- Randolph's Mets managerial epitaph:
When GM Omar Minaya was hired late in the 2004 season, the Mets were an utter disaster and laughingstock around the major leagues. They played listlessly; there was infighting and no one seemed to know who was in charge. In New York, they were borderline irrelevant as fans became numb to the constant turmoil. Manager Art Howe was fired as Minaya rightfully wanted to turn the page completely from the previous regime(s) and start fresh with a manager of his choosing. That manager was Willie Randolph. What was strange though, was how Minaya was able to convince the ownership, Fred and Jeff Wilpon, to open the Mets vault to spend some money on free agents while dispatching the aging and overly influential veterans Al Leiter and John Franco. I've always been curious as to Howe's private reaction to the news that the Mets had spent so lavishly to sign Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran while he was forced to play Jason Phillips at first base and usher in the youngsters Jose Reyes and David Wright as they learned to play in the big leagues.
Randolph was walking into a pretty good situation. A honeymoon for a lifelong winner; a popular New Yorker who, despite his Yankees roots, grew up as a Mets fan in Brooklyn. There were few expectations even with the high-priced free agents and anything the team did positively after the previous few years was going to make the manager a hero. The Mets and Randolph endured their growing pains in 2005 because of the new manager's inexperience and the lack of overall talent on the team, but ended a respectable 83-79 and were once again a force on and off the field because Pedro gave them an identity and it was now known that they were willing to spend money to try and win. But was that 83-79 really that great an accomplishment?
The last team under Howe in 2004 went 71-91; are you going to seriously tell me that the Mets roster in 2005 in comparison to that in 2004 wasn't worth an extra 12 wins? Would Howe not have benefited from the maturing Reyes and Wright and the presence of Martinez and Beltran? Along with the dispatching of the interfering busybodies in Leiter and Franco? This is not to imply that Minaya shouldn't have brought in the manager that he wanted or that the discipline and seriousness that Randolph instilled didn't contribute to the Mets improvement, but based on talent alone, Howe likely would have replicated Randolph's 2005 success.
In 2006, the Mets ran away with the NL East and lost in the NLCS to the Cardinals. That roster was power packed with the newly acquired and still slugging Carlos Delgado; along with a near MVP year from Beltran and the emerging stars Wright and Reyes, the Mets were the consensus pick to go the World Series. With all of the talent on that roster, shouldn't they have been expected to make it as far as they did and possibly further than they did? Wasn't part of the reason that the Cardinals beat the Mets that year due to the strategic wizardry of Cardinals manager Tony La Russa?
In 2007, as Delgado began to lose bat speed; injuries robbed the Mets of Pedro and the overuse of the bullpen wore them down late in the season, one has to wonder whether another manager who was more prudent in the use of his relievers and able to adjust his message on the fly while deflecting the negative aspects of managing in New York would've been able to steer the team through the struggles and prevent the collapse. In 2008 until Randolph was let go, there was an aura of resignation around the team. With the veterans continuing their downslide, the organization still in denial about what happened in 2007; and the cloud of malaise around the players; along with the repeated questions about the manager's job status, the result was probably never in doubt. A move had to be made and while it probably wasn't done quickly or cleanly enough for the tastes of the fainthearted, it was necessary.
There have been teams that have won with lesser talent because of their manager or coach. Billy Martin was a master at maximizing his players abilities in the short-term; in hockey, Mike Keenan will turn a team around quickly simply because of the system he implements and his discipline; in football, Bill Parcells will pretty much guarantee a competitive team within three years of his arrival. La Russa is so brilliant that he can squeeze at least ten more wins out of his teams than would be realistically expected; but how many managers and coaches can say that? How many simply achieve what the talents of their players can achieve and occasionally less? It works the opposite way as well; the Diamondbacks under Bob Brenly could just as easily have reached the same heights with a scarecrow strategically placed in the corner of the dugout. The talent usually dictates what the team will accomplish unless they have a Hall of Famer running things. The people mentioned above are Hall of Famers; Art Howe isn't a Hall of Famer as a manager, but then neither is Willie Randolph.
- J.D. Drew is playing like an MVP:
Drew's had spurts like this before and then something has invariably happened to halt his progress, but he's earning his money and doing his job. After last year's sub par year and amid all the smirking "I told you so's" doled out to Theo Epstein and Larry Lucchino, they're getting far more than what they paid for in Drew this year. I'd hesitate to think he's going to keep it up, but if he does nothing more than get them from before Ortiz got hurt until after Ortiz returns and still have the team in first place, that, coupled with his grand slam in the ALCS last year, will give the Red Sox hierarchy cause to say that Drew was worth the money and the ridicule no matter what happens from now on.
- Barry Zito rumored to contact Rick Peterson: