Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Free Willie!

HERE WE ARE, just a short New York Week after the Mets swept the rain-shortened Subway Series 2 to zip, yet it's the team from Flushing on the proverbial ropes, suddenly losers of 7 of 8 games, while the Bronx Bombers seem to have found their hitting shoes, winning 5 of 6 in the last week.

The Mets had to feel good as they rode the rails out of town, except for the fact that their business trip would unfortunately take them to Atlanta, where predictably the Braves took all four games. Then the Mets took their sorry show to Colorado, where they won just a single game of three against a putrid Rockies team, before finally returning home, only to drop the first game of the homestand 7-4 to the resurgent Florida Marlins.

At just 23-26, the Mets now trail the 1st Place Marlins (30-20) by 6 1/2 games.

All the negativity both on and off the field has flooded the radio waves with scores and scores of grieving Mets fans, who seem to forget that their team has sucked far more often than it has not sucked in their checkered history. Yet these Mets fans have focused all their misguided ire on one Willie Larry Randolph -- probably my favorite Yank growing up, manning 2nd base and usually batting second on those great late 1970s teams.

Now, to be fair, the Mets do have a losing record now going for more than a year, but since you can't fire all 25 players, it's easier to just fire the manager. But like their fellow crosstown underachievers the Yankees, it's the general managers who, despite basically unlimited resources, both assembled remarkably flawed teams despite the litany of talent you could cite on both teams. But it seems like all the pressure is on Willie Randolph to win games, with very little left over for Mets GM Omar Minaya.

As for the Yankees, due to some early-season injuries, backups at catcher, first base and third base have had to fill in and play far more than anyone could have expected or indeed hoped for. They are getting nothing at catcher since Jorge Posada went down, with Jose Molina, one of the 14 or 15 Molina brothers in major league baseball, not even close to hitting his weight, at .216 with no HRs and just 5 RBIs in almost 100 ABs.

When A-Rod went down, that had a ripple effect, such that no-names like Morgan Ensberg (.203 in 75 at-bats) and Chad "Impacted" Moeller (13 for his last 49) saw significant action.

And then there's the troublesome middle relief as well as late relief now that the phenomenal Joba Chamberlain is officially headed to the starting rotation. LaTroy Hawkins and Kyle Farnsworth are worse than unproven -- they've both shown a disconcerting predilection to Fuck Things Up when you count on them for anything close to an important game situation. That Bridge to Mariano just got a lot more rickety, my friends.

Throw in lack of team speed, a suspect starting rotation that, except for Chien-Ming Wang, is by turns too young or too old, an average outfield defense, and the problem of throwing out runners when Posada and his sore shoulder returns, and I don't see how this team goes on any extended winning streams like last season, or accumulates enough series wins against the mediocre teams to mount any sustained threat to the Hated, Detested Red Sox of Beantown.

The other New York team has its own set of problems and baggage, and as a Yankees fan how could I possibly be more happy watching and listening to the disaster unfold. I know it's still early in the season -- but it's not very early anymore, is it? To win the division, the Metropolitans will have to pass over and contend with three fairly good baseball teams, namely:
The Atlanta Braves; still the thorn in the Mets' thin skin, never more so than after their 4-game series sweep last week.

The Philadelphia Phillies, who put up 20 runs and 15 runs in their last two games, so they just may be swinging some hot sticks right about now.

And then the surprising Florida Marlins, now an astounding 10 games over .500 and showing no signs of cracking.
All of which point to the Mets having to fight tooth-and-nail all season long just to get into the playoffs. And given their fragile mental state, I don't see that happening. On top of an epic late season collapse last year, when they blew a seemingly insurmountable 7-game lead in the NL East, they have not been anywhere near the powerhouse club that many had predicted after acquiring perhaps the best young pitcher in the game, Johan Santana. They have played down to the level of competition so often already this year that it's hard to tell just where the Mets are. Seemingly all the pieces are in place: formidable batting lineup, solid starters, good closer. But they just don't seem to add up so far.

So it may be time to Free Willie: even though he played for the Mets late in his career, it was just never a good match. I'm sure Randolph just wanted to get his foot in the door after waiting for his chance to manage for so long, and the fact that he could stay in New York probably seemed like a positive at the time, as did the Mets' roster and payroll. But now that the Mets Nation has proven to be the world's largest outdoor insane asylum, there's no way Willie survives the All-Star Break.

It's time for a clean break. The Mets fans obviously don't appreciate one of the classiest guys not just in baseball but throughout sports. No, Mets fans, so used to all that success over the years, are demanding a winner, and heads will roll if they aren't handed their World Series trophy soon.

GM Omar Minaya has had carte blanch to acquire all the pieces of the puzzle that contenders need. He hasn't been charged with building the farm system, with just Jose Reyes and David Wright anything like homegrown talent on the roster, and both of those signings far predated Minaya's arrival. Instead, during his tenure he has brought in high-profile, big-bucks veterans like Carlos Delgado, Pedro Martinez, Paul Lo Duca, Orlando Hernandez, Billy Wagner, Carlos Beltran, Moises Alou, Tom Glavine and now Santana -- giving the Mets the illusion of championship talent without the chemistry or cohesion that championship teams always seem to have.

For me the one good thing about Randolph getting the ax is that it would make rooting against the Mets just a little bit more enjoyable. Even for a rabid anti-Met hater like myself, I would sometimes find it difficult rooting for Willie to fail. Once he is removed from the equation, rooting against the Mets will have no more restrictions. And at the end of the day, isn't that what New York sports fan dementia is all about?!

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