Gutsy Mr. Metsie

“If we needed a wake-up call,” he said, “we’ve gotten it.”

During this crisis, Randolph has played the role of cool customer, even as everything around him was unraveling—Lastings Milledge was suspended for three games after a spectacular meltdown with an umpire; Marlon Anderson was suspended for a similar tirade; the Mets made 10 errors in two days, during a poor spell in Washington.

Through it all, Randolph has seemed determined not to alter his routine.

Since the most recent funk began, there has been exactly one team meeting, in which Randolph gave a speech only reluctantly, according to the team’s general manager, Omar Minaya. He said that Randolph, as a rule, shies away from extraordinary sessions.

“Some teams will have a bunch of team meetings,” said Minaya. “Willie isn’t a team meeting guy—he likes to talk to guys one-on-one.”

Certainly, that’s his preferred mode of motivating his team, particularly the younger players. Typical of his style was a quiet office chat he had before the game on Sept. 22 with the speedy, young outfielder Carlos Gomez, to talk about a base-running blunder Gomez had made the day before.

It was a display of Randolph’s faith that even without any public scolding or raised voices, his players will get it.

“Well, I believe in my people,” Randolph explained to The Observer afterward. “Talent doesn’t always get you there. You have to believe in your people and know that they are good enough to get it done. That’s why I’ve been the way that I’ve been all year—because I feel like we’re the best team. We need to go out and prove that now.”

 

RANDOLPH HAS NEVER DISPLAYED the sort of water-cooler tossing, umpire-jostling managerial histrionics of a Billy Martin, Lou Piniella or Earl Weaver.

“Sometimes fans want him to get crazy, to throw things, to get into a fight,” said Minaya. “That’s just not Willie’s way.”

So what is Willie’s way?

At least in the hours that his clubhouse is open, he spends a lot of time alone.

The visiting clubhouse in Miami is unusual in that the coaches dress in the same room as the players, unlike at the locker room at Shea, where they dress in separate corners. During the Marlins series, while coaches Sandy Alomar and Rick Peterson changed in the same space as Delgado and David Wright, Randolph elected to change in his office.

Twenty-five minutes before the first pitch of a game against the Marlins on Sept. 23, Randolph left the visiting manager’s office by himself, a Gatorade cup in one hand and a pocket-size lineup in the other. On his stroll to the dugout, he paused briefly to stare at a suspended television showing an interview, on mute, with the Marlins manager, Fredi Gonzalez.

Later that day, after the Mets’ topsy-turvy, heart-racing 11-inning win, Randolph was the last to exit the clubhouse, walking to the team bus by himself.