You might not be aware of this, but Willie Randolph has one of the most impressive baseball resumes you’ll ever come across.
In 18 seasons, he was a six-time All-Star, a Silver Slugger Award winner and won two World Series championships with the Yankees (1977-78).
And that was just as a player.
Randolph retired in 1992 and became a Yankees bench coach two years later. He spent 11 years in New York – nine of them under Joe Torre – and helped the Yankees to four World Series titles. Name a great Yankee from the last 40 years, and there’s a pretty good chance that Randolph either played with him or coached him.
Randolph, who became the first African American manager in New York history when he took over the Mets in 2005, is also an author. He has a book out called The Yankee Way: Playing, Coaching, and My Life in Baseball.
And yet, for all of those wonderful accomplishments, the 59-year-old Randolph often finds himself thinking about the 2006 NLCS, which the Mets lost to the Cardinals in seven games. Carlos Beltran – widely considered one of the best big-game players in all of baseball – struck out looking to end the series, taking a curveball from Adam Wainwright, who was then a rookie closer.
“I think about it – not every day, but yeah, it’s just amazing how one pitch, one play, can change your life forever,” Randolph said on The Damon Amendolara Show. “I think about that sometimes because Carlos Beltran had a tremendous year for me. Obviously he’s one of the best big-game players in the game. But for some reason, he could not pull the trigger on that hellacious curveball that Adam Wainwright threw him. I just know that if we would have gotten that hit and gotten to the World Series, I might still be the Mets manager. Who knows? It’s just weird how things happen.”
The Mets went 97-65 that year. Carlos Beltran played in 140 games, hit .275, and had career-highs in home runs (41), RBIs (116) and runs (127). He even stole 18 bases.
But he stuck out against Wainwright in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded in a 3-1 game to end the Mets’ season.
The Cardinals went on to win the World Series, beating the Tigers in five games.
“Even though we had a great year, it was a big disappointment not getting to the promised land,” Randolph said. “The following year when we collapsed, everything just changed.”
In 2007, the Mets had a seven-game lead over the Phillies on Sept. 12, but lost 12 of their last 17 games and missed the postseason. It is considered one of the worst collapses in baseball history.
Still, Randolph tries to focus on the positives of his time with the Mets, which ended in June 2008 when he was fired mere hours after a win over the Angels.
“We got to where we knocked the Braves off their perch after 13 years of dominance,” Randolph reflected, “and then to turn that team around was just really a thrill for me and an honor. I’m just so happy that I can just think about the positive side of that. It didn’t end well, and I understand that – because it’s a tough, tough, tough life, (a) tough business, (a) tough town. But I feel real good about the fact that I was able to come there with my staff and – along with Omar Minaya – turn that franchise around and have Mets fans really feel good about themselves for the first time in a long time.”
But what if Beltran didn’t strike out? What if he had gotten a hit and the Mets went to the World Series? What if they had won it?
“I try not to think too much about it, but it is a big part of my history,” Randolph said. “It is amazing how one play, one situation, one pitch, can change the course of your life. But to me, it’s still all good, it’s all positive – because I still feel like I have more chapters to write in my career.
“But I would’ve loved to have gotten to the World Series that year,” Randolph continued, “just for the city of New York and for my players who had never experienced that before. It would have been a great ride for us.
“And it probably would have given me some house money to play with moving forward.”