Mets name Willie Randolph manager

Updated: December 8, 2004, 7:05 AM ET
SportsTicker

By Doug Mittler SportsTicker Contributing Writer

FLUSHING, New York -- All those interviews finally paid off for Willie Randolph.

The New York Mets formally introduced Randolph as the 18th manager in franchise history Thursday, giving the veteran coach an opportunity that had so frequently eluded him. Randolph may have no previous experience as a manager, but he has a lengthy resume in trying to become one.

"I feel good today because this is where I should be," Randolph said. "I never really gave up and things just worked out for the best."

It did not always appear that way. The 50-year-old Randolph has spent the last 11 seasons across town on the staff of the Yankees, the first 10 as third base coach and this past season as the bench coach under Joe Torre.

Along the way, Randolph became baseball's managerial bridesmaid. He estimates that he had discussions with close to a dozen teams about managerial openings, only to be told thanks, but no thanks.

"The (interview) experience helped," Randolph said. "I've gone to a lot of interviews where I felt like I should have gotten the job, but each general manager has a decision to make. I respect the fact they can chose who they want."

Among those interviews was two years ago with the Mets after Bobby Valentine was fired. Randolph failed to impress then-general manager Steve Phillips before owner Fred Wilpon ultimately decided on Art Howe.

But Howe was fired with two years remaining on his contract as the Mets finished at or near the bottom of the National League East each of the last two seasons, clearing the path for Randolph. The affable Randolph was chosen over Texas Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo and former Anaheim Angels manager Terry Collins.

The hiring was the first significant move for general manager Omar Minaya, who has been on the job for just five weeks. But it could be the decision that ultimately will define Minaya's tenure.

"When it was all said and done and you went into the second interview, there was a consistency about Willie the person and the passion he had," Minaya said.

There is speculation that Randolph may have been too picky in his managerial quest and was content to remain with the Yankees and the annual postseason paycheck it provided.

Randolph, however, insists he did not turn down a chance to manage the Cincinnati Reds in 2000, claiming that the Reds only called him back a second time after their top choice, Ron Oester, asked for too much money.

"The rumors are that I turned down the job. I did not," said Randolph, whose three-year deal with the Mets has been reported to be worth about $1.7 million.

Some of the other interviews may have been ones where he had little or no chance. Commissioner Bud Selig mandates that teams consider minority candidates and some clubs may have already made up their mind before interviewing Randolph.

"I think there were a few of those cases," said Randolph, who becomes the fourth black manager in the major leagues, joining Dusty Baker of the Chicago Cubs, Frank Robinson of the Expos and Lloyd McClendon of Pittsburgh.

Minaya, who is Hispanic, could care less about how Randolph performed in other interviews.

"I've been through interviews myself and thought I had all the answers," Minaya said. "An interview is overrated, You have to look at the history of the person and you have to do your background check. You have to have the courage to give someone an opportunity."

Minaya may be on to something. Wilpon hired Howe as manager after being bowled over in an interview and hired Howe on the spot. The laid-back Howe ended up being totally miscast and never fully grasped the unique pressures and demands - such as intense media scrutiny - of managing in New York.

Randolph, by contrast, was raised in Brooklyn and played 18 seasons in the major leagues, primarily across town with the Yankees. The infielder grew up a Mets fan and finished his playing career with the Mets in 1992. He still wears his 2000 World Series ring from the Yankees because it involved the Subway Series with the Mets and was "all about New York."

Minaya was intent on hiring not just an employee, but a partner.

"Look at the Atlanta Braves, there is a partnership between (general manager) John Schuerholz and (manager) Bobby Cox," Minaya said. "Whether it is Brian Cashman and Joe Torre with the Yankees or Walt Jocketty or Tony La Russa with St. Louis, I think that is huge. For a winning situation to last, there has to be a partnership between those two key people."

That partnership will have to be strong to turn around a team that still has many high-priced veterans who have underperformed. The Mets have not had a winning season since 2001.

"There are things we need to shore up," Randolph said without being specific.

Randolph will count on what he learned from Torre, another New Yorker who knows all about the pressures of the job.

When Torre was hired by the Yankees, one New York newspaper ran the headline the next day calling the manager "Clueless Joe." Torre went on win four World Series with Randolph as a trusted aide.

"This is really a perfect fit," Torre said of Randolph's hiring.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index