The New York Mets are building a grand monument to National League baseball next to the 7 Train in Queens, replete with a soaring entry rotunda along along Roosevelt Avenue. The rotunda is to be named for Jackie Robinson, that timeless New York baseball presence, and a moral leader even 35 years after his death. The Wilpon family can go ahead with their ceremonies honoring Robinson, with their statues and their plaques as they open the terribly named "CitiField" next spring - but as they made clear about about 3 am this morning they don't know very much about Jackie Robinson and how he lived his life.
Firing Willie Randolph, a proud son of New York, the city's first black manager, a great player on the field and gentleman off the field is bad thing indeed. But firing him in the dead of night by cowardly communique after making him fly across the country to manage one last game, after allowing him to dangle in public for weeks, after showing him no respect for his accomplishments or station or persona at all...well...that's a baseball obscenity, in my book.
Look, Randolph may not have been a brilliant manager, but he was a good one; he did hold the second best record in Mets history after Davey Johnson. Randolph was stoic and taciturn, a Gil Hodges rather than a Billy Martin, and his city roots in the housing projects of Brooklyn and the infield of the Bronx should not be dismissed. At 53, he was trying to turn the Mets around after their 2007 collapse, just a season removed from their heart-breaking NLCS playoff loss - and he was ticketed to coach for the National League at next month's All Star game at Yankee Stadium, a fitting career moment for a man like Randolph.
This was a moment of disgrace for the Mets franchise, for the discredited and cowardly Omar Minaya, and for the Wilpon family, owners in stock certificates but not in spirit. As a lifelong Mets fan who was born the day the first pitchers and catchers reported for spring training, this is second in karmic catastrophe only to the dumping of Tom Seaver in June, 1997.
This is an old Mets lineup aside from Reyes, Wright and Beltran and thin in starting pitching; it's slow, below average in the field, and doesn't hit in the clutch. Outside of Santana, the starters are either old and injured or youngish and erratic. It's the talent, it's the roster. And it's the upper management of this pathetic franchise - here's ESPN's Buster Olney, one of my favorite baseball scribes:
Even the writers of "The Sopranos" could not have invented a more recklessly handled hit. The process really started after last season's collapse, when Minaya -- who came to the Mets having been promised full autonomy and, for more than a year, has had all the power of a marionette -- first regressed into lawyer-speak. "Willie is the manager," Minaya said over and over, as if repeating the phrase would somehow give the crafted but flimsy words backbone and fool anyone into thinking that Randolph wasn't one really bad day away from being fired.
He's exactly right. And then there's Bill Madden of the Daily News, a hard-boiled throwback, who said that "in the history of New York baseball, there has not been a more cowardly, indecent, undignified or ill-conceived firing of a manager."
Yeah, the Mets will dedicate their new Jackie Robinson Rotunda next spring with soaring words about character and courage. But last night, the owners and executives who will utter those words defiled the memory of the very man they will try to honor - and if Jackie Robinson were still with us, he'd reject the Mets and their fancy new "Citi" field.
UPDATE: I love this post from Jason over at the aptly-named Faith and Fear in Flushing blog, so here's a healthy dose - but go read the whole thing, which hammers the middle-in fastball on the screws:
The people who run the team to which we give an unhealthy portion of our lives are stupid, brutal cowards.
I've thought for a while that Willie Randolph's tenure as manager of the Mets should be over. But I've thought so reluctantly, mindful of a good man who's seemed every bit as tormented by the last 10 months as we are. And it never occurred to me that the Mets would handle his dismissal in a way that a kind person would call jaw-droppingly incompetent and a less-kind person might call deliberately low and vicious. The just-hired entry-level guy at a downsizing firm -- the one who gets the news from the HR harpies instead of from the boss -- got more consideration and kindness than the Brooklyn native who managed the Mets to within one gapper of the 2006 World Series.
It's embarrassing to be a Met fan today. Embarrassing, humiliating and infuriating. That's not a unfamiliar feeling as a Met fan -- I've seen Tom Seaver exiled to the Midwest, de Roulet era crowds that barely broke four figures, Vince Coleman throwing explosives at children...