I guess because they think I'm some kind of expert on the Mets, people keep asking me what I think is going to happen with Willie Randolph. Or, what I want to happen. What's clear is that Randolph's grip on his job is its most tenuous in his three-plus year tenure, and the Mets aren't doing him any favors with their shoddy, uninspired play this season. It's also a bad sign when your boss won't return your calls.
So what do I want to happen? I generally believe that a manager has very little to do with the success of a baseball team. Managers are usually given far too much credit when a team performs well and receive far too much blame when a team falls on its face, and their actual role correlates more with that of a high-priced babysitter than any kind of management position. I suspect the difference between the best manager and the very worst is on the order of a handful of games a year, and that may even be pushing it. Crummy tactical decision-making is frustrating to watch, but its actual impact over the course of a season is relatively insignificant. Now, an extra win or three is nothing to sneeze at (see: 2007 Mets), but the value of a great manager to a team is likely something well shy of that of a star player.
Making in-game decisions is only part of a manager's job. The other part -- dealing with personnel, media, upper management -- requires an entirely different skillset, and its impact on the success of a team is even more nebulously-defined than its strategic counterpart. Which is more important? I guess the ideal candidate would be great at both, but teams have certainly flourished with one or the either or neither. Joe Torre had mountains of success in the Bronx, and is largely considered a mediocre tactical manager (if that) but a fine motivator of men. Bobby Valentine was a master tactician, but he clashed with his bosses and had an oft-prickly relationship with the New York media.
I'm far from thrilled with Willie Randolph as a manager, but ultimately I think he has little influence on what the Mets do once the first pitch is thrown. Is he to blame for the Mets' apparent disinterest of late? I don't really think so. If the Mets are really in a malaise -- and I have my doubts that they are -- if millionaire athletes can't find a way to motivate themselves for three hours a day, there's little that a manager making a tiny fraction of their salaries can do to flip that "give a crap" switch to "ON".
We'll all agree that the Mets look awfully bad right now. I don't that they've stopped caring, though I can understand if they're down on themselves a bit. Losing a lot of games in horrible fashion can do that to a club, and running into some bad luck (and bad officiating) along the way can only make matters worse. You want to dump the manager because that might fire up the club a bit? Fine, maybe it'll work. I would imagine that this collection of players couldn't manage to play much worse.
So let's say the Mets fire Willie Randolph tomorrow. Who takes over? Bench coach Jerry Manual is an obvious candidate. He has managing experience -- six years with the White Sox from 1998 thru 2003 -- and has plenty of experience with this particular group of guys. New Orleans manager Ken Oberkfell is another possibility. He won minor league Manager of the Year in 2005 when he managed the Double-A B-Mets and you know he's just itching for a shot with a big league club.
Having just said all that, I don't actually think the Mets are going to fire Willie Randolph this season. I wouldn't be surprised if they did, but I don't think they will. I still think this team has a shot to be pretty good. Maybe not great, but certainly pretty good. They're one game under .500 which, despite falling below expectations, is nothing like awful. I don't mean to get all "bright side" on you, but there's quite a bit of season to be played and plenty of guys who are performing below their established levels of production. There's time to turn things around, and enough crummy teams in the league to beat up on should the Mets turn their fortunes around.
It's not as if Bobby V. is going to march through that door tomorrow. If you really think this is all Willie's fault, tell me why. If you just think he should be let go as the scapegoat for an underperforming ballclub, say so, and nominate someone to replace him. If you couldn't really care less who manages this team so long as the players start "playing baseball" and stop "taking dumps on the field", I'd like to hear that, too.