacancy might be his for the asking. After all, how many current managers have gotten into the postseason? Slightly more than half, 16 out of 30, and that list includes Willie -- but not, as yet, Joe Girardi. He'll get another shot somewhere.

In other words, as bad as it would feel, it could be a blessing in disguise. (Bringing to mind Winston Churchill's line that it would be very well disguised, but then, what did Winston know about baseball?)

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But if Randolph is kicked to the Queens curb, the question becomes, "Will these players listen to anybody?" As in, will firing Randolph and bringing in somebody new make a bit of difference?

Last night, Jose Reyes did a very good Mike Piazza impersonation, hitting two home runs but making a fielding miscue that helped to do the Mets in.

But, hey, he'll get over it. After all, he's the best-fielding shortstop in New York, right? Right? (Wrong. Just like it was wrong when the Flushing Heathen said that about Rey Ordonez.)

Maybe the time has come to ask whether Reyes is part of the solution or part of the problem.

Minaya came with an answer to that question in regard to Lastings Milledge. So far, the results are unclear, as the Mets are no better off, but the Washington Nationals are not appreciably worse off.

Will he have the presence of mind to consider that maybe Reyes is not part of the solution, but part of the problem? Or Carlos Delgado, who was a great hitter and a very good fielder once, but is now washed up? Or Carlos Beltran, who has underachieved?

(I won't bash Beltran for butchering that play last night, though: As bad as that was, aesthetically, at least he still looks like he's trying to win. Question the execution, but not the desire.)

As much as I hate to agree with Mike Lupica of the Daily News, he's right: If the Mets will just "win some games," all this becomes a footnote.

At least until somebody films Queens Is Burning in 30 years! Ha!

But no one will film it if there's another unhappy ending, as every Met season has had since before we found out about Iran-contra.

After all, as entertaining as the 1962 Mets of Casey Stengel, clowning around the creaky old Polo Grounds, seemed to be in the works of Jimmy Breslin, Leonard Schecter, Roger Angell and others, nobody's ever made a movie about them.

And they were expected to be, if not historically bad, then at least as bad as most expansion teams.

It's when the Mets have fallen apart after being good, as in 1977 after 1969 and 1973, as in 1993 after 1986, and as in now after 2000 and 2006, that they've generated the sulfurous reaction from the Flushing "Faithful."

It's one thing to be "lovable losers" when you're expected to struggle.

It's another thing to underachieve when your team's owner has opened the vault, and the media has crowed about your talent.

The Mets are losers, and they are not lovable.

It's times like this that I thank God and my Grandpa that I became a Yankee Fan.

Sorry, Grandma (a Dodger-turned-Met fan), you didn't deserve this team!

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