ANAHEIM, Calif. – By Tuesday afternoon it had been widely established that most people would dismiss their gardener with more tact than the New York Mets did Willie Randolph late the night before.
They encouraged him to fly across the country and win a game. They laid in wait at the team hotel. They shoved him into the walk of shame across the hotel lobby, though at least he wasn’t wearing the same clothes as the previous night.
In their constant battle for relevancy and supremacy in New York, the Mets had dug deep and managed to out-pinstripe the Yankees in the realm of butchered manager firings.
Except, as we learned roughly 15 hours after Randolph meandered happily into that career buzz saw, the topic of the day was “perception,” and now try to follow along.
Willie Randolph was fired – at that time, at that place – because the perception that he was about to be fired created a perception in the media of an impending fall, which, in turn, generated an untenable perception in the clubhouse that Willie Randolph was about to be fired.
And, therefore, Randolph trudged into the sunlight outside a Costa Mesa hotel and out of the Mets’ lives forever, but not before saying he was both “stunned” and “surprised” to be doing so.
Randolph seemed to be suggesting he didn’t see this coming. Or perhaps he was merely attempting to create that, uh, what’s the word?
“The famous word I’m learning as a general manager,” Minaya said as his new manager waited in the hallway outside, “is called ‘perception.’ ”
Sadly for the Randolph and the Mets, Randolph also was lugging the reality of the past calendar year, during which the Mets were a far worse ballclub than they should have been, along with the reality of last September, when the Mets barely showed up. That’ll get a manager canned in softer places than New York, and perhaps sooner. And while Minaya got around to that eventually, there was an awful lot of talk about how the ugliness of the past several weeks appeared to people outside the clubhouse and the influence it had on the decision to string Randolph along and then let him go.
As it turned out, the speculation that Randolph was operating with little support from within the organization was accurate. The speculation that his employment was hour to hour was accurate. The speculation that coaches would be fired as well was accurate. That information came from inside Shea Stadium, where Minaya maintains one of the larger offices.
The perception that helped finish off Randolph, therefore, trickled down from the insecurities and counter agendas of the people who hired and fired him, from Minaya, then from members of his trusted staff.
Jerry Manuel took the job anyway.
Minaya explained that he arrived at the conclusion to fire Randolph on Sunday, after two wins in three games against the Texas Rangers were swamped by the unfolding saga. He said he told Randolph there would be a conclusion to the affair in the coming week, that Randolph would be his man through September or he wouldn’t make it through the road trip. He said he slept on it, as he does all life-altering decisions. He said he awoke Monday with the same mind to fire his friend. Fearful the news would leak – a legitimate concern, as we know – he followed Randolph across the country and revealed his decision after Monday night’s game.
“Standard procedure,” Minaya said, earlier explaining, “It’s a kid from Brooklyn communicating with a kid from Queens. That’s all it is.”
He chose to bring the news in person. He refused to strip the uniform from Randolph’s back by conducting that business at the ballpark.
“Disrespectful,” Minaya said.
(Later, on the uniform code, Manuel cracked, “At the end of the year when Omar comes looking for me … I’m going to stay in mine. Take mine right to the house.”)
So, Minaya rejected the observations that this would have been better timed months ago, weeks ago, heck, on Sunday night.
It was Minaya, however, who said several times, one way or the other, “We could not go on as a team the way it was this weekend.”
He was right, they could not. And he was right later on, when he said the team had “under-performed” for a year, that “closure” was his only option, that Randolph did not own the responsibility for it all, but did have a significant stake. The GM doesn’t generally fire himself and he cannot take back the guaranteed players’ contracts. But, the weekend was over Sunday, and Monday would bring the same hole in the NL East and the same Randolph.
“I love Willie Randolph,” Minaya said. “Willie Randolph is my friend. But this wasn’t about love.”
It was about doing the right thing by the organization. The Mets should have handled it better.
But, then, that’s just my perception.