Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Say hey, Willie!

I was enough of a baseball fan growing up to know “Say hey” is reserved for Willie Mays, the great Hall of Fame outfielder, but I can’t resist applying it to Willie Randolph, who was fired today as manager of the New York Mets.

Baseball lost me as a fan after the player strike that prematurely ended the 1994 season with no World Series. It was the best chance for my favorite Yankee player, Don Mattingly, to make it to the World Series after a long and distinguished career, and it was wiped out. (Mattingly did make it to the playoffs with the Yankees the following year, his final season, but the team lost to the Seattle Mariners and didn’t make it to the series.)

Willie Randolph was another of my favorite players. I remember when the Yankees acquired him prior to the 1976 season. The trade was described in the sports media with this clever description (sorry, can’t remember the exact source): “…the Yankees sent pitcher Doc Medich to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Ken Brett, a pitcher with a history of arm trouble; Dock Ellis, with a history of just plain trouble and Willie Randolph, with no history at all.”

Willie went on to establish quite a history as a great defensive player and a very patient hitter in a career that lasted 18 seasons. He finished his career with the New York Mets, the team he would eventually manage after spending a number of years as a coach in the Yankee organization.

As I said, I haven’t followed baseball very much for quite a while, but I tried to keep an eye on favorites like Mattingly and Randolph. After the disastrous collapse of the Mets late last season, I knew Willie’s days were numbered. You know what they say – “You don’t fire the team, you fire the manager.”

How much do managers mean to a team? It depends. In 1975, Darrell Johnson led the Boston Red Sox to the World Series. Johnson began managing the team in 1974, with his disciplinarian style receiving a good portion of credit for the Sox’ new-found success. But by the middle of 1976, with the Sox slumping, Johnson was fired. What about that tough style? “He wasn’t relating to the players.” Isn’t it amazing how the perception of the same style soured so quickly, when the Lost column grew larger than the Win side of the ledger?

I’m sure Willie Randolph will resurface as a manager – he’s a high-character guy and a good leader. Some better ballplayers might help. So, say hey, Willie! Hang in there!

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