The New York Mets are, in a word, awful. After collecting a cadre of superstars with big contracts and making a series of pretty shrewd trades, the Mets have lost more games than they’ve won during the first two months of the 2008 season, this after they made baseball history last fall with an ignominious collapse that cost them a spot in the playoffs.
A good many Mets fans think they’ve identified the problem: His name is Willie Randolph, the team’s manager. Sports talk shows are filled with full-throated cries for Mr. Randolph’s dismissal, the sooner, the better. Fans at Shea Stadium have taken to chanting “Fire Willie!” as they watch the team struggle through one inexcusable loss after another.
Fortunately, the Wilpon family, which owns the Met franchise, hasn’t given into the fans’ demands. After a Memorial Day meeting with Mr. Randolph, management made it clear that Mr. Randolph would remain at the helm, at least for the time being.
Willie Randolph is a victim of circumstances beyond his control. It is his bad fortune to preside over a team plagued by underachievers like Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, Aaron Heilman and Oliver Perez, and by faded, broken-down stars like Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez.
Mr. Randolph did not put this team together. He was handed this roster by his immediate boss, GM Omar Minaya, a highly regarded executive whose judgment was said to be nearly impeccable. But nobody at Shea is screaming for Mr. Minaya’s dismissal. Nobody is demanding the head of Jose Reyes, the team’s talented but enigmatic shortstop. Third baseman David Wright still fields marriage proposals from adoring fans even though his vaunted clutch hitting has failed him this year.
Simply put, the team is a mess. Each day seems to bring evidence that the Mets just aren’t a very good team, and that Mr. Randolph has been saddled with a lot of high-priced players who lost their passion for the game somewhere en route to New York.
It’s commonplace in sports to note that owners cannot fire entire teams, so they fire managers in the hopes that somehow the message seeps through to players. That sort of thinking is behind the popular uprising against Mr. Randolph.
The Wilpons should continue to resist the idea that a managerial change will make everything better. Instead, they should make it clear to the fans and to the press that Mr. Randolph will be the Mets’ manager for the remainder of 2008. That’s the only way they can put an end to the chanting, the distractions, and to the occasional call from would-be manager Gary Carter, the Hall of Fame catcher who publicly lobbied for Mr. Randolph’s job last week in an breathtaking display of insensitivity.
Mr. Randolph may or may not be the solution to the Mets’ woes. If he is not, then the Wilpons have every right to look elsewhere once the season is over. If he is, he will deserve the accolades that will come his way.
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