|Tuesday, October 1
Updated: October 2, 8:05 AM ET
Valentine out; Mets to retain GM Phillips
NEW YORK -- In the end, Bobby Valentine was right.
During the depths of a 12-game losing streak that doomed the New York Mets' season, owner Fred Wilpon issued one of his repeated assurances that Valentine and general manager Steve Phillips would be back next season for the final year of their contracts.
Valentine noted the endorsement and observed that the boss could always change his mind.
On Tuesday, Wilpon did just that -- at least half of it.
The owner fired Valentine, two days after the dreary Mets finished in last place and two years after they played in the World Series. Phillips survived, largely because Wilpon thought the Mets problems were on the field, not the front office.
''We put very good players in place who didn't play very well,'' Wilpon said. ''I believe the guys are as good as we all thought, a very competitive team. I still believe it's a very competitive team. I think they'll play far, far better next year.''
If they do, it will be for somebody else. Valentine paid the price for a 75-86 season and the team's first basement finish since 1993. It was also the Mets' first sub-.500 record in six years, all of them with Valentine at the helm.
Wilpon said he changed his mind about keeping the manager because of a dreadful last two months, when the Mets drifted through games, often seeming to lack any enthusiasm or energy. He delivered the news to Valentine at a Tuesday morning meeting.
''He was very professional,'' the owner said. ''He was disappointed, mostly because he wasn't able to bring the organization to a conclusion like 2000.''
The Mets reached the World Series that year and both Valentine and Phillips were rewarded with three-year contracts. When the team sagged to third place last season, the roster was reconstructed.
Phillips was the architect, importing high-profile players like Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn, Roger Cedeno and Jeromy Burnitz among others, creating a $95 million payroll and generating expectations that the Mets would return to the postseason. But the team lacked any chemistry and fell on hard times early.
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 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 went through the entire month of August without winning a game at Shea Stadium, part of a NL-record 15-game losing streak at home.
There were off-the-field embarrassments as well. Slugger Mike Piazza was forced to discuss his sexual orientation. Alomar and Cedeno engaged in a dugout shoving match. The players were called quitters by former Mets player Keith Hernandez, who later apologized to the team. It all came to a head when Newsday reported last month that seven Mets smoked marijuana during the season.
Wilpon said his decision to fire Valentine involved strictly the play of the team and not the other distractions.
''It came to a culmination in the last two months,'' the owner said. ''There was a time I thought we could pull out of it. Then we had the 15-game streak and a six-game (losing) streak at the end. I just didn't see the energy that was needed.''
Phillips was spared, Wilpon said, because his moves were good ones, even if they didn't work.
''In my view, Steve has done a creative job putting this team on the field,'' the owner said. ''They're good players who did not play well. I think they will play well together. I felt the change that was necessary was change on the field.''
Phillips agreed with the move but said he did not suggest it. ''I didn't have to,'' he said. ''I'm glad it didn't get to that point.''
Shortly after Valentine was fired, the Texas Rangers announced that Jerry Narron would not return to manage next year. Tuesday's moves brought to five the number of managers who've lost their jobs since Sunday. The others were Bruce Kimm with the Chicago Cubs, Luis Pujols with Detroit and Hal McRae of Tampa.
Eight others lost their jobs during the season.