New York — The worst thing that could have happened to Willie Randolph is what happened to Joe Torre last October.
That doesn't mean getting fired. It means not getting fired. Yet.
It means being the one manager in town who is expected to win this year. It means replacing the number on your back with a big fat target to be aimed at by not only fans and media blowhards, but by your own bosses.
It doesn't mean replacing Torre. It means becoming Torre. Or at least, the Torre who squirmed through his last three seasons in the Bronx.
As soon as Torre jumped - or was pushed - out of his job as New York Yankees manager, Randolph took his spot as the local manager most likely to be axed before the end of the 2008 season.
Had Torre swallowed his pride and accepted the one season, win-or-walk "offer" the Yankees shoved under his nose last October, Randolph might still be toiling, as most New York Mets managers have, in relative obscurity and comparative safety in sleepy little Flushing as his team happily underachieved.
But the Yankees don't have Torre to kick around anymore, and nobody, not even the spawn of George M. Steinbrenner III, considers canning a new manager less than 50 games into his first season.
So that turns the hot lights on Randolph, who despite having his team three games over .500 and a game out of first place, finds himself sitting in the electric chair while his counterpart, Joe Girardi, the manager of a last-place team with a 20-24 record, sits pretty in a Barcalounger, enjoying his honeymoon.
"I understand baseball," Randolph said. "I understand what this is all about. I know people get impatient. I just try to keep everything in perspective."
Sunday night, Randolph bought some grace when the Mets beat the Yankees, 11-2, to sweep their rain-abbreviated two-game series at Yankee Stadium.
But it is no secret that this year, it is the Mets' manager who hears the boos from the fans, who reads the criticism in the media, who feels the sting of not having the full confidence of his employers.
But let's face it: The Mets are not supposed to be a mere three games over .500 at this point. They aren't supposed to be trailing the Florida Marlins in the National League East. By now, the Mets were expected to be defending a world championship or at least a league title, not struggling to win one.
And the Yankees, for all their history and swagger and arrogance, are a last-place team. The Mets are supposed to beat them, too.
By those standards, Randolph has gotten less out of his team than he was hired to.
It may not be fair, but it is the reality of managing in a market that will no longer tolerate mediocrity, let alone failure.
"You understand that when you take the job here," Girardi said before Sunday night's game, asked if he could empathize with Randolph's situation.