BF has a theory that there are two basic types of managers in MLB: generals and chess players. Generals concentrate on managing personnel effectively and are as predictable as sunrise when it comes to in-game strategy; chess players are constantly trying to figure out how to out-guess and out-maneuver their counterparts in the opposing dugout, and often annoy both players and observers alike with their constant gnawing need to prove their Smartypantsness, but manage to stick around because, irritatingly enough, they often turn out to be right. (That’s my phraseology, not BF’s — all he gave me was “chess player” and “general” and I ran with it like it was a pair of pinking shears.)

If you guessed that, amongst today’s managers, Tony La Russa and Ozzie Guillen are chess players, Bobby Cox and Mike Scioscia are hybrids of both, and everyone else is a general, I probably won’t argue with you too vigorously, although there are quite a few rookie managers this year, such as Fredi Gonzalez and Manny Acta, whose chess-player inclinations may simply have not emerged this early on. Chess players often don’t show their true colors right away; getting opposing managers to underestimate them, for as long as they can get away with it, is often a major part of their winning strategy — inasfar as the bodies they’re given to work with will allow them to win, of course.

Almost every Mets manager has been a general. You could certainly make exceptions, though, for Davey Johnson (1984-90) and even more so, Bobby Valentine (late 1996-2002).

Johnson, of course, was at the helm when the Mets last won it all in ‘86, and although he had enough general in him to keep that powder keg full of egos and crazies together long enough to bring home the flag, he also had to have the mind of a chess player in order to manipulate then-GM Frank Cashen into letting him bring up Wally Backman (Hillsboro! Hillsboro! rah rah rah!) and Doc Gooden (Hillsborough, Hillsborough, blah blah blah) in 1984 over the kind of grizzled vets preferred by Cashen who’d been stinking up Shea for the prior decade or so.

Valentine, with his nickname of “Top Step” — after his perennial position in the dugout — was far more of a classic chess player than Johnson, a man who probably loved fashioning a winning team out of a pile of retreads and nobodies like he did in 1997 even more than he loved winning a pennant with a bunch of Mike Piazzas and Mike Hamptons in 2000. What else was the infamous “eyeblack mustache” incident of 1999, in which BV illegally snuck back into the dugout after being ejected while wearing faux facial hair and shades, but an effort to burnish his Smartypants credentials? Most Mets fans, except for a few supersobersides, ate it up sideways. His players, aside from the nobodies who got their first chances with BV and were thus forever grateful to him, merely appeared willing to put up with his shenanigans as long as they won. Everyone else, it seemed, hated him with the fury of forty exploding galaxies, including every other manager and opposing player in the game.

And Willie Randolph? I don’t know if it’s possible to be any more of a general than he is. Friday’s game against the Nationals was, for better or worse, classic Willie. This was a particularly vexatious loss in which the Nationals scored in the first inning for the first time all year (breaking their National League record first-inning drought with a three-run tater by Austin Kearns), nobody could manage to hit cannon-fodder Nationals starter Matt Chico except for a couple of cheap runs nicked off him here and there, and — most significantly of all — Mets starter Oliver Perez got to strike out in the sixth inning with the bases loaded and one out instead of coming out for a pinch-hitter (followed by Jose Reyes grounding out to end the threat).

Now, I’m not one of these people who goes off at every little thing Willie does and screams all day and night that he’s Mondo Sucko Manager Number A1. I actually think he’s improved by leaps and bound over the Joe Torre-clone robotic performance of his rookie managing year in 2005, and these days overall he doesn’t give me too many reasons to have to Windex my monitor after each game. But this time, I got me some Marty Feldman eyes over his decision not to take Perez out in that situation. “I can’t wait to hear Willie’s excuse for this,” I said to BF.

When it came several hours hence, via the Daily News, it was an eye-opener, in that it gave you megawatt insight into the way Willie thinks as a manager.

“You always bounce it around in your mind,” Randolph said about pinch-hitting for Perez. “It was still early in the game. I thought we could have come back and scored some runs. He was pitching a great game.

“You can’t challenge your people to give you length and to give you quality starts if you worry about scoring runs in the sixth inning or somewhere around there. I think he deserved the opportunity to go back out. We had plenty of chances tonight to score runs.”

The second paragraph, I kinda understand. The kid needs to build endurance. The kid needs to build confidence. The kid only had one bad inning. It’s “only” the Nationals. Yah yah yah.

But the first? Willie thinks the sixth inning is “early”? On the road? On a night when you can barely get a nibble off of Matt “Tee-Ball” Chico? I don’t know, in a situation like that I don’t know that I’d take a bases-loaded-one-out-top-of-the-order following situation like that so much for granted. But then, I’m not the great “handler of men” (Mets announcer Gary Cohen’s phrase — can’t you just hear Beavis and Butthead popping in and snickering, “Heh heh, he said ‘handler of men’!”?) that Willie is. Maybe Perez really would have shut it down and dogged it for the rest of the season if Willie had emulated my example. I don’t know. The Swatch watch intricacy of a major league ballplayer’s mind is something I can only begin to guess at.

But for a wicked contrast to Willie’s generalism, take a gander at what happened the following night. The normally so-placid-you’d-think-he-invented-Zoloft Randolph was ejected in the sixth inning arguing yet another Call of the Year with first-base umpire Tony Randazzo (he’d better not be any relation to Teddy), and bench coach (and former White Sox skipper) Jerry Manuel took over interim managing duties. The result: a 12-inning win in which Manuel went through the entire bullpen except Ambiorix Burgos, and used three pinch-hitters as well as pinch-running Endy Chavez for Shawn Green, which resulted in Chavez scoring the crucial tying run in the ninth off Julio Franco’s single.

Was Manuel playing chess here, or was he merely flinging chess pieces? Obviously you wouldn’t want your manager waving his baton around like a tweaked-out conductor like that every single night, he’d wear out the team. But once in a while, don’t the stops need to be pulled out? Would Willie have done so that night, had he not been ejected? How do you know when it’s worth sacrificing a win in April for one in August, September or most crucially, October?