The Sad End of Willie Randolph

The Mets had no shortage of disappointing losses during Willie Randolph’s tenure, but the team chose to fire him, along with pitching coach Rick Peterson and first base coach Tom Nieto, around 90 minutes after Monday night’s 9-6 victory over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Randolph will be replaced by former White Sox manager Jerry Manuel; Dan Warthen, who had been the Mets’ pitching coach at AAA New Orleans, will assume Rick Peterson’s duties. AAA Manager Ken Oberkfell and AAA coach Luis Aguayo will also join the staff.

Randolph’s fate was the subject of speculation since the end of the 2007 season, one in which the Mets lost a seven-game lead in the National League East with 17 games left to play, one of the biggest collapses in baseball history. But after initially equivocating, the Mets announced a few days after the season that Randolph would return as Mets’ manager. It was the first of several press conferences held to reaffirm the status quo.

Randolph posted a record of 302-253 as manager of the Mets, good for fourth among the team’s managers in career victories, and second to only Davey Johnson, the manager of the 1986 Mets, in winning percentage.

However, it is likely that his tenure in New York will be defined historically by losses—from the 2007 collapse to the failure of a vastly superior Mets team to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2006 National League Championship Series, and a 2008 season that, as Randolph’s term ends, has more losses than victories.

While much of the blame for the 2008 team’s mediocre record belongs to the players, along with the roster constructor, General Manager Omar Minaya, some of Randolph’s managerial decisions served to highlight the shortcomings of his roster, from the way he used his shaky bullpen to the way he criticized some of his younger players for the very same actions his veterans escaped from unscathed. And as criticism mounted in the press – criticism which was answered by silence from the organization’s hierarchy – Randolph took on the air, very visibly, of a man who was thoroughly fed up with it all.

What appeared to seal his fate were comments he made to the Bergen Record’s Ian O’Connor for an article published on May 19 that criticized coverage of him by the media, including SNY, the team-owned network that televises the Mets.

Randolph publicly apologized—but ownership refused to take his call that week. The following Monday, May 26, another news conference was held to announce, once again, that Randolph was still the manager. But no guarantees on the length of his tenure were given, providing a continuing distraction each day since.

Three weeks later, after forcing Randolph to fly across the country to begin a West Coast trip, and with the Mets having won three of four games, only then did the Mets fire Randolph. It is the kind of treatment that has given even Randolph’s harshest critics reason to feel sympathy for him.

The Sad End of Willie Randolph