After weeks of speculation that his job was in jeopardy, Willie Randolph finally got fired by the New York Mets while most fans were sleeping.
Randolph became the first manager in the majors to be fired this season, let go in the middle of the night Tuesday, 21/2 months into a disappointing season that has followed the team’s colossal collapse last September.
OUT: Willie Randolph was fired as manager of the New York Mets early Tuesday morning, just hours after leading his team to a win over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
“I’m really stunned by it,” Randolph said as he left the team hotel shortly before noon. “I was surprised by it.”
Mets general manager Omar Minaya said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference that Randolph was fired because the losses and the speculation about his job were hurting the team.
Bench coach Jerry Manuel takes over on an interim basis. Pitching coach Rick Peterson and first base coach Tom Nieto also were cut loose in an enormous overhaul that was revealed in a fact-of-the-matter news release at a stunning time — about 3:15 a.m. ET, nearly two hours after the Mets’ 9-6 victory over the Los Angeles Angels.
“I’m not going to tell you that Jerry Manuel has all the answers, that Jerry Manuel has a magic wand, but I don’t regret last year returning Willie Randolph,” Minaya said Tuesday.
Randolph led the Mets to within one win of the 2006 World Series. They got off to a strong start again last year but plummeted down the stretch and have been unable to rebound.
A preseason favorite to win the NL pennant, the $138 million Mets had won two in a row when Randolph was dismissed.
Randolph said he was sorry he wasn’t to “fulfill my what my dream is, to come here and help this team win a world championship.”
Minaya said it was a painful decision to let Randolph go.
“It pains me to make this decision, but the reality is the biggest Willie Randolph fan was Omar Minaya,” he said.
When asked to gauge Randolph’s reaction, Minaya said, “I think that he was a combination of resigned to it because I had given him a heads-up that this could happen and I think he was also relieved,” he said.
“It’s not good for Willie Randolph, it’s not good for the organization to have this cloud.”
Minaya didn’t cite last season’s collapse or this season’s disappointment for the firing.
“The reason I made the decision isn’t this weekend,” he said. “ The reason I made this decision is the body of work.”
It was a frustrating end for the 53-year-old Randolph, who was set to be an NL coach at the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium next month.
Yankees co-chairman Hal Steinbrenner, at a promotional event Tuesday for the All-Star festivities, was asked whether the team might rehire Randolph — even in an honorary capacity — to let him take part.
“Anything’s a possibility,” Steinbrenner said.
Signed through the 2009 season, Randolph won’t be able to move with the Mets into new Citi Field next year, either. He was slated to earn $2 million this season and is owed $2.25 million in 2009.
Randolph was known for his exceptionally steady play as a six-time All-Star second baseman and his even-keel demeanor as a coach with the Yankees. On Tuesday, he acknowledged that his position is a little awkward.
“Coaches that have been in my position continue to manage in spite of my position, at least mentally,” he said.
Randolph’s time in charge of the Mets was marked by highs and lows from the get-go.
Hired by Minaya to replace Art Howe for the 2005 season, Randolph lost his first five games as a major league manager, then won the next six.
He nearly guided the Mets into the 2006 World Series, losing Game 7 of the NLCS to St. Louis on Yadier Molina’s tiebreaking home run in the ninth inning.
Coming off an uplifting, two-game sweep at Yankee Stadium in mid-May, the first black manager in New York baseball history created a stir by suggesting in a newspaper interview that he was portrayed on Mets broadcasts differently than a white manager might be.
Randolph brought up the race issue as he detailed the way he’s been shown by SNY, the team’s TV network.
“Is it racial?” Randolph was quoted. “Huh? It smells a little bit. ... I don’t know how to put my finger on it, but I think there’s something there.”
A couple of days later, Randolph apologized to Mets ownership, SNY and his players “for the unnecessary distraction” he’d created.
“Those remarks created more of a tension in the organization,” Minaya acknowledged on Tuesday.
Late last month, Randolph got a temporary reprieve when he met with ownership.
“Willie’s job was never in danger going into this meeting,” Minaya said after the session. “Willie has my support. He has the support of our ownership. ... There is no limbo period. Willie is the manager.”
But no promises for the future were made.