Willie Randolph will be in the same building as the Mets for the first time since they flew him out to Florida to walk the plank last summer when the Brewers roll into Citi Field tonight. He may not recognize the new stadium right away, but he'll doubtlessly be able to feel the crushing weight of expectations moments after he walks in the door. Nine games into the Mets season, there is already intense grumbling about the state of the team.
Jon Heyman of SI.com quotes a "top Mets decision maker" as saying that "we've got a good team...on paper anyway," and another one openly lusted for David Eckstein of the Padres during this week's series. Both are ridiculous complaints at this point in the season.
The Mets are 4-5, but they've outscored their opponents 47-41. If they were 6-3, gotten two of those one-run losses to swing the other way, would that be enough to erase the "on paper anyway" from the critique? It would be the same team either way, and you can't so easily ignore the role that luck plays in these proceedings.
The Eckstein lust is an outgrowth of the notion that the Mets don't care enough to be a winning team. Even at his best, Eckstein isn't as good as Luis Castillo. He's cheaper, but that doesn't matter once Castillo's been signed, but his only value is the intangible grittiness prized by sportswriters looking to criticize highly paid players going through a rough patch.
All of this is playing out in front of a crowd that seems to find something about the home team to raise their ire on a daily basis. Some of it is justified, but the mock cheers for Daniel Murphy's fielding or Mike Pelfrey getting the first out on Monday are signs that there's a lot of unrealized anger pulsing through the fanbase.
Machinations in the executive suite, accusations of passivity and the unfulfilled expectations of a fan base tired of losing.
All in all, it sounds a lot like the recipe that got Randolph fired last year. The merits of that move were debated at the time and aren't worth rehashing. What's become clear is that the problems, real or perceived, that pushed Randolph off the plank still exist in Queens.
Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.