Randolph starts Round 3 as manager

Randolph starts Round 3 as Mets manager

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- For three years now, Willie Randolph has listened with particular interest to a tale he had never heard before his first day as Mets manager. It seems George Bamberger, the former Brewers and Mets manager, had summoned a young Brewers pitcher to his office in March for what he considered inevitable news -- a late spring assignment to the Minor Leagues.

The young man hadn't anticipated the demotion and was quite displeased, enough to pull a knife on Bamberger and say: "You cut me, I cut you."

Bamberger's only defense was an effective one. He called out "Hondo," and 6-foot-8, 315-pound coach Frank Howard interceded.

Randolph listens closely to the story, at least partially because he has no Hondo at his disposal.

"But I'm probably better at cutting players now," he said. "I don't like to do it. It's a tough thing. I was always very uncomfortable my first year when I called someone in. But I probably handle it better than I did my first year."

The Mets manager spoke Saturday afternoon after he had conducted his third first day of camp.

No cuts, of course; no threats and no Hondos. Just a day without ripples.

"The way we like 'em," he said.

For Randolph, it was a day to slip into No. 12 and into character, a day to preside, observe, teach, meet -- mostly meet -- and later, reflect.

His two-year resume shimmers -- two winning records, the franchise's first division championship in 18 years, a playoff series victory and a move to the threshold of the World Series despite critical personnel issues. But success and failure are largely the functions of the players. As Casey Stengel said after the first Mets team lost 120 games: "I couldn't have done it without my players."

The Mets, as a whole, clearly are improved. But what of Randolph? Owner Fred Wilpon said Saturday that Randolph has exceeded expectations. Randolph isn't so sure -- not his own expectations. He planned to be successful.

So, that said, is he better now at what he does than he was two years ago when he was in his first days as the club's 18th manager? In areas other than paring down the roster and delivering the news to the cut-ees, is he a better manager?

The assessment he offered Saturday said yes, but with a few provisos. He eventually acknowledged that the experience of two seasons and -- more to the point -- more than two years on a hot seat has equipped him to deal with the strains and stresses of being the manager of the New York Mets. Some early buts were included in what he said.

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"I really don't think I'm better," he said. "I've always been who I am [now] as far as my approach. I spent 11 years as a coach. And the things I'm doing now, I was doing seven or eight years ago, but no one knew about it [or] paid attention to it.

"I take credit for it because I know it's true. I didn't get a lot of credit for it when I was with the Yankees, but I was very instrumental to the success of that ballclub because of the way I communicated with my players.

"I say that now because it's true and no one else said it. That's why ... I feel comfortable now because I've always felt like I was managing without the title."

Now, before the conclusion jumpers association and the drive-time alarmists pounce and suggest Randolph has chastised the Yankees or that he said he feels he did Joe Torre's job and wasn't credited for it, understand his comments were directed at the clubs that passed on him as a potential manager.

"What I meant was they said I had no experience, but I did," Randolph said. "I was managing my parts of the game with the Yankees. I was handling what Joe wanted me to handle. But the teams I interviewed didn't give me credit for that. I 'managed' third base as the coach. I managed their young infielders, I talked to the veterans like I do now.

"And over the years, I did a lot of things the manager does. So, really, I've been managing for a long time -- longer than two years."

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.