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Mets fire Valentine after last-place finish

Posted: Tuesday October 01, 2002 11:44 AM
Updated: Wednesday October 02, 2002 3:01 PM
  Bobby Valentine Bobby Valentine had averaged nearly 90 wins a season for the Mets before this year. AP

NEW YORK (AP) -- Manager Bobby Valentine was fired by the New York Mets on Tuesday, two days after they finished last in the National League East and two seasons after the team reached the World Series.

The team put together a $95 million payroll last winter, bringing in Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn, Roger Cedeno and others, but it struggled all year and was embarrassed by accusations last month that at least seven players were smoking marijuana this season.

"We put very good players in place who didn't play very well. It's best to jump-start and get a manager to motivate these players and get the best out of the veterans and the young players," owner Fred Wilpon said at a news conference.

"I believe these guys are as good as we all thought they were. We thought it was a very competitive team. We still believe they're very competitive, but we were disappointed, and I think the players will be far, far better next year."

Wilpon, who had insisted late in the season that he planned to keep Valentine, said he met the manager Tuesday morning to inform him of the decision.

"For me, this is a painful decision following a very painful season," he said earlier in a statement.

SI's Tom Verducci
I think Bobby Valentine lost this team down the stretch. I believe [Mets owner Fred] Wilpon really meant those votes of confidence at the time he gave them, but clearly the Mets did not respond to Valentine during the last couple of months. I think you find out a lot about a club and how it responds to a manager when the games are essentially meaningless, and New York did not respond. The Mets had an opportunity to finish in second place and they wound up in last. I think whatever grip Bobby had on the team was gone by the end of the season.

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    Wilpon said a search for Valentine's successor will begin immediately.

    Valentine just finished the second year of a three-year contract, and the Mets will be responsible for his 2003 salary of about $2.7 million. The Mets finished 75-86, in last place in the NL East for the first time since 1993 and below .500 for the first time in six years. In his six-plus seasons with the Mets, Valentine was 536-467, reaching the playoffs in 1999 and 2000.

    "I believe it's the right move for the organization," general manager Steve Phillips said.

    "We all knew we were being evaluated. We all accept a level of responsibility for that failure. It goes to performance on the field. I tend to agree that we didn't get the most out of the players on the field."

    Valentine is the fourth manager to be fired since Sunday, the last day of the regular season.

    The Chicago Cubs dismissed Bruce Kimm on Sunday, while Hal McRae of Tampa Bay and Luis Pujols of Detroit lost their jobs Monday.

    There were eight other managerial changes during the season.

    The Mets went into the season with talk of making the playoffs after Phillips revamped the roster. But the team played uninspired baseball almost from the start and there were a number of embarrassments.

     
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    * Mets owner Fred Wilpon and GM Steve Phillips think the team mailed it in. Start

    *  Valentine knew his days as manager were numbered.
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    "We didn't play the game as well as we should have," Valentine said near the end of the season. "Because of that, I second-guess everything I did. That's totally my responsibility."

    The Mets played poor fundamental baseball and were shaken by off-the-field turmoil. Slugger Mike Piazza was questioned about his sexual orientation, and Alomar and Cedeno engaged in a shoving match in the dugout.

    There was a public feud and lawsuit between Wilpon and his former partner and co-owner, Nelson Doubleday. Former Mets player Keith Hernandez said the team quit and then apologized for the remark, and finally came the drug report.

    Newsday reported last month that seven Mets smoked marijuana during the season, although the newspaper said Tuesday that Wilpon's decision was based on the team's performance in the past two seasons.

    The trouble ran all through the roster.

    Vaughn took half a season to find his rhythm after missing all of 2001 with an injury. Alomar, a Gold Glove second baseman, made 11 errors, never looked comfortable in the field, and hit a career-low .266.

    Cedeno only managed 25 steals, Shawn Estes went 4-9 before being traded, and Jeromy Burnitz had one good month and hit .215.

    The Mets were 13th in the league in runs, had the most errors in the majors with 144, and looked nothing like the team that won the NL pennant just two years ago.

    Despite all the troubles, the Mets were in contention after winning 11 of 16 games to end July just 41/2 games out of the wild-card lead.

    Then came one of the worst months in team history. New York had a 12-game losing streak and didn't win a game at Shea Stadium in August -- part of an NL-record 15-game home losing streak.


     
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