On June 14, in a pregame interview with reporters, he talked about seeing his “ugly mug” on the back pages of the tabloids and said he had been talking about it with his coaches. On June 15, he joked with reporters that maybe he didn’t even need to pack his luggage for a West Coast trip since he might not go.
“I don’t know what scenario has to happen today—if I have to win, split or win two,” Randolph said. “I might lose both and still might be on the flight, I don’t know.”
Just over a day later, he was out.
PERHAPS NO PLAYER represents the Randolph-era Mets better than Carlos Beltran. He has a beautiful swing—he hit 41 homers in 2006—and he’s an incredible defensive player, regularly sacrificing his body to catch balls. And yet he has unquestionably failed to live up to his $119 million contract. He hit 16 homers his first year and is on pace for 23 this year. The fans have never taken to him.
“You can go back a generation and clearly Carlos Beltran is Kevin McReynolds—in every sense, except he’s a switch hitter,” said Rose, the Mets radio announcer, referring to the talented, mercenary left fielder for the post-championship Mets of the late ’80s. “But same guy! Very talented. Dispassionate. Very well paid. And frustrating.”
And it was also a moment that involves Beltran that set the Mets on this negative track. In Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, Carlos Beltran was hitting in the bottom of the ninth with the tying run at third, and the winning run at second. Adam Wainwright had no control of his fastball that night. He told me after the game that there was no pitch he could go to other than his curveball. And there came the curve on a 0-2 pitch, in for a called strike three.
“I really think so much of the negativism of the fans this year is easily traceable to September ’07, but it really began festering when Beltran took strike three,” said Rose. “That’s when it started.”
THIS WEEKEND—the end of the homestand before Randolph’s fatal swing out West—George Foster and Roberto Alomar, arguably the two biggest bust-acquisitions in team history, participated in pregame ceremonies where they unveiled signs indicating the number of games left to be played at Shea Stadium until its destruction later this year.
During a rain delay on Saturday, two fans were standing on the ramp just outside the mezzanine section debating whether Willie should get the ax. They concluded that it didn’t really matter.
“They’re so emotionless,” said Bill Durso, a 36-year-old from Parsippany. “They make you not care.”
“How many nights are you gonna invest watching them on the West Coast till 2 a.m.?” he continued. “I look at it and say, I have to go to bed. I gotta go to work tomorrow. I gotta go play with my son.”
His friend, George Moed, 63, from Long Island, agreed. Moed and Durso sit one row apart in Section 4 of the mezzanine, and they became friends after watching this team for years. Moed said he can’t even muster disappointment.
“That’s true, he doesn’t scream anymore,” said Judy Moed, his wife, standing nearby. “I usually hear him screaming from the other room, and I haven’t heard anything. Not lately.”
While they spoke, a burst of cheering came from inside of the stadium. During the rain delay, members of the Texas Rangers had gone out into the pouring rain and started sliding around on the soaked tarp covering the field. Moments after they started, hundreds of fans began chanting together: “Let’s Go Rangers!”
ON JUNE 18, the day Randolph’s firing was announced, he told reporters in the lobby of his California hotel that he was “stunned” by the development.
And for once, the press seemed to agree fully with his assessment.
“He deserved better than that,” Klapisch said. “I don’t think he was a good manager and he needs to be held accountable, but he didn’t deserve this. The flight out to the coast? Why did they do that to him? I know Willie asked [Omar Minaya, the general manager] point-blank on Sunday before he got on the bus, ‘Am I O.K.—are you making a move?’ Omar told him to his face, ‘You’re fine.’
“As far as I know, Omar knew with 99 percent certainty he was firing Willie at that moment, and he told him to get on that bus and that it’s O.K.”