Mets fire Randolph; Peterson, Nieto also dismissed

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Once he decided to fire Willie Randolph, New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya caught a flight to the West Coast, went to the team hotel and waited to deliver the news in person.

"Eye to eye," Minaya said Tuesday. "It was done quick."

Even if it seemed to take forever.

The late-night hit came as chants of "Fire Willie!" grew louder at Shea Stadium and on New York's sports talk radio stations. Yet when Minaya did just that, the news shocked most everyone -- fans, media and apparently even Randolph.

"I'm really stunned by it," the ex-manager said around noon Tuesday. "I was surprised by it."

Randolph said he asked Minaya to fire him on Sunday if that's what he had in mind, according to The New York Times.

"I actually asked him," Randolph said, according to the Times. "I said: 'Omar, do this now. If you're going to do this, do this now. I know you've got a lot of pressure on you, but if I'm not the guy to lead this team, then don't let me get on this plane.' I did say that to him."

Bench coach Jerry Manuel, a former AL Manager of the Year for the Chicago White Sox, will manage the Mets for the rest of the year.

Randolph became the first manager in the majors to be fired this season, the move announced in an e-mail at 12:14 a.m. PT Tuesday. He was dismissed with the Mets below .500, still wobbling from last year's colossal collapse and speculation about his job status growing every day.

The tension went on "far too long," Minaya said. "It was not fair to the team, it was not fair to Willie Randolph, it was not fair to the organization."

Pitching coach Rick Peterson and first base coach Tom Nieto also were fired.

Minaya said he made the decision Monday and stressed it was his alone.

"At the end of last year, when we finished last year, ownership pretty much said, Omar this is your decision," he said.

He didn't deflect the responsibility, saying: "It's been my call through and through, and that's the agreement I have with the Wilpons."

He met with Randolph after that night's 9-6 win over the Los Angeles Angels left the Mets at 34-35.

"I think that he was a combination of resigned to it because I had given him a heads-up that this could happen and I think he was also relieved," Minaya said.

Minaya said it would have been disrespectful to fire a manager while he was still in uniform. Instead, Minaya said he waited to talk to Randolph away from the ballpark.

"11 p.m. at night, after a game ... standard procedure in letting a manager go in this game," he said.

Minaya said he could've made the decision to fire Randolph after last year ended, but wanted to bring him back. Minaya was the one who originally hired Randolph.

"The reason I made the decision isn't this weekend," he said. "The reason I made this decision is the body of work."

As a GM, he added: "You have to make a tough call, and I made a tough call."

Mets star Carlos Beltran said he didn't know the move was coming when he left the park Monday night.

"Not really because after winning yesterday's ballgame, that's the last thing you have in mind. You say, 'Well, we're rolling. We might get back on track and we're going to start playing better,'" he said.

"It is a distraction every day. You try to keep away from the papers, but they're always in the clubhouse and you read and they're always talking about firing Willie, firing Willie," he said.

Closer Billy Wagner contributed to the Mets' recent trouble, blowing multirun leads in three straight appearances last week.

"It definitely is one less thing you have to think about. It's unfortunate. He wasn't the cause of why we were playing bad or inconsistent. That was all on us," he said.

Many Mets fans were startled to wake up and learn Randolph had been fired. The move also left many media members in New York wondering why the dismissal came in the dead of night -- New York time, anyhow.

There was no doubt, however, that the team with a $138 million payroll was not getting the job done.

"Is it Willie only? No, it's us," Minaya said. "I can't replace 25 players. And the players care. The players give 100 percent.

"It just wasn't working. I think the players were pressing."

Whether they admitted it or not, it seemed clear last year's collapse was still haunting them.

Leading the NL East by seven games on Sept. 12, the Mets lost 12 of their last 17 and missed the playoffs as Philadelphia rallied to win the division title.

"That was a catastrophic demise of a chance to go on and play in a championship series," Manuel said.

"Right now, I think we are somewhat underperforming," he said. "I think we need to freshen up our everyday players."

The 54-year-old takes over a squad that still has playoff aspirations.

Quiet and confident, Manuel managed the White Sox from 1998 to 2003, winning AL Manager of the Year in 2000 after guiding his club to the league's best record (95-67).

Manuel acknowledged that his position is a little awkward.

"Coaches that have been in my position continue to manage in spite of my position, at least mentally," he said.

Manuel jumped at the opportunity to "get back in the seat," however.

"Being asked to do this in New York, which I feel is the most passionate fan [base] and the most critical, in a good way, is an opportunity you can't pass up," he said.

Manuel said that Sandy Alomar Sr. takes over his position as bench coach.

Helping will be Ken Oberkfell, the club's manager at Triple-A New Orleans, and Dan Warthen, pitching coach for the Zephyrs. Luis Aguayo, a Mets field coordinator, also will join the major league staff.

Beyond this season remains to be seen.

Former Mets star Gary Carter, who managed in the team's minor league system, expressed interest in managing the Mets. John Franco, very popular in his days as the closer, might also be a candidate to manage.

The Mets have yet to find their groove this year, despite the addition of Johan Santana. Injuries to Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou and Ryan Church, and another down year by Carlos Delgado didn't help.

Hired by Minaya for the 2005 season, Randolph led the Mets to within one win of the 2006 World Series. They got off to a strong start again last year but plummeted down the stretch and were unable to rebound.

Manuel was asked about the epic collapse last season and the scrutiny that it brought. He said Randolph tried to put it behind the team.

"I think I would have brought more attention to it and use it as a springboard to get us to play at a different level," he said.

A preseason favorite to win the NL pennant this season, the Mets had won two in a row when Randolph was dismissed. He was set to earn $2 million this season and is owed $2.25 million in 2009, when the Mets move into new Citi Field.

It was a frustrating end for the 53-year-old Randolph, who was set to be an NL coach at the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium next month.

"What I've done is I've been in contact with the league office," said Colorado manager Clint Hurdle, who will guide the NL team. "This is obviously an unprecedented situation, so to be sensitive to everybody's best interest, we're going to give this a little time and work our way through it."

Yankees co-chairman Hal Steinbrenner, at a promotional event Tuesday for the All-Star festivities, was asked whether the team might rehire Randolph -- even in an honorary capacity -- to let him take part.

"Anything's a possibility," Steinbrenner said.

Randolph was a longtime Yankees coach under Joe Torre, who well knows the pressure of constant doubt. Torre, now managing the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Randolph remain close friends.

"I don't think there's ever a good time, but with all the talk that's surrounded him for a month or so ... It's unfortunate," Torre said.

"I think that once ownership decides that they're not sure if somebody wants a manager, they should probably fire them as opposed to having it hang around," he said. "I'd like to think they probably knew what they wanted to do before they left. That certainly is strange."

Even when things briefly went the Mets' way, Randolph caused waves this season.

Coming off a two-game sweep at Yankee Stadium in mid-May, the first black manager in New York baseball history created a stir by suggesting in a newspaper interview that he was portrayed on Mets broadcasts differently than a white manager might be.

Randolph brought up race as he detailed coverage by SNY, the team's TV network.

"Is it racial?" Randolph was quoted. "Huh? It smells a little bit. ... I don't know how to put my finger on it, but I think there's something there."

A couple days later, Randolph apologized to Mets ownership, SNY and his players "for the unnecessary distraction."

"Those remarks created more of a tension in the organization," Minaya acknowledged on Tuesday.

Late last month, Randolph got a temporary reprieve when he met with ownership.

"Willie's job was never in danger going into this meeting," Minaya said afterward. "Willie has my support. He has the support of our ownership. ... There is no limbo period. Willie is the manager."

But no promises for the future were ever made.