Willie Randolph is seeing shadows.
If you snuck up behind him and said "boo" in a normal voice, he'd probably end up on the ceiling like a freaked out cat in a cartoon.
In case you missed it, here's how "Willie's World" looks from the top step of the floundering Mets dugout.
"They don't like me?" Randolph said in a wide ranging, soul baring interview with Ian O'Connor of NorthJersey.com. "‘We don't like Willie.' Wait a minute, why don't you like me? I don't get it. Did I do anything to you? If you look at what I've done for your club, you should like me a little bit.
"Is it racial?" Randolph asked. "Huh? It smells a little bit."
Asked directly if he believes black managers are held to different standards than their white counterparts, Randolph said: "I don't know how to put my finger on it, but I think there's something there. Herman Edwards did pretty well here and he won a couple of playoff (games), and they were pretty hard on Herm. Isiah (Thomas) didn't do a great job, but they beat up Isiah pretty good ... I don't know if people are used to a certain figurehead. There's something weird about it."
If this is truly how Willie feels, then I respect the fact that his view is different than most. I can't quite say he's "wrong" per se, but when you start citing Isiah Thomas as an example of a guy who got a crooked shake because of his skin color -- well, you are pretty much out there alone.
In fact, I think Isiah and Willie have received the benefit of the doubt BECAUSE they are black. All through the Isiah fiasco, I asked the simple rhetorical question: "Would a white coach be able to survive such a self-made mess?"
In a word, no.
But it's just one man's opinion. And I'm not mad about it either. Of course, some of my listeners took it the wrong way. Including this e-mail...
Dear Mr. Czaban,
I was fascinated to hear you express the view this morning that had Mets manager Willie Randolph been white he surely would have been fired following the collapse of the Mets last year.
You said that Randolph had been kept in the Met job only because he was black.
At the bottom of this message, you will find a list of the most epic pennant collapses in baseball history, as compiled by Sports Illustrated last year during the fall of the Mets.
I have taken the liberty of inserting the names of the managers of the teams involved, along with the managers' periods of employ with those teams.
You will note that every one of the managers was white, and every one of them kept their jobs in the seasons following the failures.
Indeed one manager, Leo Durocher, oversaw swoons for two different teams, and still managed to endure in the jobs for many years after.
Interestingly, (and conversely), you may know that there is a contemporary two-time World Champion manager (Blue Jays, 1992, 1993) who has never been offered another managing job -- Cito Gaston, a black man.
I don't know of any white manager in baseball history so remarkably successful who never received another offer to manage.
I enjoy your show, but at times, you reveal the most extraordinary ignorance that only goes to undercut your credibility.
It would have been great if you could have brought some real insight to the Randolph story, instead of knee jerk and ill-informed opinion that runs totally counter to baseball history.
-- Henry Neil
I thanked Henry for his thoughts, even though I tried to stress that a) I wasn't mad about it and b) It was just my opinion.
While his list was interesting, I pointed out that the Mets' collapse under Randolph was not just "among" the most epic collapses in baseball history, but it was statistically unheard of in baseball terms.
No team had ever lost a seven-game lead or larger with only three weeks left in the season.
If you want more reasons why it's considered the worst choke/collapse in baseball history, this article fleshes out even more detail. In the wake of such a flop, there were plenty of good reasons to fire Randolph. Primarily, a manager's job is to hold the club together during rough times. Furthermore, 2008 would of course begin with a "Willie hangover" if they didn't make a change.
And now that reality is coming home to roost, only fueled by Randolph's own paranoia.
So how then could I say he probably only kept his job for one more year BECAUSE he was black?
Simple deduction. What else was compelling the Mets to do so?
Baseball is very sensitive to minority representation in managers. Understandably so. For years, black players and coaches have been unjustly overlooked, if not shut out altogether. The push to get a better mix of minorities on the top step of the dugout is a good thing, in my opinion.
You combine that with Mets general manager Omar Minaya. He's the first Latin GM of a major league team, and has done a good job (although the Mets' checkbook for players doesn't hurt). Why wouldn't he let Willie have one more chance, if you see the world of baseball through Minaya's lenses?
I'm not saying any of this is "wrong," but I think ignoring a possible race angle altogether is foolish.
Given how badly MLB wants to hire more black managers, I can understand if those in the game wait a long time before firing one.
In baseball, when a runner's foot and the ball hitting the glove at first happen simultaneously, the tie goes to the runner. The call to bring Randolph back was a close one.
You know what, let's bring Willie back for one more season, just to make sure.
Steve is a native Washingtonian and has worked in sports talk radio for the last 11 years. He worked at WTEM in 1993 anchoring Team Tickers before he took a full time job with national radio network One-on-One Sports.
A graduate of UC Santa Barbara, Steve has worked for WFNZ in Charlotte where his afternoon show was named "Best Radio Show." Steve continues to serve as a sports personality for WLZR in Milwaukee and does fill-in hosting for Fox Sports Radio.