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Randolph victim of Mets' circus

 

Tuesday, June 17, 2008 | Feedback | Print Entry

 

The personnel meetings that the Mets hold are said by participants to run on for hours, the discussion often turning circular and pointless. And maybe that's when it starts to happen in their organization, when they get to the point where the staff members are so beaten down emotionally and intellectually that they don't have the ability to stand up and scream: Are you people crazy? Are you serious? Because this is a really bad idea -- no, no, wait, let's go one step further: It's really just flat-out nuts.

 

They needed somebody to yell that in the days and hours leading up to the preposterous trades they made in July of 2004, when they swapped a 20-year-old left-handed pitcher who could throw 95 mph for a journeyman right-hander who had shown signs of breaking down. When they made the Carlos Delgado deal, they needed a Bill Shatner to scream that they paid five-star prices for Delgado when they really could've made the deal for much less.

 

In the last month, and especially in the last 96 hours, they needed GM Omar Minaya to bluntly say to everyone in the room that what they proposed to do was embarrassing for the organization, beneath the dignity of any professional business. They needed Minaya to insist that they had to come up with something else.

 

But instead, the circus played out fully, without the elephants or the tigers but with plenty of clowns lurking in the shadows. Minaya and his assistant, Tony Bernazard, walked around the lobby of the team hotel Monday "like grim reapers," in the eyes of a staff member. And after weeks of leak-fed speculation and board room back-stabbing and indecision, they did their bidding, fired manager Willie Randolph, pitching coach Rick Peterson and first-base coach Tom Nieto.

 

Even the writers of "The Sopranos" could not have invented a more recklessly handled hit. The process really started after last season's collapse, when Minaya -- who came to the Mets having been promised full autonomy and, for more than a year, has had all the power of a marionette -- first regressed into lawyer-speak. "Willie is the manager," Minaya said over and over, as if repeating the phrase would somehow give the crafted but flimsy words backbone, and fool anyone into thinking that Randolph wasn't one really bad day away from being fired.

 

When the Mets sputtered in April, the back-stabbing began, with Randolph being undermined along the way. Words of Randolph's honest player evaluations in those staff meetings somehow made their way to the ears of players. That left the manager in a brutal position of trying to draw performance out of veterans who heard that behind closed doors the manager wasn't so sure if they had the right stuff anymore. Some on-field staff members doubted whether they could trust the front office.

 

And when the losing continued, the front-office leaks to the newspapers became rivers of rip-jobs, the leakers inoculated by the fact that they fired first. It's better to blame the manager and his coaches, after all, then to take responsibility. But even after Randolph's demise became a fait accompli, which was sometime in the last days of May, the decision-makers stopped focusing on the change itself and started becoming concerned about properly scripting his firing.

 

When the Mets finished a road trip with a loss in Colorado on May 25 and had a record of 23-25, the front office already had talked and talked for hours about managerial alternatives, and unenthusiastically decided that Jerry Manuel was likely to be Randolph's replacement. "Everybody is scared to death about this," said one front-office member at the time.

 

But rather than just doing the job of firing the manager quickly, there was a very public meeting with Fred and Jeff Wilpon on Memorial Day. Friends of Randolph say he felt like the Wilpons were waiting for him to take himself down, with some impetuous or angry remark; if he wanted to quit, they wouldn't stand in the way. But the Mets wouldn't fire him -- not on a holiday, because that wouldn't be the classy thing to do, firing a manager on a holiday. So Randolph walked out and sat side by side in a press conference with Minaya, who continued with the lawyer-speak. They had to pretend everything was good and settled, and that the organization was moving forward.

 

That wasn't true, of course; Randolph remained just one losing streak away from getting dumped, and the losing streak came last week. Along the way the Mets' front-office whisperers generated the same kind of leaks that came before Steve Phillips was fired, before Art Howe was fired, before Jim Duquette was shoved aside -- the same kind of leaks that came after the Scott Kazmir trade went bad. Not since the days of the vintage Steinbrenner Yankees has any team leaked the way the Mets leak. By Friday night, the papers reported that Randolph was out, and by Saturday night, the papers reported that Peterson and Nieto were going to be fired.

 

There was just one last vexing problem: Telling the news to Randolph, Peterson and Nieto directly. The Mets' front office could've done that on Saturday, as they sat for hours through a rain delay. Or they could've done the job on Sunday. But somehow, the Mets' front office seemed to shrink from the idea of firing Randolph on Father's Day.

 

By Sunday morning, Randolph -- who may or may not be a great manager but is unquestionably a man of dignity -- almost seemed to be laughing at the absurdity of the situation. He chuckled as he told reporters that, sure, he thought about the possibility he might be packing for a West Coast road trip that he might not last all the way through.

 

The Mets won the second game of the doubleheader Sunday, just as they had won on Friday, and then Randolph boarded a plane to the West Coast with his coaching staff and flew all the way to California. The Mets won again Monday, their third win in four games -- and that's when Minaya and Bernazard made their move, capping the employment of Randolph and two coaches after midnight. As if nobody would notice.

 

The announcement came shortly after 3 a.m. ET, but I'd bet that Randolph probably hadn't stopped laughing by then. It's not his problem anymore. The Mets' circus will go on, until somebody stands up and tells them that you cannot possibly do business this way, and until somebody actually listens.

 

This was an act of cowardice, writes Mike Vaccaro . The way it was handled was cowardly, writes Jim Baumbach. Step right up and see the saddest show in town, writes Bill Rhoden. One of the players said he was in shock.

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