It’s impossible to discuss New York baseball without mentioning the Yankees AND the Mets. They’re inextricably linked, going back to Casey Stengel. In my opinion, Mike Lupica and William Goldman, in their superb and hilarious book, “Wait ‘Til Next Year,” – which is unfortunately out-of-print now – did the best job of describing the differences of the two teams and not only how they perceive themselves, but how they want their fans and the media to perceive them.
That is, of course, if you believe in the adage that perception is reality.
I got to thinking about this in the 72 hours since Willie Randolph’s unceremonious dismissal, and instantly compared it to Joe Torre’s resignation last winter. Both situations were mishandled by their respective former employers. Both proved to be high-caliber public relations gaffes. Both men, through the professional way that they handled losing their jobs, elicited sympathy from the media that was simultaneously channeled into anger at the Yankees and Mets. With the Randolph situation, the blunder was viewed as another in a long line of managerial miscues in Queens. The Times’s William C. Rhoden went so far as to proclaim that the Mets are “again the subject of national derision.”
That’s the perception. I’m a believer in the adage.
Let’s examine the sequence of the two events and how they shaped the public perception of the two situations, and the media coverage:
YANKEES – JOE TORRE
·The Yankees were coming off a 12th straight playoff berth under Torre but a third straight loss in the Division Series. When the expectation is to win a World Series and anything less is viewed as a failure, despite the trials and tribulations of getting to the playoffs, the effort wasn’t good enough.
·Torre, up for a new contract, received a one-year offer from the Yankees that included a paycut, but was laced with incentives provided the team won the division, then each subsequent round of the playoffs, and the World Series. Torre considered the Yankees’ offer an insult, which he didn’t need as an incentive to win. Bob Costas jumped all over this and made it a hit point on his HBO show.
·Torre resigned. Every local news media outlet staked out his house to get a glimpse of him in advance of his closing press conference, which YES broadcast live. Torre, after a brief statement, fielded questions for more than an hour.
·The local beat writers and columnists had choice words for Randy Levine and other members of the Yankees’ front office. And while the reaction to Torre’s leaving was mixed, the consensus was that he was one of the greatest managers in team history, and was the perfect fit for this city and this team, particularly in the savvy way he managed the media circus on a daily basis. In short, he respected the writers and reporters, and the feeling was mutual.
METS – WILLIE RANDOLPH
·Presided over a team that lost a 7 1/2 –game lead in the final two weeks of the regular season to miss the playoffs. With roughly the same team returning, save the addition of Johan Santana, expectations were high.
·A slow start, plus various incidents in which Randolph let his true feelings about race emerge -- taking umbrage to the coverage on SNY -- led to rumors of his firing.
·The Mets held a press conference two weeks ago to say that Randolph would not be fired.
·The Mets, after a 3-3 homestand and a double-header split with Texas, fly out to Anaheim to play the Orange County Angels who Claim To Be From Los Angeles to Reap More TV Dollars in the LA Market.
·GM Omar Minaya uncharacteristically flies out to Anaheim, unannounced, with the decision having been made to fire Randolph, pitching coach Rick Peterson and first base coach Tom Nieto. Following the Mets’ victory Monday, he calls them into a room at the team hotel and informs them of the decision.
·Minaya claims it was his decision, but it doesn’t help change the thought that the Wilpons and Minaya had Randolph fly to California and be fired there in order to avoid the intense scrutiny at home. In fact, it may have made it worse. Wednesday’s Daily News backpage of a frowning Mr. Met with the headline MEET THE MESS said it all.
·Randolph wishes the Mets well, is thankful for the opportunity to have managed the team.
The media’s job now is to highlight the facts and present them as they come to the fore. There has been and will continue to be analysis of the situation for as long as the Mets continue to struggle. If they turn it around, you might see comparisons to the Billy Martin-Bob Lemon switch in 1978.
But that also comes back to Willie Randolph.
The public face on how the Mets treated Randolph – if there were rumors surrounding his job security at the beginning of the year, why not fire him after the collapse last season? – is another example of the Mets demonstrating why they’re considered the “other” team in New York. They’re not unlike the New York Football Jets in that, organizationally, no matter how hard they try, they mismanage various events to inspire anger and hurt among the media and fan base.
Not that the Yankees and Giants are without their flaws. However, but in my observations, bungled organizational matters are forgotten with the on-field product. Regarding Torre, Yankees fans, while they may agree on his resignation coming at the right time – and even that the offer was an insult, it appears they’ve forgiven the Yankees’ brass for the way it was handled. Mets fans will hurt for a long time, and the media will perpetuate that hurt unless the organization does something to fix it.
That’s where the differences lie between the Mets and the Yankees.