- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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With the Mets' hiring of Willie Randolph as their new manager, here are a few issues to ponder:
Three things we know about Randolph
1. He will have high expectations: There were moments, in Randolph's tenure as a coach for the Yankees, that a hitter would miss a sign or an infielder would make a simple and preventable mistake, and Randolph would put his hands on his hips and stare away with exasperation. Randolph became an All-Star caliber player with attention to detail, and he will want the same from the Mets; inevitably, when Jose Reyes or Kaz Matsui or others make mistakes, Randolph's face will tighten, and he will expect that they will work to prevent those mistakes in the future.
Some executives who interviewed Randolph for managerial openings in the past wondered how he would react if everything was not up to Yankee-type standards -- a deep and experienced (and expensive) roster, everything done without regard to cost, everything expected to be first-class. This is not necessarily a bad thing.
2. He knows New York: He will not be blindsided by the pressure of expectations, the intensity of the crowds, the crush of reporters, as former manager Art Howe seemed to be. He has spent most of his adult life existing in the fishbowl that is the Yankees (although never as the main guy, like Reggie Jackson or Derek Jeter or Joe Torre). How he handles the responsibility of running the team under that kind of duress is another question altogether.
3. He has the backing of his boss: The hiring of Randolph is the first major move by Omar Minaya since Minaya became head of baseball operations. In the past, the Mets have had dysfunctional chains of command: Steve Phillips, formerly the general manager of the Mets, did not hire Bobby Valentine, and their relationship sometimes became an obstacle, rather than an asset. Minaya picked Randolph, he's got a lot riding on Randolph's success, and both men will presumably be fully invested in the success of the other.
Three things we don't know about Randolph
1. How he will handle a pitching staff? It's the most important responsibility of any manager, and while Randolph certainly is familiar with the general parameters -- choices about when to remove pitchers, how to play lefty-righty matchups, when to start relievers throwing in the bullpen -- he has never managed and therefore has no practical experience with his hands at the wheel of a pitching staff. And with the Mets, this is of particular importance, because the team is laden with starters who are apt to work five or six innings, from Al Leiter to Tom Glavine.
Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson knows the staff, after overseeing it for a full season, and Randolph can get much aid from Peterson. But this sort of dynamic puts an enormous amount of pressure on the relationship between Randolph and Peterson, who barely know each other. What if Randolph and Peterson never develop the kind of mutual trust that Joe Torre had with Mel Stottlemyre? It could be a major problem.
2. How will he handle the Mets' clubhouse? The team has often had a minefield of personalities, veterans well-versed at the art of whispering behind the backs of teammates. There were times when Valentine had to be outspoken to combat this dynamic.
And Randolph inevitably will have some very tough moments: It will his job to deal with a declining Mike Piazza, the injury-prone Reyes and Cliff Floyd, and aging star pitchers in Leiter and Glavine. Howe botched too much of that communication; Randolph must do better.
3. How will Randolph handle failure? He's got six championship rings and is accustomed to success, and he's taking over a team that faces at least some rebuilding -- a core of Mets are nearing the end of their time with the team, while a new group is moving into place. Before the Mets contend again, they need to settle on a catcher, a first baseman, at least one corner outfielder, a new set of middle relievers. If the Mets have another bad season in 2005, Randolph must roll with that, and then cope with the pressure that will mount in 2006.
His pedigree suggests he has the experience to deal with this, but as we learned with everyone from Bud Harrelson to Jason Giambi to Howe, not everybody is equipped to stand front and center on the New York stage.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," is a New York Times best seller and can be ordered through HarperCollins.com.