Tuesday, June 17, 2008


There are many streams of thought in regards to this Willie Randolph dismissal by the New York Metropolitans. Many have been elaborated nth-degrees better than someone who has only been a freelance sportswriter for three+ years can do. For the best of the bunch, refer to the following:

Buster Olney’s blog on ESPN.com
Mike Vaccaro’s piece for the New York Post
Bill Rhoden’s words for the New York Times
Tim Brown’s Yahoo! Sports column

Throughout the day, the disappointment, laughter, frustration and bewilderment grew with each word typed and spoken. Much of that energy was focused on what hasn’t been said instead of what has.

Indignation: This may anger some Mets fans, but for those who clamored for Randolph to be tossed, isn’t it a little indignant to cry about respect and class? There is no dispute in how terrible this was handled; to not only be fired in the manner that he was, but for the players to have found out through the media as opposed to from their bosses. Yet, even if we do put out money into the team (by the way, sports are funded much more by advertising and media than you may think), how respectful is it for thousands of people to chant “Fire Willie” in public without the working knowledge of what it takes to be a manager or coach at the highest level?

Some of the greatest words ever spoken in the New York City region came in 1995 from former Jets cornerback Otis Smith: “I don’t come to your job and boo you!”

Rah-Rah… Nah: Jerry Manuel wasn’t a mediocre manager in his time in Chicago (White Sox), but he also caught the ‘scapegoat’ syndrome that ended Randolph’s term. The Southsiders went 500-471 in Manuel’s five years as manager, including his lone playoff appearance in his first season (2000). Just as Randolph, he was fired for not pushing the players enough. Two years later, many of his former players celebrated winning the World Series with second-season skipper Ozzie Guillen, a guy who’s first word must have been a swear word.

Manuel is even more laid-back than Randolph, from what folks on both the Mets and White Sox beats have said, but can get in someone’s face, if necessary. Yet, therein lays the problem. There is this demand to find a loud, obnoxious, in-your-face leader in the lockerroom that will bring success, despite evidence that has proven otherwise. Even worse, is that the players are being told what’s going to make them straighten up from every corner of sports media via fans and paid talkies.

Not sure about you, but to this Scribe, it sounds like a bit of overselling and under-delivering, doesn’t it?

Players know that when one style doesn’t work, usually ownership will try to bring in some varying opposites in order to whip them in line or to soothe the bruised psyches. It’s a highly predictable path; likened to a boxer telegraphing his or her punches. It’s made worse especially in a place like New York where the demand for high-volume personalities can be borderline absurd. Yet, what happens when neither style work? Contrary to popular belief, high volume hasn’t won a championship in a long time.

Ask Joe Torre or Tony Dungy. Or better yet, Eli Manning.

Who Said It’ll Be Easy?: Just a few weeks ago, Chicago Cubs fans marked the 25-year anniversary of quite possibly the greatest coach/manager rant in sports history as Lee Elia dropped Fs, C-Ss and more Fs left and right (WARNING: This ain't on PBS in the morning). What was somewhat forgotten from his tirade were the last few sentences:

“It'd be different if I walked in this room every day at 8:30 and saw a bunch of
guys that didn't give a [expletive]. They give a [expletive]. And it's a tough
National League East. It's a tough National League period."

It’s not just the NL East that is tough, but the entire league. It was a matter of time before the youth would be served in the Senior Circuit. The American League’s prior dominance came at the sacrifice of the NL squads via trades and free agency. Now, the NL have teams loaded with talent; talent that will stick with these teams for a long time now that their owners have committed to the course of building through the draft and picking key spots to sign free agents. The Mets capitalized on that four years ago and now the rest of the league has caught up.

The most overlooked reason for a team’s lack of success isn’t always attributed to what it did wrong or what moves they did not make. Sometimes, no matter what the best efforts, other teams are just better. It’s up to the team itself to keep pushing and hope that they catch their opponents sleeping.

Stability: This is the most important trait that a sports organization can have. Without it, no one – not the players, not the managers and coaches, not the executives, fans or media – can even think about championships, let alone win them.

Despite the century-plus long history of popular sports (pro and amateur), there are few teams that have had a sustained level of contention. Whether you’re talking about the Yankees of the 50s and 60s, the Steelers of the 70s, the Bulls of the 90s or even the Houston Comets and DC United, all of those teams didn’t just build a team to win for one season. Those teams were built in order to be a dominant presence in their sports for years. While there are many other teams that were fashioned in a similar manner without the shiny results (Atlanta Braves, Buffalo Bills, Utah Jazz, et al.), at least those teams gave themselves the chance to compete for the title year in and year out.

To change parts on a whim and frequently can start an extremely vicious cycle, one that the Mets know all too well. This is a franchise that doesn’t have a long history of winning, but a colorful book on losing and losing comically. Not since the late 1980s can the franchise claim to have contended for championships year in and year out. They have had eight different managers, five general managers and about sixty different visions since 1991.

With Randolph and current GM Omar Minaya, the Mets were able to cultivate young players and add some proven players to the team (even if many of those moves have come under scrutiny) in order to challenge the Braves and Phillies. Having twisted Randolph for so long now puts Minaya and Manuel in front of the firing squad, with the Wilpons ready to pull a quick trigger if something doesn’t change. Yet, Randolph’s firing leaves no more buffer for the players, either. Usually, general managers in this position make desperate moves to not only shake up the clubhouse, but to save their own jobs. The foundation is ripped from underneath and the cycle of instability begins again.

Maybe some folks want their teams to be built on sand.

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