Willie's Big Day

NEW YORK -- Willie Randolph switched boroughs on Thursday, joining the Mets club he grew up idolizing. It was for nothing less than the position he'd waited his entire baseball life to obtain. <P> Now, the twist is, the Mets need Randolph as much as he wanted them.

After a second round of interviews on Wednesday, general manager Omar Minaya reached a final decision around 11 p.m. to name Randolph the 18th manager in team history.

Terms on a three-year contract worth between $1.5 and $2 million were negotiated deep into the night, with an agreement reached in time for Randolph to walk to the podium in Shea Stadium's Diamond Club Thursday afternoon.

For Minaya and the Mets, the decision was a clear one: Randolph was a proven winner. Presenting a resume littered with six championship rings and six All-Star selections, Randolph simply presented the best option to lead the Mets back to competitive baseball.

"I've been about winning," Randolph said. "I know about winning. I hope to bring that with me.

"… When you're winning, you have a swagger. You walk with that swagger. I'm hoping to bring that back. New Yorkers should walk with a swagger."

That strut was earned across town with the Yankees, of course, where Randolph went to six of his eight postseasons as a player. The 50-year-old had served as a coach under manager Joe Torre for the past 11 years, the last season as a bench coach.

The one thing that Randolph was not able to bring to the interview process was a track record, as he has never managed at any level in professional baseball. It was believed to have hurt Randolph in past interviews, but Minaya was willing to turn a blind eye toward a vacant track record in favor of the intangible of victory.

"You have to have the courage to give somebody the opportunity," Minaya explained.

Randolph said that he never questioned himself during the long wait for a legitimate offer.

"I never gave up hope," Randolph said. "After a while, I just rolled with the punches. But I never gave up hope."

A New Team, A New Style

One caveat of naming a manager whose past is so heavily embedded in American League baseball is the question of how a first-year manager would be able to handle the little things that surround the National League: double-switches, hit-and-runs and not waiting for three-run homers.

Though those generalities are somewhat less true today than they were 20 years ago due to rampant free agency, Randolph assured Thursday that he was looking forward to injecting an aggressive N.L. style of play into the Mets, a team that could make use of speed with players like Jose Reyes and Mike Cameron.

Now that Randolph has finally secured the managerial position that he has sought after for so long – his wife, Gretchen, recalled his initial reaction to the congratulatory phone call as incomprehensible whoops and hollers – Randolph's first orders of duty will be choosing a coaching staff and continuing to familiarize himself with the Mets organization and its players.

That latter task was a bit of homework that Randolph had been devoting a number of late nights to during the interview process, which was credited as a contributing factor to his landing the job.

"A baseball manager has to know his organization really well and know the talent, so when the season begins you can tap into that," Randolph said.

The issue of the coaching staff will be a bit more challenging, with only pitching coach Rick Peterson set to return. Peterson will be able to help guide Randolph through the nuances of handling his pitching staff and not overworking the bullpen, and Randolph has already presented Minaya with an early list of other coaching candidates that will soon be whittled down in organizational meetings.

Don Zimmer is believed to be on the list, as Randolph admitted to having spoken with the Devil Rays advisor, but concerns about Zimmer's ease of travel and lack of recent familiarity with National League baseball may alter that somewhat.

Man of the City

While en route to Shea from his home in Franklin Lakes, N.J., Randolph said that he hadn't noticed the dual message boards on the outside of Yankee Stadium – one that offered congratulations to Randolph and his family, and another that blared, "Yankee Pride, Willie Randolph."

In the public's eye, the 50-year-old Randolph remains a Yankee, all the way down to the 2000 World Series ring he dared to wear into Shea on Thursday. That will surely change when he starts filling out lineup cards with an orange-and-blue Mets logo on his cap.

Soon, it's probable that Randolph will be identified just as a New Yorker – the kid who played stickball in Prospect Park, dragged his future wife Gretchen to Shea Stadium for a first date and then made his name with an 18-year playing career that took him to both Big Apple clubs along the way.

"I'm a New Yorker," Randolph said. "I'm proud of that."

An added bonus of Randolph's extended experience in the Big Apple is his now-intimate familiarity with the way the city works. Even during the wild Bronx Zoo Yankees days of the late 1970s, Randolph was the stand-up guy, always ready at his locker to assist the media with a quick quote.

That will be handy for the Mets, who were not have pleased with the numerous public relations bungles that Art Howe committed during his two years as manager.

"Managing in New York isn't only about baseball," Minaya said. "Managing in New York is about understanding the New York fan base, understanding the media, understanding the beat of the city."

Energetic and optimistic, Randolph hopes to be working at a pace this city understands and can associate with. He also will demand that his team follow suit.

"I'm not about a lot of bull," Randolph said. "I usually tell it like it is. We're going to play hard every day, hustle and we're going to represent this organization, this city, the way true champions do."

Bryan Hoch is a regular contributor to Scout.com. He can be contacted at metsinsidepitch@aol.com.

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