Hug it out
Minaya, Randolph not feuding over Down firing
Posted: Thursday July 19, 2007 12:08PM; Updated: Friday July 20, 2007 12:06PM
Also in this column:
Contrary to reports and speculation, insiders insist there is no rift between Mets GM Omar Minaya and manager Willie Randolph over last week's firing of hitting coach Rick Down. The evidence that Minaya and Randolph are fine, which is pretty good proof, is this: According to sources, Minaya let Randolph change Minaya's mind and make Howard Johnson the new hitting coach instead of Rickey Henderson.
Whatever their disagreements over the coaching staff, it's certainly nothing like the great knockdown, drag-out theater that existed between Steve Phillips and Bobby Valentine, the last GM-manager duo to get the Mets to the World Series. Not even close.
People involved in the discussion that led to Down's firing say that while Randolph disagreed with Minaya's call to replace the experienced and accomplished Down, there was only debate over the merits of the firing. Down was Randolph's hire, and they had a solid and successful working relationship. However, they weren't necessarily close personal friends.
Randolph wasn't even the one to inform Down. The Mets' manager only confirmed the firing for Down after Down received the news from Newsday baseball columnist Ken Davidoff a week ago Wednesday. According to Mets people, that's when Down phoned Randolph and asked, point blank, "Am I fired?" And Randolph responded, "Yes."
At that time, the plan was to make Henderson hitting coach. But within 24 hours Minaya acceded to Randolph's desire, allowing HoJo, who'd been working with Down, to take the hitting job. Henderson, Randolph's old Yankees teammate, would instead take HoJo's place as first-base coach.
Ultimately, these calls probably won't decide the NL East race. No matter whom they'd employ, whether it be the serious Down, the hilarious Henderson or the neophyte HoJo, they should have plenty of talent to win their largely underwhelming division, which the Mets lead by 2 1/2 games.
Minaya's disagreement with Down over "approach" actually went back several weeks, and probably even longer than that. Minaya met with Down weeks earlier -- when the club was near the top of most NL hitting categories -- and informed him that he wanted to see the team take more walks. According to club sources, Down, an extremely hard worker whose strength isn't necessarily office politics (had it been, he would have been a big-league manager by now), basically replied that he thought scoring runs should be the objective, no matter how it's done. Good point, but that was not the time for such blunt honesty.
Then the team dipped in all offensive categories, thanks to injuries to Moises Alou, Shawn Green and Endy Chavez, and slumps by Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado in perhaps baseball's worst-hitting park (not to mention its worst park), Down was out.
As a side note, it's worth mentioning that in the first days since the change the Mets are walking more, but in seven games under HoJo they've averaged 3.7 runs, down from 4.5 under Down, who had success as hitting coach with the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Orioles, not to mention the Mets last year.
Make no mistake, for better or worse, this is Minaya's team, not Randolph's or anyone else's. Minaya's made enough good moves to give him that power. But this wasn't his best decision.
Magowan takes some of the blame
Several readers took me to task for saying a couple weeks ago that Brian Sabean went 10 years without making a bad trade, and they were correct that I overstated his string of great deals. It was actually more like five or six years, which I still think is pretty good. And as several emailers pointed out, Sabean's call to trade Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser for A.J. Pierzynski came in 2002, the Giants' World Series year but also quite possibly the start of their slide.
In any case, I do believe Sabean's streak was very impressive and also don't believe it was my overstatement that caused Giants owner Peter Magowan to retain Sabean. I spoke to Magowan, one of baseball's best and most accountable and reasonable owners, at the All-Star Game, and Magowan said at the time that Sabean was currently laying out his plan for the future. Magowan also said then that if Magowan determined he liked Sabean's plan, he would be retained (but if he didn't, he'd be looking for a new GM). By now of course, we know now he must have liked Sabean's plan, as the Giants' GM got a two-year extension.
Magowan told me he didn't blame Sabean for the problems that have caused the Giants, a perennial winner, to fall on hard times the past couple of seasons. "I like our GM. He's a good man ... I think we're all guilty, in retrospect, of putting too much emphasis on older veterans," Magowan said. "What we need to do is rely more on our farm system than we did in the past." Magowan pointed out that the farm system did produce a decent number of major leaguers. Although, he also conceded, "most of it's pitching."
In fact, just about all of the big leaguers they've developed are pitchers. The failing of the Giants -- and this really isn't Sabean's fault other than he's the boss of the scouting director and scouts -- is that they haven't produced any real offensive talent in recent years. And that's a big failing.