I think all Mets' fans thought it would happen at one time or another. Very few, if any at all, thought it would happen when it did.
At 3 A.M. eastern time on Tuesday morning, Willie Randolph was relieved of his duties as manager of the New York Mets. It happened two hours after a 9-6 Mets win over the AL West leading Angels in Anaheim. Pitching coach Rick Peterson and first base coach Tom Nieto got the boot along with Willie.
The threat of being fired has hung over Willie's head for weeks. It was deserved after the Mets historic collapse last September and this season's struggles, but why now?
Why in Anaheim, a long way from home, after the Mets had just won three of four and looked particularly good that night against the Angels? Why not the day before in New York? Why not after the disastrous series against Arizona? Why not wait until the end of the road trip?
Perhaps Randolph was fired in Anaheim so the front office wouldn't have to deal with the entire army that is New York's media. We will never know the exact answers to those questions, just that the Mets front office made a mistake and put another smudge on its record.
Team owners, the Wilpon brothers, General Manager Omar Minaya, and their associates handled this situation terribly. They took a dignified, good man in Willie Randolph and embarrassed him.
Several "leaks" from the front office to the media had Willie's head on the chopping block for weeks. Many times in the last weeks it was reported that if the Mets lose tonight Willie is gone.
They toyed with the man.
How could he manage with all of this over his head? How could the players play consistently with this constant flip-flopping of the front office? The media reports Willie is as good as gone. Minaya says he's safe. As late as Sunday night Minaya told Willie his job was safe. It wasn't.
Randolph brought the Mets to the brink of the World Series, one game away, in 2006. I think Mets' fans who were fond of Willie will remember him for that. However, the rest of the sports world will remember him for 2007's collapse and the fiasco surrounding his firing.
Enough of the negatives, it's time to move on. The biggest positive here is that the players will no longer have to deal with the daily controversy that surrounded the clubhouse while Randolph's job was in jeopardy.
Willie's replacement will be his former bench coach, Jerry Manuel. Manuel does have previous managing experience. He was at the helm of the Chicago White Sox from 1998-2003. He won the American League Manager of the Year Award in 2000 when he guided the White Sox to 95 wins.
Ken Oberkfell, manager of the Mets Triple-A affiliate, the New Orleans Zephyrs, will take over Manuel's old job as bench coach, Dan Warthen will replace Peterson as pitching coach, and Luis Aguayo was also added to the Mets coaching staff.
During yesterday's press conference, Manuel addressed a couple of things that he wants to change which were considered weak points during Randolph's tenure.
First off, Manuel said he would like to have defined roles in the bullpen. This was a major complaint made about Randolph. The relievers will have an easier time when they come to the ballpark knowing what will be asked of them that day. We all know Wagner has the ninth. It needs to be determined who will be in charge of the seventh and the eighth, who is the long reliever, and who will be the go to guy when the Mets need to get a left handed hitter out.
Manuel also said the top players, Jose Reyes, David Wright, and Carlos Beltran, need rest from time to time. That happened last night. Manuel gave Wright a bit of rest by playing him at designated hitter instead of third base. He also took Reyes out of the game in the first inning when he appeared to be slightly injured. Manuel stood by his decision even after Reyes threw a tantrum because he wanted to stay in the game.
It seems like Manuel will be more firm with players and umpires than Randolph was and this could be what the team needs. However, the final outcome of this season will not be determined by how Manuel manages, but how the players play.
This team can still make the playoffs depending on a number of factors. Moises Alou and Ryan Church need to get healthy. The Mets need their bats in the lineup.
Reyes will need to do what he does best, get on base, and wreak havoc on the base paths. After a terrible finish last year, and a slow to start to this season, Reyes seems to have gotten it together lately.
Wright and Beltran need to hit like they did at the end of last season when they combined to hit for a .332 average with 31 homers, and 113 RBI after the All-Star break.
Oliver Perez needs to be more consistent and Aaron Heilman needs to be the pitcher he was in the second half of 2006 and 2007 when he had an ERA under three.
And lastly, this team needs to have fun playing the game they love.
If the Mets can do all that, they have a shot at salvaging this season and making the playoffs.