The player cackled.
"I'm not sure Willie should be let go," he said. "And I like Jerry and probably would enjoy playing for him if they make the switch. But they're so much alike. ... Why are they gonna kill Willie?"
His words were not necessarily a "Save Willie" speech, nor were they a ringing endorsement of either part of the move that the Mets announced shortly after 3 a.m. ET on Tuesday. He was curious. Clubs usually seek polar opposites when they make managerial moves, particularly when the move is made in midseason.
Quiet, unassuming Bob Lemon replaced the fiery Billy Martin in the middle of what became a World Series championship season for the 1978 Yankees. Demanding and full of decibels, Dallas Green took the place of Danny Ozark, who was neither, in the Phillies' dugout late in the 1979 season; the Phillies won the 1980 World Series. Bombastic Tommy Lasorda replaced the silent Walter Alston after the 1976 season; the Dodgers played in the '77 World Series.
The Mets are hoping for a similar outcome, but they have turned to Manuel, who can out-quiet Randolph and who maintains a demeanor that, more often than not, appears to be more calm than that of the man he replaces. This, after Randolph was accused of being too laid back.
"But we know there's some fire in Jerry," the player said before the dismissal was made. "I think most everyone in here sees that and likes Jerry. If they do make a switch, we'd be a getting a guy most everyone respects."
Manuel acknowledged some similarities on Tuesday after he was introduced as the Mets' interim manager.
"There's going to be a couple times when people make their own judgments as far as my style, his style, and hopefully find some difference," Manuel said. "There will be some differences, but some things [will develop] over time. It will be difficult for me to say, 'Well, I'm going to do this or do that versus what Willie did.'"
At the same time, Manuel did cite some changes that he intends to implement.
"The first thing we need to do is freshen up the everyday players -- the Jose Reyeses, the David Wrights and the Carlos Beltrans, those guys who play every day," Manuel said. "We need to freshen those guys up.
"Now that's difficult to do when you've got an urgency to win a particular night. That was a tough, tough battle. But to come here and to do what we did [Monday night], to rest Beltran at least half a game [Beltran was the designated hitter on Monday] is very important."
Wright, the only player in the big leagues to play in all of his team's innings, was the DH on Tuesday.
"I think we're in good shape as far as starting pitching," Manuel said. "But what we have have to do is to find definitive roles in the middle of that bullpen. We have [Duaner] Sanchez and [Billy Wagner], and they've struggled somewhat at times. We have to find some definitive roles in the sixth and seventh innings."
At the same time, Manuel made no promises of sweeping changes.
"Every manager that comes in says the same thing -- I'm going to hit-and-run, steal more," Manuel said. "I think what you have to do in this situation is teach. When is the right time? Then identify that with your players so that they can put that in the perspective of the game and how the game is to be won.
"I'm not one to run for statistical purposes. But I do know that's important to certain people. But you have to have it in the context of how the game is played. And I think that's what we have to define and identify to some of our players -- when is the good time, when is the right time and also when can I get one for me that's going to prosper me. That's the fine line we have to come up with."
Any other similarities go beyond demeanor and strategy. Randolph, 54 next month, is a former second baseman who began his big league career in 1975. Manuel, 54, is a former second baseman -- though far less accomplished than Randolph -- who made his big league debut in '75 as well. Randolph became the first African-American to manage a team in New York. Manuel became the second on Tuesday night.
Manuel will be the 19th manager in the history of the franchise, the 17th if Mike Cubbage and Salty Parker are discounted, as the two managed merely 18 games total in their respective tours of duty as interims in 1991 and '67. Roy McMillan also served as Mets manager on an interim basis -- 53 games in 1975.
Manuel, the Mets' fourth manager since 2002, comes with a managerial resume, something Randolph lacked when he was hired to replace Art Howe following the 2004 season. Manuel was named the American League Manager of the Year in 2000 after he led the White Sox to a 96-67 record and the AL Central title. That success followed second-place finishes in his first two years managing, and preceded a third-place finish in 2001 and second-place finishes in the following two seasons.
Manuel's White Sox produced one losing record and one .500 record. His six teams produced a .515 winning percentage (500-471). But despite his success, his utter lack of failure, his reputation as both a solid baseball man and good communicator, Manuel hasn't managed since the White Sox job. Randolph brought him to the Mets in 2005 to serve as a first-base and outfield coach. Beginning in 2006, he served as Randolph's bench coach.
Before working with the Mets, Manuel either played for or coached with Ralph Houk, Dick Williams, Felipe Alou and Jim Leyland. The Marlins won the 1997 World Series with Manuel as Leyland's bench coach.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less