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The Mets beat the Angels last night, 9-6. A few hours later, the team dismissed Willie Randolph.
The timing was terrible -- after a win, on the road, against one of the best teams in baseball; after the team's third win in four days; in the midst of a three day winning streak; etc. But the timing was truly terrible because it occurred not one game too late; not four games too late -- but 69 games too late.
The Mets collapse last year was historic for two reasons. First, the team blew what should have been -- and previously was -- an insurmountable lead. Second, the Mets did not fire the manager in response to the epic failure. Indeed, the changes made to the team can be summed up in three words: "Guillermo Mota dumped." Yes, the Mets traded for Johan Santana, but that was a market the Mets would have looked into anyway once Tom Glavine made it clear he wished to return to Atlanta. The fan base needed more than just a new ace (although it helped dramatically). It needed a scapegoat, and Mota was a small, ineffective one.
By not firing Randolph when they should have, the Mets set themselves up for disaster. Had the Mets been successful in 2008 to date -- say, 39-30 instead of 34-35 -- fears of a collapse would immediate envelope the fan base upon even the most meaningless of losing streaks. Disdain and disfavor of Randolph was inevitable. With the Mets struggling to return to .500, the dissatisfaction was simply more pronounced and, in the media echo chamber of New York, slowly building toward overwhelming.
Of course, the problem then arises: if Omar Minaya and the team did not fire Randolph after he watched the team slowly burn out in September/October of 2007, it assumes that they have faith that the collapse was an aberration. Every day that ticked by in 2008, the problem becomes harder and harder for another manager to solve. That is, it made increasingly more sense to retain Randolph for the duration of the season.
The Mets did not clean house in the fall. For sixty-nine games, the toxins have allowed to fester. The residue they leave is displayed by a sub-.500, 5-loss deficit record, and potentially a demoralized team. While one hopes that this will be the turning point for the 2008 season, it feels more like the death knell.