Mets Replace Soft-Spoken Randolph with Softer Spoken Manuel
The media has christened the timing and manner in which the Mets fired Willie Randolph the 'Midnight Massacre.' After dangling him in front of the executioner since Memorial Day, this was more like a 'Midnight Mercy Killing.' Randolph can say that he was "stunned" following the bizarre sacking, but a man as intelligent as he - and one schooled in New York sports - had to have seen this coming a mile away. Regardless of the way general manager Omar Minaya mishandled this, it was obvious that Randolph was not going to survive for any extended period of time this season as manager.
There was no organizational support for Randolph from above. Fred Wilpon - and especially his son Jeff - was not enamored with the former manager, especially after the September collapse and subsequent hangover. It was merely a matter of time. Randolph's race comments only exasperated the move.
With that said, it is time to usher in the Jerry Manual (interim) era in Flushing. A pleasant and religious individual, and one that appears to be a big tipper. But able to step in and change the atmosphere in the Mets clubhouse - that's an entirely different manner. It must be brought out that Manuel was an integral part of the bad baseball that has been played here the last three and a half months (September 2007 and the start of the current season). Acting as Randolph's right-hand man as bench coach, Manuel was part of the strategies that have not worked in some time and even has been a part of the actual decision-making. During the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series, a confused Randolph deferred to Manuel on whether to make Cliff Floyd sacrifice bunt or swing away. We all know what happened, but how many of us would have had Floyd bunt? Not many, and his strikeout notwithstanding, taking the bat out of one of your better hitter's hands would have been met with scrutiny, as well.
Manuel's 500-471 record over six seasons as White Sox skipper were highlighted by the team's division title and Manuel winning American League Manager of the Year in 2000. Three seasons later, he was hearing boos at home and let go at the end of the summer. One of the reasons for his firing was that he too light on his players, something that his predecessor, Ozzie Guillen, would never be accused of. The same Guillen that won the World Series two years later on the South Side of Chicago.
Randolph's demeanor was the same no matter what the circumstances were. During the disaster that was last season's swoon, did the manager once give any indication that the team was in the midst of the worst self-destruction in the history of the game? As the division lead dwindled away and the Phillies forged ahead, the blas' attitude that allowed an incredibly bad baseball team (for that month, at least) continue in their horrid ways without any hint of a change or trying to shake things up was the nail in the coffin. When their supposed fearless leader doesn't seem concerned, then how could the players?
Don't misunderstand that last statement. Of course, Randolph cared about winning. But the laid-back way that worked for Joe Torre on a team loaded with example-setters was not going to work with this bunch. Not last September, not this April. When Randolph sat idly by and kept saying one of three things in his post-game press conference ("I've seen it all before;" "This isn't last year;" and "I'm not concerned yet"), it became apparent that he had one style to managing, and if that was not working, he would stick it out and hope the worm would turn.
In addition to not turning up the heat when needed, another knock on Randolph was the team's sloppy play and bad fundamentals. When it becomes a regular occurrence to get picked off, thrown out trying to steal a base when the team is trailing, or getting doubled off base, that has to be directly attributed to the manager and his coaching staff. If you have watched this team at all, you are fully aware of how bad their base running has been, especially Jose Reyes. A man of unparalleled natural talent could be even better if he was showed the proper way, and that includes his attitude as well as his brain-dead running.
While Randolph should have been dismissed for the above stated reasons, the same goes for why promoting someone from the coaching staff is the wrong move. It only compounds the problem when one personality is replaced with a similar one. The formula does not work. This group of Mets needed a swift kick in the pants, not a pat on the butt.
The new manager was tested right off the bat in the first inning of his initial game at the helm. After singling and running to first, Reyes appeared to have some discomfort in his hamstring. Manuel and the trainer came out and the new boss decided that it would behoove the team and play it safe with an individual that has had numerous hamstring injuries in the past, removing the shortstop from the game. Throwing what can only be described as a tantrum (and to have to say that about an adult who is a millionaire is an embarrassment on its own), Reyes' yelling, delay in leaving the field and throwing of his batting helmet should have been met harshly, even to set an example that what went on previously under the other's guy's watch will not happen with me, the new sheriff in town.
But that couldn't happen because Manuel is not that type of person. Would Bobby Valentine have reacted differently? Without a doubt, and even if Reyes would have initially pouted with a one-game benching, sitting by his new manager throughout that punishment and getting to know why he had to watch Damion Easley play his position for nine innings would have been a benefit in the long run and had a trickle down effect. It was said that Reyes and Randolph were never close, but judging by his public treatment of Manuel, it is either all on Reyes or the fact that a veteran player has not taken the reigns.
Without that type of player on this roster, it is even more imperative that the manager is a strong voice that is respected and, at times, feared. Especially by the younger, more impressionable, players, such as the 25 year-old Reyes. He has not had any direction of late and his lackluster play has become a regular occurrence with him. That is inexcusable and another direct hit on the manager and his merry men.
Reports said that Manuel followed Reyes into the tunnel and clubhouse and - according to the New York Daily News' Filip Bondy - "quietly but assertively [dressed] him down." The problem lies in that word 'quietly.' Reyes head should have been handed to him at that moment, when it could have been done in private the way it should be. No cameras, no reporters, no other players. Even during the post-game interviews that night, both Manuel and Reyes seemed to be taking the incident very lightly, and harping on the fact that Reyes 'apologized' to his manager and teammates afterwards. What a guy!
Manuel's attitude, which should have been one of anger with not only Reyes, but also the fact that his team barely showed up in his first game, losing 6-1 at Anaheim, was one of a man that does not get too excited. He even had ace Johan Santana on the hill, who had one of his worst starts of the season.
Maybe Manuel has been around a long time and...dare I say it...has seen it all before.