As the Mets continue to reboot the franchise, it shouldn’t be about righting past wrongs or long-overdue second chances or even another homecoming for a Brooklyn kid.
In the case of Willie Randolph, however, consider all that a bonus.
When new Mets manager Carlos Mendoza brought up Randolph as one of his biggest influences during Tuesday’s introductory news conference at Citi Field, the natural follow-up to those remarks was his potential candidacy for the bench coach position. It’s not the first time the subject has come up between the two, either.
Mendoza already had discussed having Randolph on his staff in his pursuit of previous managerial openings with other clubs. But none of those was an ideal fit like a return to Flushing, where Randolph had the top job from 2005 until his bizarre middle-of-the-night firing 2 1/2 months into the 2008 season.
Randolph’s clumsy, inept dismissal by the Wilpon-run Mets was one of the more shameful events in franchise history. It wasn’t just the firing, less than two years after a 97-win season in which the Mets came within one victory of a World Series berth (the ’07 collapse followed). It was how the ax fell — flying Randolph with the team to the West Coast, where he beat the Angels before getting canned at 3:14 a.m. ET, barely 24 hours after the team’s arrival .
This is ancient history now, of course. But there are long memories in Metsville, and to have a New York legend — albeit in the Bronx — unceremoniously dumped left the lingering feeling that Randolph got a raw deal. Getting him back in a Mets uniform as bench coach to Mendoza in yet another new beginning for the franchise would seem to be a great match for everyone involved.
For his part, Randolph certainly sounds open to joining Mendoza. “I’m always here to help him out with whatever he needs,’” he said by phone this past week.
Randolph’s previous Mets tenure makes for a sentimental back story, an “unfinished business” vibe, and gives him some Flushing street cred. But that’s secondary to what he has to offer as bench coach. For Mendoza, it definitely would help to have someone beside him who’s been there before (at Shea Stadium rather than Citi Field) as well as a trusted confidant from their time together with the Yankees.
“This is somebody that I have a lot of respect for,” Mendoza said Tuesday. “We have a really good relationship, and I consider him not only as a mentor but as a friend.”
At the time, Mendoza added that he and president of baseball operations David Stearns still were considering a list of candidates for bench coach. But the staff has filled out some since, with a few of the incumbents returning. Jeremy Hefner is staying on as pitching coach and Eric Chavez moves over from the bench coach role to split the hitting coach duties with Jeremy Barnes.
It’s fairly unusual for a large chunk of the coaching staff to remain intact with so much turnover on the management side. Mendoza described the staff decisions overall as being a collaborative effort with Stearns, who added that his new manager “does and will have a huge voice in it.” Based on the personnel selections that already have been made, it would seem to make sense for Mendoza to get his own guy for the bench coach job, and he laid out a checklist for what he’s looking for.
“Ability to connect with players, ability to communicate, to hold people accountable,” Mendoza said. “It’s important to bring energy and be consistent. And also be open-minded, not only be able to receive information but challenge those people that are presented information, because that’s a huge part of this job now.”
Randolph hasn’t been on a major-league coaching staff since 2011 with the Orioles under Buck Showalter. But he’s been a spring training instructor for the Yankees since that ended, and not just as a guy who puts on the pinstripes and walks around with a fungo bat. Randolph was instrumental in prepping Anthony Volpe for the breakthrough camp that earned him the Opening Day job — not to mention a Gold Glove, the first Yankees rookie to win the award.
Volpe is the most recent project on Randolph’s resume, but he goes all the way back to Derek Jeter’s rookie season, the start of his 11-year run on a Yankees staff that won four titles. Counting his two other championships as a player, that’s a half-dozen World Series rings for Randolph, as decorated a bench coach as you’re going to find.
He also checks plenty of boxes, and with Randolph’s New York pedigree, there’s never going to be a concern about accountability, a buzzword that Mendoza repeated frequently during Tuesday’s introduction.
Left unsaid was Randolph’s shot at redemption, or at least another chance to help the Mets, to maybe recoup some of the hometown dream that soured 15 years ago.